By Benjamin Ware
DO you know how vital Papua is for the environment? This province in Eastern Indonesia is home to the last big area of intact forest in the country, and one of the world’s most biodiverse. It is also the poorest part of Indonesia – nearly 30% of people here live in poverty.
Growing palm oil can be a way out of this poverty trap, but it also brings with it the risk of deforestation. In 2018 Greenpeace exposed large-scale deforestation in Papua linked to palm oil business Gama, which was then suspended from our supply chain.
That same year, Nestlé suspended 10 companies for violating our Responsible Sourcing Standard. Three for illegal deforestation in Papua, and one for the same offense in neighboring West Papua. This shows the seriousness of deforestation as a local issue.
What happens after we suspend a company from our supply chain?
Some companies continue with ‘business as usual’, while others sell off their remaining forested lands. Others, like Gama, act to halt deforestation and commit to ‘No Deforestation, No Peat and No Exploitation’ (NDPE) – the basis of responsible palm oil production and a requirement of our Responsible Sourcing Standard.
At Nestlé, we want to support companies like Gama to produce sustainable palm oil. Indeed, efforts are ongoing to develop standard re-entry criteria that suppliers found guilty of illegal deforestation must meet, before buying companies let them back into their supply chains.
Verifying supplier claims
We wanted to see Gama’s commitment to responsible production first hand, which is why Nestlé visited Papua in early 2019 with the NGO Aidenvironment Asia and one of our suppliers.
On the ground, we saw how Gama is implementing its new NDPE commitment, which involves working with Aidenvironment Asia on a remediation strategy for their lands in Papua and other parts of Indonesia.
Their work involves replanting ‘riparian zones’ (transitional zones between land and water) and deforested areas unplanted with palm oil, developing conservation plans for forested lands in Gama’s ‘land bank’, and generating compensation plans for lands cleared and planted.
Using concession maps from the supplier, Nestlé was able to monitor Gama’s sites via Starling. Since September 2018, this satellite-based system allows us to monitor our entire global palm oil supply chain for evidence of deforestation.
Satisfied with what we saw, we allowed Gama back into our supply chain on the condition that it does not clear any more forest or peatland (Aidenvironment will monitor this, and Nestlé also using Starling). Gama must also implement recovery and compensation plans that take account of local community needs.
Safeguarding people and planet
To some people, our move to allow Gama back into our supply chain before it completes its remediation plans might seem hasty. But we took this decision with one of our key Responsible Sourcing objectives in mind – what is best for people and planet.
In Papua, proper planning to support conservation and sustainable economic development is vital. Local communities want Gama to develop their lands. If Gama does not do so, it runs the risk of losing the lands, which another, less scrupulous company could then clear.
At the same time, conservation is vital. Locals we met also want to conserve their local forest, which is central to their culture. Indonesia’s government thinks similarly – it wants to develop the region whilst conserving 90% of its forest cover under the Papua Province Vision.
The situation is complex, and the need to balance conservation and development objectives is not unique to Indonesia. In South America, West Africa and beyond, we face similar challenges.
Nonetheless, if you take one message from this blog – this is it. We can only preserve forests by supporting those companies that embrace forest conservation as part of a sustainable economic development plan.
By excluding those companies that are found guilty of deforestation, but work hard thereafter to do the right thing, we risk endangering the magnificent forests that remain. (*)
The author is Global Head of Responsible Sourcing