A few days ago, I read a study which said that 45% of people aged between 18 and 35 feel that they didn’t receive enough information about caring for the environment while they were at school. Seeing such a high figure shocked me, and made me think about how relevant the slogan of International Earth Day, chosen by the Earth Day Network, is this year: Environment and climate education.
As on every 22nd April, this year we are celebrating International Earth Day, a day dedicated to remembering that our planet, with all of its species and ecosystems, is the life force and sustenance for all of us who live on it. Today, 47 years after this movement began, we are not only celebrating Earth Day, but we are also reasserting that education, training and awareness are the best tools to protect our planet.
Having information about the environment in which we live, and understanding how important it is in our lives, ensures that we are aware of our responsibility to protect it both individually and within our communities. We can care for the environment as citizens, through the government and as businesses.
At Asia Pulp & Paper we share this way of thinking. We understand that, as a global market leader in the production of pulp and paper, education should be a key element in our initiatives for forest conservation in the areas in which we operate. Therefore, we are carrying out different long and short term projects and strategies, with the help of various groups that are present in these areas: local governments, NGOs, regional and local institutions and the private sector.
In accordance with this goal, Asia Pulp & Paper is developing an ambitious Agroforestry Program (called the Integrated Forest Exploitation and Agriculture Program) to help local communities develop an alternative way of living and reduce the pressure on the forest caused by the expansion of agriculture. It intends to benefit households in 500 Indonesian villages across 5 provinces with a total investment by APP of USD 10 million by 2020. This project allows agricultural practices to be carried out in harmony with the forests, recognizing that these activities are a source of income for the communities who live within them.
This initiative is being developed through pilot-programs that include the support of economic activities, technology transfers (such as sustainable fruit and vegetable farming techniques, aquaculture and agroforestry), community participation in protection and conservation and conflict prevention and resolution. Local community members receive equipment and economic support via microcredits or rotary funds, which allow them to get the ball rolling on their own economic activity. Moreover, Asia Pulp & Paper is also supporting education programs that help develop agricultural activities and commercialize their products.
This was the case for Bukit Batu, which is in Palembang, where APP helped a community to plant corn in 24 hectares of reclaimed land and where they are already seeing a bountiful harvest.
In Sei Selodang, in Riau province, APP has begun a farming and horticulture course and has provided communities with professional training on how to sustainably work the land. Muara Bengkal, also in Riau province, is another example. Here, the project aims to reach 185 families living within 20,000 hectares. This community stands to benefit from the expansion and development of paddy cultivation; agricultural diversification plans aimed at increasing the number of harvests per year; and from training led by experts in agriculture and vocational skills. The aim is to increase community income by 20% - 30% in the first year of implementation and by up to 50% - 75% by the third year as a result of improved productivity.
I had the opportunity to meet some of the people who have participated in these programs and I have seen firsthand how much we can learn from them. They are the ones who are receiving technical training in specific agricultural practices, but they are far ahead in terms of awareness. During one of my trips to Indonesia, a colleague asked a woman named Putri what her deepest concern was. She didn’t hesitate to answer that it was “climate change”. She didn’t use these words exactly, but this is what she meant, to describe the alarming current climate in which we are seeing droughts, extreme rainfall and very high temperatures that put agricultural activity and our very livelihood at risk. This answer made me think that, although we still have a lot of to do, we are on the right track. Maybe Putri, who lives in Indonesia, doesn’t think so differently as Europeans regarding the environment. After all, we all live on the same planet.
Happy Earth Day!