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Tackling new mills a key way to stop the haze at source

A dozen environmental groups have published a report questioning Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) regarding the source of pulpwood for its giant mill under construction in South Sumatra (“APP’s new mill puts its green promise back in spotlight”; April 21).

Chris Cheng Chin Hsien, Strategic Advisor, People’s Movement to Stop Haze

A dozen environmental groups have published a report questioning Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) regarding the source of pulpwood for its giant mill under construction in South Sumatra (“APP’s new mill puts its green promise back in spotlight”; April 21).

And since it publicised its plans for the mill in 2013, the number of hot spots in APP’s concessions in Sumatra has increased.

Peatland drainage, for the cultivation of oil palm and the acacia tree (for paper), results in highly flammable dry peatland, where fires are difficult to put out.

Although concession companies have committed to zero-deforestation and peatland conservation, that new mills are being constructed without clear statements made about where their commodity supply will be sourced is what drives land clearance and fires.

This is regardless of whether the clearance is legal or who sets the fire.

Such problems can be resolved if a new mill can identify, before construction, that its raw materials are from existing plantations with increased yields or from expansion into non-forest and non-peat areas, for example.

With increasing pressure from non-governmental organisations and the public, companies tend to be more careful now on their plantations. Unfortunately, the opacity of the plantations of third-party suppliers gives room for illegal activities and fires.

We should not complain only when the haze hits; putting out fires early is necessary but does not address the root causes. We should aim to prevent fires and mitigate fire-prone conditions.

Tackling the mills, especially new mills, may be the most effective solution. For existing mills, most lands may have already been cleared for commercial crops prior to the mill begins operations. Nevertheless, influencing companies is still a challenge.

Will APP suspend the mill construction until it announces its source of deforestation-free and peat-free or peat-friendly pulpwood supply? Will companies ensure no sourcing of illegal commodities, even before the mills are built, to minimise the fire risk?

Will financial institutions request detailed plans for deforestation-free and peat-free or peat-friendly commodity sourcing prior to any investment deal or loan for mill-construction projects?

Will the Singapore Exchange request its listed companies in the agriculture and forestry sectors to publish information on their commodity sourcing in their sustainable reports?

Will local organisations that buy paper and palm oil demand the same level of information from their suppliers? These are tough questions. We will probably need stronger advocacy to demand such transparency.

In the past week, many fires in Peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra and Borneo occurred on peatland. Some had been around for weeks. We need people’s voices to end the haze.

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