Aceh is a region in Indonesia, perhaps most recognised globally for its devastation in the 2004 Tsunami. In the aftermath of the disaster, reviving agriculture to reduce poverty and rebuild livelihoods was critical. Due to the salinity of the water post-tsunami, many rice fields were converted to palm plantations because of its productiveness, leading to the rise of the palm oil industry in Aceh.
In recent years, this boom in the palm oil industry in Aceh has become increasingly concerning because Aceh is also home to large part of the Leuser Ecosystem – an important tropical rainforest with several endangered species of animals, which has been identified by Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) as a crucial area for protection in the last few years.
While Golden Agri-Resources (GAR) does not own any palm oil mills or plantations in Aceh, we have been buying crude palm oil and palm kernel from mills there, and it is our commitment to ensure the source of raw material supply is responsible, in accordance with GAR’s Social and Environment Policy (GSEP). As such, we have a responsibility to engage stakeholders in Aceh.
Our supply chain team has been engaging suppliers in Aceh on sustainability topics through individual site visits since 2015. Based on focus group discussions with NGOs in Aceh, it was clear that GAR had to take a deeper role in helping its supply chain partners in Aceh to apply sustainable environmental and social practices.
Through a joint sustainable palm oil training, attended by 22 participants from 12 of our suppliers operating in Aceh, GAR was able to educate attendees on the importance of the Leuser Ecosystem, and share sustainable plantation management practices. Aside from educating them on best practices, the training was an opportunity for suppliers to highlight external challenges that they have been facing, such as the unclear boundaries of the Leuser Ecosystem, the absence of the government’s role as a ‘referee’, and the lack of awareness by the local communities about the importance of the Ecosystem. It is clear that it isn’t only the companies/suppliers who have to change their behaviour, but entire communities.
While the palm oil industry has become one of the main sources of income for a lot of people, plantations and mills within the Leuser Ecosystem, and even within elephant and orangutan conservation areas, threaten the existence of these natural habitats. A sustainable Aceh will require efforts of not just NGOs and corporations, but also local suppliers, communities and government organisations. Our next step is to work jointly with these parties on landscape planning and conservation programs in Aceh similar to our Participatory Conservation Approach done with other communities, balancing wildlife protection with human development.
Audy J. Kalangi is a supply chain development specialist working at GAR. He develops programmes and tools for GAR supplier transformations. He has previously worked as an education specialist for World Education and graduated from the Gadjah Mada University with a degree in food technology and processing.
 Asian Journal of Agriculture and Development, Vol. 8, No. 1: The Role of Agriculture in Recovery Following Natural Disasters: A Focus on Post-Tsunami Recovery in Aceh, Indonesia http://ageconsearch.umn.edu/bitstream/199318/2/AJAD_2011_8_1_2Tinning.pdf