Haze: Concession maps alone don’t give clear picture

Haze: Concession maps alone don’t give clear picture
Photo: Don Wong
Difficulty of tracing palm oil through supply chain, sustainability also discussed at 6th ASEAN and Asia Forum
Published: 4:03 AM, September 13, 2013
Updated: 4:00 AM, September 14, 2013
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SINGAPORE — As the region was blanketed in haze earlier this year, Singapore-listed agribusiness giant Wilmar International discussed whether to make its concession maps public.

A key consideration: The value of publishing such information.

Even if the maps — which show areas where the company is allowed to conduct economic activities — are put up, the public would need a trained eye to look at them and the company would still have to explain any fires that occur in concession areas, said Ms Sharon Chong, Wilmar’s Senior Manager of Corporate Social Responsibility.

Fires could be accidentally started or spread from other plantations. They could also be set by independent indigenous communities residing in these concession areas who clear land.

“Sometimes, we wonder if there’s really much value in putting up our concession maps. That’s something we are discussing internally,” said Ms Chong yesterday at the 6th ASEAN and Asia Forum, held at the St Regis Hotel. It was organised by the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.

She was one of the panellists at a session called ASEAN’s Resources: Solving the Haze, Sustaining the Future, which discussed efforts of the palm oil and resources sector in achieving greater sustainability.

In the wake of burning-induced haze that blanketed Singapore, Malaysia and parts of Indonesia in June, environmental groups had called for more transparency to hold those responsible accountable, starting with the sharing of concession maps.

Several major palm oil and pulp companies, including Wilmar, have stated their zero-burning policies. But none have volunteered information about concession areas.

The Indonesian government also cited legal concerns in sharing its maps for a sub-regional haze monitoring system.

Panellists spoke about the complexity of tracing palm oil through a fragmented supply chain, the need for multiple parties to work together and efforts to address underlying issues, such as the livelihoods of small farmers.

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