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A business trip to Canada: On a mission to understand deforestation monitoring technology while promoting Indonesia’s palm oil industry


Since 2016, Sinar Mas Agribusiness and Food along with Sinar Mas Forestry (SMF) have been working closely with Canada-based MacDonald & Detweiler Associates (MDA) in monitoring deforestation through a Forest Alert Service (FAS) using the RADARSAT-2 satellites. Both companies involved have taken this measure to maintain their commitments on implementing sustainable environmental management policies, especially related to forest conservation.

In May 2018, MDA sent official invitations to both companies to attend the “Forest Product Evolution Meeting” at its facilities in Ottawa and Vancouver, Canada. In August, the companies sent a representative each to Canada to attend the event, Adrianto Gunawan for SMF and me, for Sinar Mas Agribusiness and Food.

Visiting Ottawa, Canada, for the first time in a mission to bring positive messages about the Indonesian palm oil industry where I work.

Showcasing what palm oil really is

Between the presentation sessions on the FAS progress report, I took the opportunity to showcase our Extraordinary Everyday campaign and its anchor video “The Journey”, which garnered positive feedback from our Canadian partners.

“This is the first time I watched a CSR video that goes straight to the heart of an oil palm company. My eyes were beaming with joy. Thanks to Ms Siti Musyaropah ()*, I’ve been able to fully grasp the challenges that people living in oil palm plantation estates face. From Pak Yatimin (a farmer under our integrated farming programme)*, I learned that the company not only prioritises business profits, but also provides added value to village community members through organic farming methods it trains them with, of which the impacts are highly positive for their wellbeing,” said Wendy Branson, MDA Manager of Service Operations.

The oil palm plantation ecosystem is truly something novel to them because the majority of Canadians consume soybean and canola oil to cook or process food on a daily basis.

Audience members from MDA were enthusiastic during the viewing of “The Journey” video from our Extraordinary Everyday campaign.

Canada has four commodity mainstays in the agricultural sector – wheat, rapeseed, soybean and corn. Other agricultural commodities that the country has on offer include barley, oats, lentils and other grain-producing crops.

Improving our Forest Alert Service

The next agenda was to visit the Gatineau Main Station in Ontario with Michael Alexander Robson, the MDA Project Manager who has been in charge of overseeing collaborations with SMF and Sinar Mas Agribusiness and Food. With a travelling distance of approximately 1.5 hours to the North East of Ottawa, Gatineau is a space transmission and receiving station, an important facility for the Canadian government.

MDA represents one of the providers of space-related services, which the Canadian government engages in order to develop technologies for monitoring the earth’s surface on a commercial scale throughout the world. The government itself acts as the owner and authority of all infrastructure and facilities on land. Besides Gatineau, there are two other stations, one in Prince Albert (in Saskatchewan) and the other in Inuvik (in the Northwest Territories Province).

From the collaboration that has been established for two years between us and MDA, there have been new issues revolving around the advantages and disadvantages of the FAS method. Therefore, this visit aimed at conducting the following:

  • Discussion on the workflow of RADARSAT-2 receiving stations, infrastructure and database management as presented by Rene Periard, the Head of Gatineau Main Station.
  • Presentation of several applied studies using RADARSAT-2 for example, on mining, marine and fisheries, geomorphological studies, peat land decline rates, urban and regional planning, etc.
  • Discussion of findings related to the algorithms in the “false alert” issue still often found when conducting verification on the ground.
  • Initial introduction to the RADARSAT-2 Constellation Mission (RCM) further explained at the Canada Centre of Remote Sensing (more below).
At MDA’s Ottawa office with the Head of Forest Management Information at SMF, Adrianto Gunawan (right), and MDA Forest Alert Service Project Manager, Michael Alexander Robson (centre).

The next frontier in forest cover monitoring

The field trip continued to the Canada Centre for Remote Sensing (CCRS), an agency reporting to the Natural Resource Canada (NRC), to attend a presentation by Chief Scientist, Prof. Dr. Vern Singhroy. He is the senior chief scientist of the RADARSAT Constellation Mission (RCM) project development study which functions as a continuation and additional module to RADARSAT-2 that went into space on 14 December 2007.

Launching early January 2019, the RCM will serve to increase the recording frequency of RADARSAT- 2, from 21 days to 9 days. The RCM is equipped with three mini satellites that will orbit in a ‘geo-stationary’ manner with different swath areas. If this goes according to plan, the monitoring intensity of deforestation carried out by SMF and SMART will be even higher and, will in turn improve the quality of our GAR Social and Environmental Policy (GSEP) implementation beyond 2020.

After concluding the first week in Ottawa, the mission proceeded to Vancouver, at the MDA Headquarters (HQ). Again, we shed more light on the palm oil industry to our Canadian partners, talking about the Extraordinary Everyday campaign and also highlighted the R&D work done at SMART Research Institute to Jo Man, MDA Deputy Director of Commercial Business.

Previously lacking information about the positive side of palm oil, the session provided them with a new perspective of the oil, its various products and derivatives. “It is both enlightening and encouraging to learn that Sinar Mas Agribusiness and Food and SMF are going the extra mile to do the right thing in monitoring the conservation areas adjacent to their operations. Having the FAS as their day-to-day operation demonstrates that they are committing to sustainable forest plantation management in a proactive manner and have set an example for the industry,” said Jo Man.

With the MDA representatives. From left to right: Mike Robson, Geospatial Project Manager; Jo Man, Deputy Director of Commercial Business; Adrianto Gunawan, SMF’s Head of Forest Management Information; Candra Kurniawan, Sinar Mas Agribusiness and Food’s Head of Sustainability Monitoring Reporting and Verification; Wendy Branson, Manager of Service Operations; and Gordon Staples, Senior Analyst.

Hopefully this small step would reinforce and amplify the positive efforts that we are making for the palm oil industry in Indonesia, in the world, and also for the survival of our future generations.

*Editor’s note: The character explanations in Wendy Branson’s quote were added in to provide clarity to readers.

Get to know how we use the satellite information in our full fire reporting process here.

Candra Kurniawan is the Sustainability Monitoring and Verification Head at Sinar Mas Agribusiness and Food. He has been with the company since 2009, and specialises in geographic information systems and remote sensing. Candra graduated from the Gajah Mada University in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

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