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In 2015, the 193 countries of the UN General Assembly collectively adopted the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda which outlines 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Covering a broad range of social and economic development issues including poverty, hunger, health, education, energy and environment, the SDGs are meant to enable inclusive growth in a world that leaves no one behind.

Sustainable Development Goals

“Prior to the establishment of the SDGs, many companies have already made voluntary commitments to support sustainable development or to enhance environmental objectives, such as no-deforestation pledges or the implementation of sustainable forest management policies as in our sector,” said Lucita Jasmin, APRIL Director of Sustainability and External Affairs.

Companies cannot operate in isolation from the communities of which they are part. But managing those engagements can be difficult even in areas where the practice is well established. How to set up a village-level program in remote parts of Indonesia to not just partner with locals, but get them to change age-old practices?

That was the challenge faced by APRIL in the initial design of its now successful Fire Free Village Program (FFVP).

“The FFVP is about fire prevention through community engagement,” says Craig Tribolet, APRIL’s Strategic Fire and Protection Manager. Currently it works with 77 communities around APRIL’s concession areas to encourage them not to start fires, like those that led to the debilitating haze across the region in 2015.

The program began that same year when APRIL identified nine high fire risk villages which neighbour the company’s concession areas, engaging the communities there in discussions around fire prevention. Although the country as a whole saw the worst fires in its history, the villages which had joined FFVP reduced their average burning by 90 per cent.

The village of Teluk Dalam in Indonesia’s Riau Province is so remote that the nearest big city is a three-hour boat ride away. So the villagers are understandably proud of local resident Yogi Suardiwerianto, who returned recently after completing a Master’s degree in the Netherlands, supported by APRIL Group.

Yogi, aged 30, first studied at the Department of Marine Science at Bogor Agricultural Institute before returning to Riau in 2011 to look for work. He found a job as Assistant Trainee in the Peatland Management Department of APRIL Group subsidiary Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper, which is one of the largest employers in the area.

In 2015 his supervisor asked Yogi if he would be interested in continuing his studies at Master’s level, with all the costs covered by APRIL Group as part of its commitment to continuously invest in its employees.

When Ni'mah and her family first moved to Pangkalan Kerinci in Indonesia's Riau Province, economic circumstances forced them to live in a hut with no electricity and no running water.

"I used to live in a palm plantation in Pangkalan Kerinci," she says. "There were only seven families living there at the time. There was no electricity, and the roads were still made of dirt. If it rained, it became muddy.

"If I wanted to go to the market, I had to walk around five kilometres to get there."

Ni'mah and her husband moved to the area from Java in 2010, but with few skills, they found it difficult to get jobs, and made ends meet by growing fruits and vegetables.