The Palm Scribe

Rosediana Suharto: ISPO Dilemma in Indonesia Palm Oil Industry

A prominent figure in the Indonesian palm oil industry, Rosediana Suharto understands very well the ins and outs of this potential industry, which unfortunately has many internal weaknesses.

When met by The Palm Scribe in the Responsible Palm Oil Initiative (RPOI) office in Sentul, Bogor, Rosediana said that although there is a huge potential in the Indonesian palm oil industry that can be developed, internal revamping is required in order to survive and grow.

Rosediana Suharto

“Unfortunately the biggest challenges in our palm oil industry come right from our own country. This industry is very complicated and the problem is very difficult to solve. We have to work together moving forward so that all stakeholders have a sense of mutual responsibility to build this industry,” said Rosediana who is one of Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO) founders. ISPO is the Indonesian national sustainability platform for palm oil industry, established in 2009.

According to Rosediana, Indonesia’s palm oil industry flaws are urgent to be addressed.

“People involved in the palm oil industry rarely want to introspect themselves and no one is firmly watching, despite the very strict rules of this industry,” said the woman who has a doctorate degree from Aston University, Birmingham, England in the field of Chemistry.  

The ISPO also needs to be reviewed and updated, so that it can contribute more to a better system of palm oil industry in the country.

“The ISPO role? Very little, because the core value of the ISPO itself is often misunderstood,” said Rosediana. She explained that the basic idea of establishing ISPO was not for business competition, but to determine Indonesia’s palm oil production standards in accordance with existing laws and regulations.

ISPO is often seen by the public as Indonesia’s way of competing with the Roundtable Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certification, a sustainability scheme created five years earlier than the ISPO.

“We are overpowered by the RSPO. ISPO is not able to follow many international regulations and demands as it is hindered by the existing legislation,” Rosediana explained. The ISPO and RSPO were meant to be two complementary palm oil sustainability standards for Indonesian palm oil sector.

Therefore, ISPO was not designed to compete with the RSPO or meet the international market demands. It provides guidelines for palm production in accordance with Indonesian laws.

“There are no direct economic benefits for palm oil producers if they own an ISPO certificate, unlike the RSPO that gives a bonus of USD100 per ton to its members. Do we have the capability to do the same?” Rosediana asked. She stressed that the benefit is what makes RSPO more favorable than ISPO to palm oil producers.

Adjustments in ISPO are necessary to expand its role in the country. The revision is as important to attract the domestic and international market, according to Rosediana.

“If it aims for business competition, we need to adjust the standards in accordance with international demand. So far we are hindered by our own legislation,” she explained to The Palm Scribe.

One of ISPO’s domestic challenges is that there are still many farmers with no certifications, providing loopholes for those with the bad intention to bring down the palm oil industry on the grounds of environmental destruction.

According to Rosediana, it is normal for it is impossible for all palm oil farmers in Indonesia to be certified.

“It’s OK. If all our farmers were certified, many would end up having their licenses halted. Not all farmers work in legal palm oil plantations. Some cannot be tolerated as the plantations encroach into the boundaries of forests,” she said. The Government monitoring process is crucial to maintaining the stability of the palm oil industry as well as to find the latest solutions to every existing problem.

Unsustainable palm oil production and other various black campaigns have been used as an excuse by Europe to attack the Indonesian palm oil industry. Rosediana thinks this makes sense because the EU policy is in accordance with the World Trade Organization (WTO) agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT).

“Yes, it is normal. Everyone can set the products to fit the criteria of each country, but the banning plan is a trade discrimination and we must fight against it!” said Rosediana firmly.

According to her, it is easy for Indonesia to fight against Europe in the palm oil industry. “Last time, I was among the ones suggesting Indonesia to stop purchasing Airbus, and it worked … next step, we think of stopping the imports of Nutella,” Rosediana said confidently.

Rosediana believes that the palm oil industry is inseparable from Indonesia’s identity for it has supported palm oil smallholders toward improved livelihood and has been Indonesia’s greatest income over the past few years.

Indonesia is the world’s largest palm oil producer and consumer. The palm oil industry directly employs about 12 million workers while the government estimates it supports about 30 million people directly or indirectly.

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