Global palm oil conference highlights smallholders
The Jakarta Post
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a global body of plantation companies, refiners, consumers and green groups, that promotes the development of socially, environmentally and economically sustainable palm oil, concluded its 13th annual conference here on Thursday by highlighting the role of smallholders.
Around 800 delegates from 45 countries who attended the three-day RSPO meeting acknowledged the important role of smallholders in Indonesia and Malaysia, who account for around 40 percent of the global palm oil output of 60 million tons.
While the majority of participants were delegates from big plantation companies, green NGOs and civil society organizations, they realized that the campaign for sustainable palm oil would never fully achieve its objective if smallholders were not educated and empowered to meet all the principles and criteria of social and environmental sustainability.
'I have a dream that someday in the future both national and international markets and consumers in general will know that all commodities coming from my regency have been produced by companies and smallholders in a sustainable manner,' Seruyan Regent Sudarsono told the meeting.
Seruyan regency and Sabah state in Malaysia are the first sub-national govenrments to adopt RSPO's jurisdictional approch to develop sustainable palm oil, a model of rural development that improves the welfare of the rural poor through higher productivity but without damaging the environment.
Indonesia and Malaysia account for around 85 percent of the world's palm oil production, supplying 40 percent of the global vegetable oil needs, according to the Rome-based United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. Indonesia, as the world's largest producer, has approximately 10.5 million-hectars of oil palm estate, of which 40 percent or 4.6 million ha is currently owned by smallholders.
Sudarsono said that the Seruyan administration, in cooperation with NGO Inobu, an affiliate of the Earth Innovation Institute, is presently conducting a comprehensive census of palm oil farmers, to gather complete data on both land status and the main problems faced in meeting the requirements of sustainability.
'We hope to complete data collection by next year so that we can start addressing such issues as legality, deforestation, land conflict, peat land destruction and eventually advance to sustainability certification programs,' Sudarsono added.
South Sumatra Governor Alex Noerdin, who also attended the meeting, announced that his administration was also finalizing preparations to adopt a jurisdictional approach for oil palm estates in the province.
Different from the previous program of targeting sustainability certification at individual plantations, a jurisdictional approach includes all the players in the industry, from multinational plantation owners down to the smallest of smallholders.
'When a local government agrees to jurisdictional certification guidelines, local stakeholders are given access to work with regional governments to improve the welfare of smalholders, while encouraging environmental best practices,' RSPO co-chairman Biswaranjan Sen noted.
'The RSPO jurisdictional sustainability approach is not dissimilar to the Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil [ISPO] program as both schemes promote the principles of best farming practices, transparency, legal and regulatory compliance, environmental responsibility and local community development,' Sudarsono noted.
The International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private-sector arm of The World Bank, has also paid considerable attention to palm oil farmers through a joint program with the Musim Mas industry group.
IFC and Musim Mas, one of Indonesia's largest integrated palm oil industries, have started the Indonesian Palm Oil Development for Smallholders (IPODS) in North Sumatra which plans to train 100,000 independent farmers in the production of sustainable palm oil.
'Of the total, 25,000 will get training in meeting ISPO and RSPO requirements for the certification of their fresh fruit bunches. Our target is for 10,000 smallholders to get certification,' Musim Mas Communications Manager Carolyn Lim said.
Last year, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Agriculture Ministry launched a program called Indonesian Palm Oil Platform (INPOP) designed to enhance the capacity of smallholders in implementing sustainable oil palm farming practices.
Delegates from developed countries, notably the EU, apparently in response to the increasing commitments made to sustainable palm oil production, reaffirmed their pledge to buy or import only certified sustainable palm oil by 2020.
As the most produced and traded vegetable oil in the world, palm oil indeed plays a crucial role in enhancing food security.
And given its big potential as a major source of renewable fuel, palm oil seems to deserve significant attention, especially in Indonesia where this industry directly employs more than 4.7 million workers and generates more than $20 billion in export earnings.
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