Deforestation in Riau's Forests: Two Global Pulp and Paper Companies will Decide Their Fate

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The fastest rate of deforestation in Indonesia is occurring in central Sumatra's Riau province, which is also one of the fastest in the world (FAO 2006, Greenpeace 2007). About one third of total deforestation in Riau is caused by oil palm plantations, while the majority of the remainder is due to pulpwood plantations. Among the plantations for pulpwood production, two global pulp and paper companies account for much of the total deforestation (WWF 2006).

Critical Statistics:
  1. Riau Province, in the center of Indonesia’s Island of Sumatra, has lost more than 4 million hectares, or 65%, of the original forest cover in the province from 1982 to 2007 (WWF 2008, Guardian 2009).

  2. Forest cover in Riau has declined from 78% in 1982 to 27% in 2007 (WWF 2008).

  3. The annual rate of forest cover loss has been increasing. It has gone from 2.2% in 2002, to 4.2% in 2004, to 6.8% in 2005, and to 11% in 2006 (figure 1 and 2) (WWF 2008).

  1. Riau province produces more than two thirds of Indonesia’s pulp, the majority of which is processed by two of the world’s largest pulp mills, Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) and Asia Pacific Resources International Holdings Limited (APRIL). Both mills continue to rely significantly on fiber originating from illegal or legal-but-destructive large-scale natural forest clearance (Tempo 2007).

  2. The World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) estimated that about 170,000 hectares of natural forests were cleared to feed these two pulp mills in 2005 alone (WWF 2006). This number accounted for about 80% of the total deforestation detected on satellite images between 2004 and 2005 (WWF 2006).

  3. Riau is covered with more oil palm concessions than any other province in Indonesia. Since 1982, about 30% of the province's natural forest has been cleared for oil palm plantations (WWF 2006).

  4. Market force, stemming from “global consumption of pulp and paper and palm oil products”, can be seen as the ultimate cause for Riau's deforestation (WWF 2008).

  1. The conversion of forests and peat swamps into plantations for pulpwood and palm oil production has resulted in the generation of 0.22 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions annually between 1990 and 2007; more than that of the whole Netherlands (PEACE 2007, WWF 2008).

  2. Forests that have not been completely destroyed are degraded to medium or very open canopy (WWF 2008).

  3. Loss of forest cover has also resulted in the damage and destruction of habitats for many threatened and endangered animal species, such as Sumatran elephants and tigers (figure 3) (WWF 2008).

  4. There has also been a large level of carbon loss for the peat soils (WWF 2008).

What is Next:
  1. Looking into the future, a “business as usual” scenario suggests that Riau’s natural forest cover could decline to 6% by 2015, from 27% today (WWF 2008).Of that, “84% of total deforestation” would happen on peat soil, “74% of all deforestation” would be driven by APP and APRIL, and “23% of all deforestation” would be driven by oil palm plantations (WWF 2008).

  2. The ways to change the fate of natural forest in Riau are: 1) scientific management of the natural forest, 2) resource saving production methods for pulpwood and oil palm plantations, 3) reduced demand for pulp and paper and palm oil products (WWF 2008).

  1. FAO, 2006. The Global Forest Resources Assessment 2005. Progress towards sustainable forest management. (last accessed 18 November 2009).

  2. Greenpeace Southeast Asia, 2007. Indonesia poised for World Record as fastest destroyer of forests. 16 March. (last accessed 18 November 2009).

  3. Guardian News and Media, 2009. Deforestation on Sumatra Island. (last accessed 18 November 2009).

  4. PEACE, 2007. Indonesia and Climate Change: Current Status and Policies.

  5. Tempo Magazine, 2007. Roads to Ruin. 11-17 September. (last accessed 18 November 2009).

  6. WWF Indonesia, 2006. The Eleventh Hour for Riau’s Forests: Two global pulp and paper companies will decide their fate.