The growing demand for paper products in India has attracted the attention of the major Indonesian paper company, Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) which is now planning to build new pulp & paper mill with the capacity of 5 million tons per year in Andhra Pradesh, India. The company has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the local government as a preliminary step towards construction of the mill. This plant, that is planned to be built in Ramayapatnam, in the Coastal Andhras Prakasam district, would become the largest paper mill in the country, and would impact up to 50,000 pulpwood farmers.
The full scale of environmental and social impacts resulting from the new giant mill is difficult to account for at this stage, but there are already some indications of the social and environmental risks from the project, including:
Risk of Land-grabbing: The local government of Andhra Pradesh has already acquired 50% of the land needed to build the mill in Ramayapatnam, and it will acquire the rest in the coming months. There is no guarantee that this land acquisition has been carried on without evictions and assuring a full implementation of Free and Prior Informed Consent (FPIC).
Much more land will be needed to provide woodfiber for the mill. In Indonesia, a mill of the same size, producing 5 million tonnes a year, would require around 1 million hectares net of plantations (net means excluding set-aside areas required by the law. Gross plantation areas would require almost 2 million hectares of concessions). In India, the conversion rate plantation/yield/pulp may be different but without a doubt the land extension the mill would require is at the same scale.
In Indonesia, small farmers largely avoid producing wood for the pulp industry because it provides very low economic gain, compared to more successful alternatives (subsistence agriculture or export crops).
Risk of Deforestation and Forest Degradation: The Indian government released recently a Draft National Forest Code. If approved, the policy will open up public lands to the corporate sector, to develop tree plantations on government-owned forest lands. The existing National Forest Policy protects forest dwellers and considers natural forests as a gene pool resource to help to maintain ecological balance. The existing code states, “Such forests will not, therefore, be made available to industries for undertaking plantation and for any other activities.”
The changes in the Forest Code would open up India’s forests to the industry, and under the term of “reforestation”, transforming natural “underutilized” forests into tree-plantations. The new law encourages partnerships between the government and industries to develop government-owned forest lands into “forest plantations of commercially important species.” It may be a pure coincidence that only a few months after the new draft Forest Code was released, APP signed the MoU with the Andhra Pradesh government. But it clearly opens opportunities, facilitating APP’s access to fibre sources, while potentially degrading India’s natural forests and natural forest restoration opportunities.
Water-grabbing: On average 10 litres of water are required to produce one A4 sheet of paper – in some cases, as much as 20 litres. A paper mill producing five million tonnes of paper per year requires huge amounts of water. The timber it needs to produce the pulp, would require even more water. Media reports mention that eucalyptus and subabul plantations will be established. Eucalyptus is a high water consuming tree that requires an average of 30 litres of water every day. In South Africa, when planted at a density of 400 trees per hectare, eucalyptus pulpwood plantations of 2 million hectares could absorb up to 25 billion litres of water. In areas surrounding the plantations, water level of wells would drop dramatically. Despite the fact that climate and water cycles in Andhra Pradesh may be very different than in South Africa, the new mill will exacerbate the drought risk that the region is already facing.
The second species of tree, Subabul (Leucaena leucocephala), is an invasive and aggressive colonizer of rural sites and considered to be secondary or disturbed vegetation both in Mexico and in many subtropical parts of Asia.
Wastewater: A five million tonnes a year pulp and paper mill could consume and discharge about 50 billion litres of water every year. Even if the mill would deploy the most efficient technology of Elementary Chlorine Free (ECF) bleaching – the same standard APP used in its recent new mills – given its dimension and scale, it would still discharge unsustainable amounts of chlorinated organic substances (adsorbable organic halide or AOX) with its waste waters. These would affect the marine ecology in the Bay of Bengal and impact the fish stocks, and therefore also the local fishing economy. The most advanced EFC technology may contain amounts of AOX releases (about 0,05 – 0,1 kg/t) which are an improvement compared to the older, less efficient mills but given the scale of this project, it would be still have an impact that must be thoroughly analyzed and reviewed.
Many of these issues are starting to be raised by local community members and experts in the region. Recently, a group of concerned scientific experts in the region, called Scientists for the People, issued an open letter on the pulp mill proposal. The letter concludes with,
“We cannot afford to look at development as in the past and have to redefine it to be compatible with a living planet. Mere attraction of investments does not lift people from poverty and improve their financial position. It is the rules of the game that determine who gets what share. We appeal to the people to watch out with open eyes and decide what is in the broader interests of the people.”