Empowering Women, Indigenous Communities & Sustainability

Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) Sinar Mas’s Efforts In Building Partnerships To Empower Women & Indigenous Communities – Establishing meaningful partnerships is key to empowering women and indigenous communities. Read on to find out how Asia Pulp and Paper is creating positive change.

By the team at Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) Sinar Mas, a pulp and paper manufacturer that has embarked on a mission of becoming more sustainable and responsible.

The Goal of Empowering Women and Indigenous Communities

You can’t build towards a better, more sustainable future if it doesn’t include everyone. However‌, the needs of women and indigenous communities have historically been overlooked in decision-making involving environmental management and conservation. Today a considered approach to relationship-building makes it possible to establish strong partnerships that uplift these much-needed groups as part of a long-term sustainability strategy that seeks to empower the surrounding community.

According to studies by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), increased gender inequality can compound the effects of climate change, resulting in divergent results for the lives of men, women, and children. In areas where women traditionally bear the greater share of agricultural responsibilities, for example, issues such as drought or land insecurity have a more significant effect on their lives and livelihoods than that of men.

Indigenous communities – many of whom depend on the land for sustenance and have a close relationship with the natural ecology surrounding them – are another group disproportionately affected by climate change. Issues such as rising sea levels, increased global temperatures, and activism against sustenance hunting that fail to consider the livelihoods of indigenous communities are all pertinent concerns to communities worldwide.

Conversely, women who have been uplifted through systematic sustainability measures, as well as their children, more directly benefit from positive ecological outcomes. The same can also be said for integrating the viewpoints, worldviews, and economic realities of indigenous communities worldwide into sustainability strategies. Building meaningful partnerships in these ways ensures more people and their communities are able to achieve economic prosperity while ameliorating the damaging effects of climate change as-is.

Today, Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) Sinar Mas works closely with communities throughout Indonesia to aid in empowering women and indigenous groups in or near their concession areas, while still supporting their business goals. From providing employment opportunities to fostering sustainable agriculture, the partnerships and programmes initiated by the organisation provide a blueprint that other organisations can seek to follow for their own long-term sustainability strategies.

Empowering Women, Indigenous Communities & Sustainability: 4 women in a colourfull hall working on a wooden frame on the floor
Workshops aimed at empowering women and other marginalized communities

Increasing Community Participation

Active participation of indigenous communities is one of the most crucial aspects of sustainable forest management. To this effect, Asia Pulp and Paper’s Integrated Forestry and Farming System (IFFS) streamlines coordination between several parties, including villagers and local administrators, non-governmental organisations, and the company itself. This helps to strengthen these relationships while preserving forests in and around concession areas.

The IFFS has also connected indigenous communities within the system to alternative modes of livelihood, such as vegetable and fruit farming and livestock rearing that reduce the community’s dependence on primary forests. This has broadened the economic base of these local communities as well as improved their food security as part of long-term efforts to uplift regional communities.

While the IFFS programme has coordinated with scores of communities across the country, one of the most successful is in Dataran Kempas, a village based in the Tebing Tinggi district of Jambi province. In 2019, Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry awarded the community the Climate Village Program Main Award, with the IFFS programme contributing over 230 jobs producing a total monthly income of Rp 1 billion.

Under the IFFS scheme, Asia Pulp & Paper has not only provided technical and financial resources to affected communities, but has also built new avenues of communication for the productive resolution of any land disputes. This has helped to better integrate the viewpoints and interests of indigenous communities within existing and future collaborations, ensuring tangible outcomes that can benefit and uplift the community beyond just the short term.

Forging Smart Collaborations

As Asia Pulp and Paper seeks to make a strong positive impact on women in communities across Indonesia, finding a dependable partner to help achieve its objectives is essential. In 2018, the organisation partnered with Martha Tilaar Group, a leading cosmetics and herbal medicine manufacturer that shares its paradigm-shifting outlook, to achieve its goal of uplifting women from forest communities.

This partnership initially launched with the challenging goal of empowering women living in remote communities to become self-sufficient entrepreneurs. Over 1,000 women from forest communities were trained in identifying and processing local herbs using sustainable techniques. Facilitated by the Indonesia Global Compact Network, this collaboration has helped women in isolated locations improve their and their families’ livelihoods without placing undue pressure on the local environment.

The Desa Makmur Peduli Api (DMPA) programme has also proved a large-scale success, with this initiative seeing Asia Pulp and Paper collaborate with local groups to enhance sustainable agriculture practices. Based on the IFFS concept, this programme ensures villages benefit from enhanced community engagement and regenerative agriculture. In partnership with small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) across 386 rural villages, DMPA aims to use economic empowerment to reduce forest pressure and fire risk by providing communities with livelihood alternatives to slash-and-burn.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, DMPA has also helped rural SMEs access e-commerce platforms to increase their incomes and economic resilience during this unprecedented time of upheaval and uncertainty.

Enabling Economic Empowerment

The importance of economic empowerment cannot be overstated when crafting sustainability and development strategies that seek to uplift marginalised communities such as women and indigenous peoples. In collaboration with the Doktor Sjahrir Foundation (DSF), Asia Pulp and Paper has prioritised education, outreach, and resource allocation to marginalised communities as part of efforts to affect larger change.

A key programme under this collaboration was the invitation of women in affected communities to engage with the Kalimantan Rattan Project – a joint undertaking with Vinto Craft that delivered in-depth training in rattan weaving skills. This provided them with alternative livelihood sources during the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, and gave women more leverage in managing family welfare by providing additional household income.

In 2021 Asia Pulp & Paper also collaborated with the DSF and Shopee Indonesia to provide communities with access to workshops on e-commerce and online marketing. Webinars run under this programme provided participants with basic knowledge of operating on online marketplaces, as well as basic skills in photography and copywriting to help them run their own online businesses. Meanwhile, these classes also saw leading female entrepreneurs provide guidance on developing appealing products and a suitable business model.

Earning Trust Through Commitment

When indigenous communities undergo difficult economic pressures, unsustainable environmental practices such as slash-and-burn can become more commonplace as villages attempt to generate income. Industries that operate in sensitive rural areas, such as the pulp and paper sector, must thus take genuine steps to form reliable partnerships with the people who live in these locales and concession areas. 

Forests with complex historical ownership legacies can also lead to problematic and complicated land disputes that benefit no one; avenues for mediation and cooperation must thus be opened up to ensure the interests of all stakeholders can be fairly addressed and resolved.

Asia Pulp and Paper’s Commitment to Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) is an example of a comprehensive sustainability-focused framework that shows respect for local and indigenous communities by engaging them in any proposed development.

The FPIC policies are dedicated to addressing and untangling the delicate issues related to indigenous communities in Asia Pulp & Paper’s concession areas, in order to resolve conflicts and enable responsible operations. This includes detailed mapping of land disputes, the creation of work plans to address conflicts, and robust measures that initiate social engagement with varied stakeholders.

Together, these practices have helped mitigate a variety of nuanced land disputes. By the end of 2020, 55% of land disputes involving Asia Pulp & Paper were resolved, demonstrating how this approach to conflict resolution has helped to deliver effective results.

Creating Long-Term Partnerships within a Sustainability Framework

Empowering women and indigenous communities is a core priority for Asia Pulp and Paper’s sustainability strategy both now and in the future. By forging strong partnerships with like-minded organisations and local groups, genuine work can be done to engage and address the interests of marginalised communities within the organisation’s concession areas, while still ensuring business needs are met.