The Jakarta Post
The Amanah Oil Palm Independent Smallholders Association, which groups 350 farmers with about 765 hectares of plantations in Pelalawan, Riau province, has proven it is not impossible to obtain sustainability certificates as long as farmers are disciplined in implementing best practices.
The growers were the first independent smallholders (not managerially tied with palm oil companies) who gained certificates under the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) scheme.
Their leader, Sunarno, symbolically received the RSPO certificate from Deputy Trade Minister Bayu Krishnamurti at the opening of the RSPO's 11th annual conference on Tuesday.
'It took about four months to tell our members the importance of sustainability through best practices and another year for the audit process by an independent certifying body before we received the certificates,' Sunarno told reporters on Wednesday.
He said his group had received assistance from the Asian Agri plantation group, Unilever and conservation organization the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) to build its capacity to meet all principles and criteria imposed by the RSPO.
'Best agricultural practice, including good pesticide and fertilizer management, reduced our production costs and increased our farm yield from 1.5 tons of fruit bunches per hectare monthly to between 2 and 2.5 tons,' Sunarno added.
Asian Agri general manager Freddy Widjaya said his company had assigned one full-time farm extension worker to provide smallholders with farm guidance and extension services to enable them to fulfill all the principles of sustainability.
Asian Agri managed 160,000 hectares of oil palm estates in Sumatra, including 60,000 hectares of smallholder plantations under the nucleus estate and smallholder scheme, and owned 19 palm oil refineries with an annual capacity of 1 million tons.
Unilever director for sustainable sourcing development Cherie Tan said her company was committed to buying palm oil from the Amanah Oil Palm Independent Smallholders Association at a premium for the next five years.
According to the Agriculture Ministry, more than 40 percent of the estimated 9 million hectares of oil palm plantations in the country are owned by 3.6 million smallholders, with Riau province alone having 1.1 million hectares of smallholder plantations.
In a related development, Rosediana Suharto, executive chair of the Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO) scheme, said the government would require all smallholder plantations to be certified sustainable by 2015.
'We therefore have accelerated our programs to increase the number of auditors from around 440 to 2,000 by 2015,' Rosediana added.