The Palm Scribe

Darrel Webber: Working to make Sustainable Palm Oil a Norm

Darrel Webber is CEO of the Roundtable Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and a senior figure with a long history in the palm oil industry. His extensive experience, including as sales manager for Pepsi and a Project Manager for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has honed his expertise on a commodity which he now knows inside out.

Darrel Webber

As CEO of RSPO, Webber believes that the development of the palm oil industry in Indonesia carries a significant impact on the global market while at the same time, faces a plethora of challenges

“Indonesia is a very important market. As the largest producer of palm oil and supplying 54 percent of the RSPO certified palm oil production globally, Indonesia plays a key role in the global oils and fats market, for which demand continues to rise,” Webber told The Palm Scribe in a written interview.

The palm oil industry in Indonesia, he said, has managed to push the country’s economy forward but this success has also led to increasing global attention on the social and environmental impact of the commodity.

“We recognize the challenges in this region. Yet, there are also many opportunities for industry players and consumers in Indonesia to increase the demand for CSPO and achieve the RSPO vision to make sustainable palm oil the norm,” he said.

One of the main challenges faced by RSPO in Indonesia, according to the holder of a Bachelor degree in Engineering from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, was the very limited number of palm oil smallholders who have their operation certified for sustainability, therefore opening the door wide open to accusations of environmental damage.

Webber said that even though smallholders, especially the independent ones, account for about 40 percent of the world’s palm oil supply, their productivity remained very low. These independent smallholders are also usually faced with difficulties in accessing expertise, funding, market and the infrastructure necessary for a sustainable practice.

RSPO has in the past years, worked hard to draw more smallholders into the fold of the sustainability, through programs to raise awareness, training, and education, funding provision as well as through various approaches such as the RSPO Smallholder Support Fund, Guidance for Group Certification of FFB Production, and Smallholder Academy.

“While these efforts have been providing value for smallholder farmers, RSPO recognizes that these have yet to provoke the large-scale inclusion of smallholders which RSPO and its stakeholders desire,” Webber admitted.

He said that he believed that the number of smallholders who will join the RSPO system will be rising as a direct result of the RSPO’s hard work to simplify the certification approach and r solutions such as jurisdictional approach

Indonesia also has its own palm oil sustainability system, the Indonesia Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO). Many are now pushing to promote this standard to all players in the palm oil industry, urging them to prioritize this certification before getting others, including the RSPO.

For Webber, the existence of other sustainability standards in the palm oil sector should not be seen in the framework of competition, but rather, as a form of support for the attainment of a sustainable palm oil industry.

“We are supportive of all initiatives that aim at contributing to the adoption of sustainable practices, provided that all push in the same direction and contribute towards market transformation,” he said, adding that” At the end of the day it will be the role of the markets to decide what standard to embrace.”

Webber also said that government-backed national standards such as ISPO and the Malaysia Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO), could help raise the floor and make it easier for companies to then jump the RSPO bar.

Commenting on the relentless attacks and black campaign against palm oil coming from non-palm oil-producing countries, including in Europe, Webber said that they actually provided an opportunity to promote a sustainable palm oil industry.

He took the example of a resolution of the European Parliament which is seeking to drop palm oil-based biofuels from the European renewable energy program by 2021. The move, which has been strongly condemned by Indonesia and Malaysia which together account for more than 90 percent of sustainable palm oil supplies, was actually a recognition of the sustainability of the industry has been striving for.

“This resolution supports their efforts and their journey towards sustainability. Making palm oil sustainable is a global challenge that requires a concerted effort by all parties throughout the supply chain, from production through to consumption, as well as by all concerned countries,” he said.

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