Jakarta. Forests play a bigger part in our lives than we realize. The water we drink, the paper we use, the medicine we take, the houses we build are all derived from a rich ecosystem, along with countless other aspects of our daily lives, and yet we seldom connect all these things with our forests.
Forests, their sustainable management and use of resources, including in fragile ecosystems, are key to combating climate change, and to contributing to the prosperity and well-being of current and future generations. Forests also play a crucial role in poverty alleviation and in the achievement of point number 15 in the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) blueprint: Life on Land.
Life on Land addresses the conservation and sustainable use of forests, other terrestrial ecosystems and biodiversity, including halting desertification and land degradation and combating illegal trade in endangered species.
SDG 15 is an ambitious goal, as it encompasses all types of land-based ecosystems and biodiversity. The achievement of SDG 15 is central to providing environmental services essential for ensuring safe and sustainable water supplies, supporting sustainable food systems and mitigating climate change.
The need for action is urgent and here is where private sector can play its part. Businesses can either hinder or accelerate that effort through their actions.
April Group, as an organization that takes its responsibilities seriously, sees the SDG framework as an opportunity to contribute and measure performance toward sustainable development, and in 2013, the pulp and paper giant initiated an ecosystem restoration program in the province of Riau in Indonesia.
Natural to its business, April Group has invested significant resources in its Riau Ecosystem Restoration (RER) program aimed at protecting, restoring and conserving ecologically important peatland forest in Riau where it operates.
Located on Sumatra's eastern coastline, the RER program has a license to restore an ecosystem across 150,000 hectares of peatland forest, with 130,000 hectares located on the Kampar Peninsula and an additional 20,000 hectares located on nearby Padang Island. The total peatland restoration area is about twice the size of Singapore.
The restoration program involves concessions operating under 60-year ecosystem restoration licenses granted by Indonesia's Environment and Forestry Ministry.
The program is part of April Group's pledge to conserve one hectare of natural forest for every hectare of fiber plantation.
In 2015, April dedicated $100 million to support and secure the long-term conservation and restoration program. It is the largest peatland restoration program to be funded and managed by a private sector company in Southeast Asia.
"These achievements illustrate our model where RER is complemented by production forestry, which provides the financial resources to fund restoration, as well as the protection provided by an actively managed ring of fiber plantations," chairman of the RER advisory board, Bey Soo Khiang, said.
RER at a Glance
After having made a commitment to conserve wildlife, in 2017 RER started recording in its data bank sightings of rare and endangered birdlife in Riau, growth of sustainable forest-related alternative livelihoods for local communities and the continued absence of fire.
At the end of that year, RER had identified 718 species of fauna and flora, 70 species of mammals, 107 species of amphibian and reptile, 89 species of fish and 112 different types of tree and 40 non-tree species within the restoration area.
Around 18 percent of Indonesia's bird species have found safe haven inside the RER conservation area, including endangered, threatened and rare species.
As part of its effort to educate local communities about the importance of environment and biodiversity conservation, the RER team also invests time and resources to promote traditional farming, fishing and collecting of madu hutan Riau (Riau forest honey). For this program, RER helps farmers, fishermen and beekeepers market and sell their products with all the profits being returned back to the community.
As of now, the results of the RER program have been felt by the 17,000 residents who live in nine villages in the Kampar Peninsula, and another 24,000 residents in 10 villages on Padang Island.
With help from Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and two non-governmental organizations, Bidara and Laskar Alam, RER has managed to establish a strong working relationships with all communities in the area.