Hans Nicholas Jong, Jakarta – Clearing of natural forests has been detected on land licensed to a subsidiary of South Korean paper company Moorim in Indonesia's easternmost region of Papua, indicating an increase in deforestation.
Moorim exports its paper products around the world. Its paper has been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) since 2007-2008, according to the Moorim website.
Satellite imagery shows 965 hectares (2,384 acres) of tree loss from January to May this year in the concession run by Moorim's Indonesian subsidiary, PT Plasma Nutfah Marind Papua (PNMP), according to the forest monitoring platform Nusantara Atlas.
Some 628 hectares (1,551 acres) of the tree loss, or nearly two-thirds, occurred in mineral soil, indicating the clearing of natural forests, while the rest was detected on non-forest land, including shrubland and plantations.
Tree loss was also recorded on PNMP's concession in 2020, with 1,685 hectares (4,164 acres) cleared. But nearly all of the tree loss that year, 98%, was on non-forest land, primarily pulpwood plantations.
"So there were some tree loss clearing before 2021, but none of that affected forests," David Gaveau, founder of technology consultancy TheTreeMap, which developed Nusantara Atlas, told Mongabay.
It wasn't until this March that forest clearing really picked up, with 202 hectares (500 acres) of deforestation detected as of March 15.
Franky Samperante, director of environmental NGO Pusaka, said some of the clearing occurred in peat swamp areas, based on drone video that he shot during a field investigation of PNMP's concession earlier this year. The images showed heaps of logged timber in the peat swamps, he said.
"The logs are used to cultivate land [for pulpwood plantations]," Franky told Mongabay. "The peat swamps are covered by logs so that they can be cultivated."
This loss of forests is devastating for the Indigenous people living in the area, who depend on the forests and the wildlife there, such as boars and deer, for their sustenance, Franky said.
"After the forests disappeared, they have to travel further for hunting and fishing," he said. "It's getting more difficult to find food."
Besides the loss of their forests, some of the Indigenous communities there have also been denied the right to give their free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) to PNMP's operations, Franky added. He said the company's concession overlaps with the village of Buepe in Merauke district. The village is home to eight clans, and while there's a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the village and the company, the clans themselves weren't involved in the drafting of the agreement, Franky said.
"When the company entered the area, they didn't discuss with the eight clans, but with the neighboring clans in Sanggase village," Franky said.
Even in Sanggase, there was opposition from residents. In 2011, the villagers were reported as being strongly against PNMP because the company had never discussed its plans with local communities.
Despite the opposition, PNMP proceeded to clear forests in Sanggase village, Franky said. However, the area turned out to be not suitable for the development of pulpwood plantations.
"So [the company] brought the contract from Sanggase village to Buepe village," Franky said. "So the contract already existed and the people [in Buepe village] just had to sign it. So the FPIC process wasn't there."
Among the clans in Buepe who weren't properly consulted with is the Samkakai, he said.
"I asked Lukas, the head of the Samkakai clan, and he said that he never agreed to and is still doubtful in giving away their lands [to PNMP]," Franky said. "That'll depend on the benefits given by the company to the clan because there are some promises made by the company regarding livelihoods, education facilities and money that haven't been met."
Responding to the allegation of deforestation by a certified company, the FSC said its takes the issue "very seriously."
"We follow a process for assessing such allegations, working together with accredited conformance assessment bodies and informing the certified company of the allegations and requesting a response," the FSC told Mongabay in an email.
Moorim did not respond to Mongabay's requests for comment.