Foreign Correspondent - Sumatra: Paper Tiger

Riau province in Sumatra is home to the world’s biggest paper plant. It’s owned and run by Asia Pacific Resources International Ltd, better known by the more disarming acronym APRIL. The company has embarked on a massive land clearing project, removing natural stands of timber and replanting fast-growing acacia trees and when it’s done it says the plantation timber alone will feed the plant. APRIL describes this program as sustainable and certainly preferable to the ad hoc land clearing and burning which blights so much of the Indonesia archipelago.

As the carbon debate rages in Australia, Indonesia correspondent Matt Brown ventures into the rapidly diminishing Sumatran jungle, destruction adding dramatically to Indonesia’s greenhouse gas outputs and catapulting the nation high up the list of the world’s worst emitters.

Foreign Correspondent focuses on the activities of APRIL in Riau province where its gargantuan development has led to a bustling town of 250,000 people, many working for and benefitting from APRIL’s plantation and factory. It produces office paper sold by some of Australia’s largest retailers. But our team explores beyond what APRIL proffers as a model development, to investigate claims of corruption in a nearby area where logging companies appear to have bribed their way into operation. An APRIL subsidiary has been implicated in a paper trail leading to a powerful local political figure now in jail for accepting bribes in return for production permits.

And we investigate the implications of major plantation and milling development on Sumatra’s sensitive and carbon-loaded peat beds. As the bulldozers move through the peat beds, peat dries in the sun and enormous clouds of greenhouse gas are expelled into the atmosphere.

Environmentalists and many villagers worry about the dramatic changes reshaping the land and also about the plight of residents who’ve been there a lot longer than most - like the Sumatran tiger.

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