The Palm Scribe

Agus Sari, Using the landscape approach in economy to safeguard the environment

For Agus Sari, safeguarding the environment cannot be separated from a landscape approach, one that involves the participation of all stakeholders.

AGUS SARI, CEO of Landscape Indonesia

The 51-year-old CEO of Landscape Indonesia who has a long credible track record in the sector, including as a senior UNDP advisor and a deputy or planning and finance with REDD+, said that the Landscape Approach in managing a sustainable environment, has in recent years become a key word in both national and international discourses on national environment policies.

Landscape itself, defines a wide expanse with a range of mutually interacting ecosystems. A landscape approach implies that all stakeholders discuss and agree on matters such as water and air usage, so as to be able to maintain a balance between the interests of the community, business and conservation.

Stakeholders in the palm oil industry are now looking at a sustainable landscape as an efficient way to engage in concrete actions on the field and implement the principles of sustainability for mankind, nature and prosperity. The aims of the landscape approach is to draw the attention of the palm oil industry and develop a green economic strategy as well as an inclusive development.

The landscape approach is a collaborative effort between various sides to assure conservation at the landscape level. This method is usually led by an organization or institution, that works together with other partners such as NGOs, private sector players and government institutions. Under a harmonious collaboration, groups with different perspectives would be able to turn the cultivation of palm oil, the world’s most efficient vegetable oil, into a model of sustainable development.

A graduate of the California University in Berkeley who focused his study on energy and resources, Agus holds views that are in line with the new concept of approach in the palm oil industry. His long experience sitting in various environmental organizations have also developed in him a keen interest in the industry.

Agus said that many were those who continued to blame the palm oil industry for a number of environmental problems, including forests and ground fires and land degradation. “These accusations need to be reviewed because they are no longer relevant,” Agus said in a discussion with The Palm Scribe.

“Palm oil remains a top commodity. When several other commodities that are sold by Indonesia, such as oil and coal, saw their prices fall, palm oil has instead remained stable in price up until now,” Agus said. “The palm oil commodity remains the primadonna and is needed by Indonesia.”

Although it was true that the palm oil industry sits right between economic and environmental interests, there was no need to victimize any side, Agus said.

Agus Sari plays with Topan the elephant at Padang Sugihan Nature Reserve in South Sumatra.

“The landscape approach is a development concept that is suitable for answering negative issues concerning palm oil,” said Agus who was a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a Nobel Prize-winning panel in 2007 and the world’s leading authority on climate change.

He also said that the landscape approach also opened the opportunity for conserving the environment for economic motivations, so that there would be no need to sacrifice anyone when developing the palm oil sector. The conservation of the environment was also important in safeguarding the sustainability of an industry in the agrarian sector.

 “A conservation which only covers plantation areas has now been proven to not be effective because it would become it co-center. An environment should be seen in its entirety for the good of all,” Agus said.

 Agus said that the landscape approach was often also called the “multi-stakeholder approach.” Under this concept, should one of these stakeholders fail to play his role well, the approach would not be able to be effective.

However, Agus also admitted that it was not easy to apply this landscape approach in the palm oil industry. “Time is the main problem in this approach,” he said.

Not all stakeholders have so far been able to apply this approach, especially since any result would only be visible or measurable in the long term and therefore this translated into high costs. “These costs pertain to safeguarding the sustainability of the industry and the environment at the same time,” Agus explained.

Another challenge faced by the sector is standardization. Indonesia implements a standardization of palm oil product in a bid to maintain production quality and uphold its commitment for sustainability as under the Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO), Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), and the International Sustainability and Carbon Certification (ISCC).

However, all those certifications only affect the export market while the domestic market appears not yet too concerned over them.

As a result, palm oil plantations are often accused of violating standards and accordingly, this will tarnish the image of palm oil and the crop would be seen as inflicting a negative impact on the environment.

But this does not mean that the majority of palm oil plantations do not meet the existing standards. Standardization and the landscape approach have already been applied by a number of pam oil company across Indonesia, such as in Jambi, Kalimantan, and South Sumatra, regions that are among the largest palm oil producers in the country.

“It is at this point that there is a need for a government role as a regulator. There is a need for firm sanctions against those palm oil companies that violate the rules. Not only for reasons of production but also for the conservation of the environment,” Agus said.

There is also a need to raise the awareness of the society, in order for them to be able to discern which palm oil products have gone through a good production process, he added.

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