The Palm Scribe

Oil Palm Smallholders Bank on RSPO to Improve Their Conditions

In the face of unfavorable government regulations and unfair treatment by some plantation companies, Indonesian smallholders are putting hopes on the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) to help push for improvements in their conditions in the industry.

“We put a lot of hope on RSPO…. with a P&C that always changes and get strengthened, , of course there is high hopes from all of us and from the people, that the future of palm oil and the environment, as well as our social (aspect) will become better,” said Swisto Uwin, Smallholder Manager for sustainable landscape with Earthqalizer, referring to the  Principles and Criteria  (P&C) of the multi-stakeholder organization.

Speaking at a webinar organized by environmental group Sawit Watch, Uwin, who is himself an oil palm smallholder in Kalimantan, said that current regulations especially regarding plasma schemes were not in favor of the interest of smallholders, who operate small plantations linked to a company’s larger plantation operations.

He took the example of plasma scheme smallholders who have been managing small plot for companies with crops around 12 years, about half the productive age of oil palm, were still indebted to companies and thus had to sell their fruits to the company at set prices.

Uwin said that he hoped RSPO which was constantly improving its P&C, could help remediate this condition, especially in its member companies.

Uwin also asked the RSPO if it could help prevent the further development of oil palm plantations in Papua, which still has the largest forest surface in the country. A number of large palm oil companies that are also members of the multi-stakeholder organization were among those still developing plantations there.

He also aired hope that RSPO could help get some of its member companies to remediate their “past sins” against the environment or people and communities.

“There must be a concept of remediation, compensation and recovery. These are important to do to absolve their past sins,” Uwin said, referring to deforestation, destruction of peat land, eviction of indigenous communities and forced appropriation of their land, for the development of oil palm plantation.

Grievance Manager RSPO Indonesia, Sarsongko Wachyutomo, acknowledged that his organization was aware of the high hopes put on RSPO’s shoulders by many. “It is true that there are quite high hopes put on RSPO, that RSPO’s presence may bring substitute for problems that could not be settled by the government for example,” he said.

However, Wachyutomo warned that RSPO was nowhere an entity as big as states and could not settle problems that even states could not resolve. 

“We maybe can only approach, come with probable solutions that we can offer, but to be able to settle them on our own, we cannot ascertain this,” he said. “We are not superman, or superidol, who can resolve all problems, especially problems which have been there for a long time.”

He said that as an organization, RSPO could not do it alone and there was a need for more collaboration with various other parties. Every side involved should also collaborate with good intentions.

“We do indeed have various views as various sides are sitting around the same table, but we have to have good intentions so that we can continue to progress and also bring goodness to the various sides that we all represent,” Wachyutomo said.

Franky Samperante, Director of the Pusaka Foundation, also said that high hopes were laid on RSPO’s shoulders, especially in making sure that member companies that engage in partnership schemes with smallholders are well monitored.

“We always have high hopes, that when the state no longer sides with farmers, high hopes are laid on the RSPO and in this relation, the P&C becomes important early on,” he said referring to the beginning of plantation development by RSPO members.

Samperante said that what was most important was also to look for ways how the RSPO P&C could be used effectively, especially in relations to the mechanism to address complaints and law enforcement linked to the complaints.

One thing that also needed to be prioritized, he said, was how to get RSPO members to be committed and serious in providing restitutions for the victims of their past actions.

More from Bhimanto Suwastoyo.
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