Pangkalan Kerinci, Riau. Kristine Sitompul, 37, has been working with Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper, the operations unit of global pulp and paper industry leader Asia Pacific Resources International (APRIL), for nearly 13 years long.
Serving as the manager at Kerinci Central Nursery 2 – one of the four central nurseries owned by RAPP –, the Medan-born woman is leading a team that provides the company's future fiber source in the production of pulp and paper.
RAPP's nursery technology allows production of acacia and eucalyptus trees from six to seven week old seedlings to harvest within five years.
Kristine, who supervises about 200 workers in an 8-hectare nursery area, needs to make sure that KCN 2 can send a total of 3.5 million good quality seedlings per year into the company's plantation area.
Operating a 1,750-hectare manufacturing complex in Pangkalan Kerinci, Riau province, RAPP produces 850,000 tons of paper per year.
"From the production chain point of view, everything comes from here [nursery area]," said Kristine, as she showed a cut tree leaf that could grow into trees several metres high within five years.
Kristine, who earned her bachelor degree from Bogor Agricultural University (IPB), explained that the cut leaves from the 'mother plant' will be planted in a cocopeat medium, which is made from coconut husks.
With proper treatment, including the right amount of water, the right humidity, proper pH (acidity level) in the irrigation water, the 'baby plants' will grow into healthy seedlings that will be sent into the plantation area.
Tree Factory in close up
Kristine explained that the 'baby plants' were potted in a medium within the nursery's production house, before they are moved into the open area when they are ready to be tested in normal weather conditions.
Once the crops are nearly ready, Kristine's team will grade the plants by physical appearance. "We will grade them based on height, age, and size," she said, adding that after seven weeks, they should be ready to test a new environment in RAPP's plantation areas, similar to those of its concession areas for industrial forest.
KCN 2, like RAPP's nursery areas, is fully equipped with the automated spray machines and humidity measuring devices that are needed to grow good quality acacia and eucalyptus seedlings for the pulp and paper company, which sells its products to more than 75 countries all over the world.
Kristine, the only female nursery manager who works for RAPP, said that she loves the forestry industry and "babysitting" the crops, two reasons why the woman who joined RAPP in 2004 has stayed with the company for so long.
Regrowing Natural Forest Now Possible
While Acacia and Eucalyptus for production forest are currently the plants that RAPP grows mostly, Kristine said the company's laboratory has studied various methods of growing other plants, including the most advanced ones using tissue culture, or transplanted parts of a particular plants, to allow regrowing of non-commercial plants.
This means the company now has the technology at its hands to replant native tree species and regrow natural forest.
"Can you imagine how cool it would be?" she said, adding that this technology will in time be useful for the restoration of natural ecosystems.
In 2015, the APRIL Group announced it would spend up to $100 million over the ensuing decade on conservation and restoration activities in Riau.
Working in such a 'tree-factory', Kristine said she found it hard to understand the logic behind accusations that the company would be actively involved in forest fires.
"We are the ones working to raise these baby crops so why would we burn it? What for? We make pulp and paper from the fiber of the trees we grow, so burning it would be silly," said Kristine, who said she had worked in various other nurseries situated in the company's concession areas, including in Baserah sector and Pelalawan regency, all in Riau province.
Empowering the Local Community
The APRIL Group has initiated a program to empower local people to participate in ‘no burning’ activities when clearing land for farming. The program, called Fire Free Village, was initiated in 2015 and rewards villages for succesful efforts in preventing forest fires in their areas.
Prevention lies at the heart of APRIL’s fire policy but “All RAPP's employees, including those of us in the nursery division, must be ready to help estinguish fires should they happen near our operational areas," said Kristine.
Kristine, whose parents come from Pekan Baru, Riau, said she is grateful that a company like RAPP has a presence in her province.
Apart from functioning as the "tree factories" of the company, a central nursery like KCN 2 is responsible for a significant level of local employment.
"KCN 2 is a medium sized central nursery. A bigger one could employ up to 350 people," said Kristine, adding that these workers, hired through an outsourcing scheme, are supplied by four local labor contractors and the company pays all healthcare and insurance benefits.
It is also an economic driver through its supply chain – for instance a nursery like KCN 2 requires at least 11 tons of cocopeat, which the company secures it from local producers.
"So, there is a wide range of benefits that the company gives to the local community," she said.