Andar Tarihoran, a worker at one of APP’s mills in Karawang once told us that “great things can happen when adults take orders from a bunch of kids”.

Today (21 March) marks International Day of Forests, which this year focusses on the importance of education at all levels in achieving sustainable forest management. It goes without saying that investing in forestry education can change the world for the better. But as Andar pointed out, it’s also crucial to empower younger generations to realise the importance of forests in our lives. That’s why we need to ensure that we are all – from policy makers, to local communities – working together to halt deforestation and restore degraded landscapes.

As the world population continues to grow – currently predicted to climb to 8.5 billion by 2030 – forests will be more important than ever, as healthy forests translate to healthy, resilient and prosperous communities. Forests cover almost one-third of the world’s land area and over one billion people rely on them for their livelihoods. However, the World Resources Institute reports that globally tree cover loss has accelerated by 51%. This has resulted in the loss of an area the size of New Zealand due to issues such as forest fires and deforestation.

Keeping our forests healthy is crucial for our future, and education plays an integral role in spreading this message. The next generation need to understand that we all have a part to play to maintain forests for the future. Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) have developed a Sustainability Roadmap Vision 2020 which sets out ambitious targets to reduce deforestation in Indonesia, and places sustainability at the centre of every operation. One aspect of this vision is the Forest Conservation Policy (FCP), which is centred around communities. This policy has strengthened APP’s commitment to zero-deforestation and commitment to improving the livelihoods of communities in and around our concession areas in Indonesia. Education has been at the centre of this initiative and is key to building a sustainable future for communities.

One aspect of APP’s Forest Conservation Policy (FCP) is an Integrated Forestry & Farming System (IFFS). This is a community empowerment programme designed to improve the livelihood of local communities in Indonesia, by increasing awareness and use of modern and sustainability agroforestry practices. Most activities aim to strengthen food security at the village level, and as a result, increase the income of the program beneficiaries. The ultimate aim is to build a long-term future for these communities by reducing their dependence on forest land and therefore, deforestation.

The programme aims to enrol 500 villages across five Indonesian provinces where APP and its suppliers operate. Villages that will benefit from this new training and education include Riau, South Sumatra, Jambi, West Kalimantan and East Kalimantan.

Another crucial reason for engaging with communities to reduce deforestation is to reduce the risk of forest fires. Communities play a vital role in fire prevention, a threat that is not only common in Indonesia but an issue that we are facing globally. To combat this, we are educating local communities, and working closely with them as our partners on the ground to monitor and prevent fires.

For example, we are strengthening local firefighting councils to enable them to play larger roles in fire prevention. We have also engaged international fire management experts to provide training on Incident Command System (ICS), which emphasizes the importance of coordinating ground and aerial firefighting efforts. The training includes our suppliers as we are equally committed to building their capacity in fire prevention and suppression.

The word education usually conjures thoughts of sitting in a classroom with a book. However, it can arguably be what’s learnt outside of the classroom that is the most important and often more memorable. We have a long way to go to make sure that the importance that forests play in our lives is realised – but empowering people to realise this role is the first step in halting deforestation. Keeping forests healthy is crucial. The battle to educate people – from workers at our mills, to kids sitting in the classroom – is crucial. The battle starts now.

Dr Liz Wilks, Asia Pulp & Paper (APP)