Mahendra Siregar – CPOPC Executive Director

The Council of Palm Oil Producing Countries (CPOPC) is facing a difficult task in developing a sustainable palm oil industry and pushing for acceptance of the commodity globally, its outgoing Executive Director Mahendra Siregar, said.

“There are many interests that are not aligned with what we are pushing for, and these made the conditions we are facing increasingly difficult,” Siregar told The Palm Scribe, adding that palm oil continues to become the target of black campaigns and attacks from abroad, as it had been in the past few years.

Siregar said that a breakthrough strategy was needed in educating the public about the palm oil industry.

“The challenge is to push for the right understanding that palm oil is the most sustainable vegetable oil,” Siregar said.

Compared to that of other vegetable oils, the palm oil industry is the most regulated so as to assure the sustainability of the entire supply chain.

Mahendra believed that there were several steps that needed to be urgently taken in a bid to develop the palm oil industry globally.

“First, to push palm oil into becoming the most sustainable oil. Second, to face the conditions in the international market that often puts the interests of this commodity at a disadvantage for its stakeholders. Three, to widen the membership of the CPOPC to other countries, and fourth, to boost the welfare of its smallholders,” Siregar said.

He admitted that the problems faced by oil palm smallholders were very complex, but he also stressed that the government has also done a lot to help these small-scale farmers, including by rushing the certification of their land which is not under dispute or is not problematic, and issuing certification for land that has been worked on by smallholders for a long time even though they are in forest areas.

The government, Siregar said, has already conducted its duties well, including by pushing for extensification rather than expansion. “At present, we are no longer talking about expansion, but about raising productivity,” he said.

He also deemed that the efforts to ascertain the sustainability of the palm oil sector was also not the responsibility of just one or two parties but needed the commitment of all sides.

“In terms of policies and programs, the government is usually inconsistent, but now, all are consistent because there is a replanting program that has become a priority for all; there is a moratorium, there are efforts to put the matter of land in order, so everything is now interconnected, not just mere jargons,” he explained.

However, despite the hard work of all stakeholders in the palm oil industry in attaining sustainability, negative information regarding palm oil and its industry continued to exist and directly affect smallholders, he said.

“This is happening because Europe has no oil palm and of course they would prioritize the interest of the producers of vegetable oil commodities that they have there,” Siregar said. He said that such case was only normal because basically, every country would want to defend its own national interests. The problem was in whether there were violations of international covenants or whether discrimination arose.

Commenting on whether special institution needed to be established to effectively coordinate all stakeholders in an industry that was now a major contributor to the state finance, the economy and the welfare of people, Siregar deemed that there were already enough organizations in the sector.

He believed that all stakeholders in the Indonesian palm oil industry, from farmers, companies, governments to civilian societies were already adequately represented.

“This shows that all coordinations are represented,” he said, adding that establishing a new coordination body for the palm oil industry would only make things more difficult.

Mahendra agreed that palm oil could become a weapon for Indonesia in the future, but the country needed to also be prepared to face different challenges ahead.

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