20 years of experience in the fields of environment and sustainable development, including as director for climate and energy with World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Indonesia, make Fitrian Ardiansyah Fitrian Ardiansyah believes that palm oil can be developed and made more productive to increase the welfare of the people without sacrificing forests.

“Commodities are important for Indonesia and the world, but at present, and in recent years, they have come under the spotlight following accusations linked to issues of deforestations, ground and forest fires and a threat to biodiversity,” Ardiansyah replied to a question regarding the current state of the Indonesian palm oil industry.

Fitrian Ardiansyah, Executive Director of Inisiatif Dagang Hijau

Despite the naysayers, Ardiansyah believes that palm oil can be developed as a commodity without destroying the environment.  “Palm oil can be developed and made more productive without sacrificing forests, while at the same time it can also increase the welfare of the people,” he told The Palm Scribe.

At present, Ardiansyah is being kept busy as executive director for Initiative Dagang Hijau (Sustainable Trade Initiative/IDH), an institution working for a transformation towards to green & inclusive growth at scale in commodity sectors and sourcing areas. It works based on a concept that is environmentally friendly and which maximizes the benefits for the people.

He strongly believes that a green economy concept is suitable for the development of palm oil as a commodity, as long as it is well planned. “A Green Economy growth can be achieved through planning, programs and investment focused on enhancing the productivity of existing commodities while at the same time look at added value,” he said.

Ardiansyah also explained that good planning would mean nothing if it is not well overseen. “At the same time, firmly provide guidance and support for the protection of forests and the environment, legal certainty and incentives for market players and for people, to engage in improvements,” he added.

The holder of a Master degree in environment and development from the Australian National University also deems that the main problem concerning palm oil lays with its independent farmers and smallholders.

Smallholders now manage more than 40 percent of Indonesia’s palm oil plantation and the importance of their role is likely to grow further.

Assistance is key to the development of independent smallholders in Indonesia, Ardiansyah argues, adding that providing mere financial assistance would not be enough. Many of the crucial problems faced by smallholders, he said, citing land tenure and replanting, could not be settled rapidly.

“Land tenure for smallholders, the strengthening of their organization, assistance, and support for replanting, education, and assistance for good agricultural practices, access to market and financial institutions,” he spelled as the crucial problems currently faced by most smallholders in Indonesia.

He also added that existing palm oil development and maintenance must also not forget their surrounding environment. “In the realm of the environment, the focus should be on raising understanding about protection of the surrounding ecosystem, the handling, and prevention of fires,” he told the Palm Scribe by email.

Regarding palm oil smallholders, the government is currently studying a draft bill on palm oil. The draft, Ardiansyah said, has many overlaps with the content of Law number 39 of 2014 on the plantation, but he stressed that the important thing was how to seek of ways to facilitate access to markets for smallholders.

“Existing policies, whatever their form, must be directed towards strengthening the capacity and productivity of planters, including access to markets and financing, while at the same time support an agriculture that guarantees environmental conservation,” he said.

Ardiansyah, who is also still active as a member of the Council of the Partnership for Indonesia Sustainable Agriculture (PISAgro), The Sustainable Coffee platform of Indonesia (SCOPI) and Lingkar Temu Kabupaten Lestari (Forum for Sustainable Districts / LTKL), deems that the Indonesian palm oil industry has promising future.

“Indonesia plays a significant role and can become a leader in the palm oil sector by showing that sustainable palm oil is not a mere theory but is applicable with real and credible indicators in the field,” he concluded

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