The Palm Scribe

RSPO Academy Relies on Partnership to Spread Palm Oil Sustainability Among Smallholders

Aware of the growing importance of smallholders in the palm oil sector, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is relying on partnership with various corporations, organizations and institutions to try and draw more and more small-scale growers into the fold of sustainability through its Smallholder Academy.

Smallholders account for more than 40 percent of global palm oil production and the percentage is expected to continue to grow, but only a few thousands have so far received sustainability certification through their respective groupings.

“The final targets are the smallholders, we want to provide these palm oil smallholders and their organizations with the necessary support to reach sustainability,” said Guntur Cahyo Prabowo, RSPO Indonesia director for smallholder programs, who talks about the Smallholder Academy established by the organization with The Palm Scribe.

The academy will primarily rely on master trainers, who will then train trainers in the regions who will be the ones directly interacting with the smallholders and their organizations.

Guntur said that although called an academy, the RSPO Smallholder Academy was more of a platform to enhance the capacity of smallholders, adding that getting all smallholders certified was not its focus. Rather, its programs were oriented at empowering smallholders to move towards sustainable agriculture.

“Of course, there are many cross cuttings with certification, but the mindset is rather to get more people into the system, to get more impact,” Guntur said.

He said that besides providing guidance to build up capabilities, access to training and quality materials, the academy also opened access to support from its partners.

Prabowo said that the academy provided three training reference levels, one for Master Trainers, another for Trainers and the last one is for smallholders, adding that the curricula were all based on an adult learning approach, one that is tailored to the recipient rather than the deliverer.

In Indonesia, the world’s largest palm oil producer which Guntur said has some two million independent smallholders, the academy will hold its first week-long session to train Master Trainers in Aceh, early October. An international training session involving Master trainers from Southeast Asia had already taken place earlier this month in Medan, North Sumatra.

At the present stage, participants must come from an academy partner, also called the ‘social franchisee’, Guntur said. These partners, who can be smallholder groups or associations, non-governmental organizations, collection points, mills and growers, retailers, local governments, universities, and others, are not only required to have a strong commitment but also have to provide a financial contribution that would be spent on the academy and its programs and activities. Guntur said that so far there were already ten such partners in Indonesia.

As a partner, the organizations can each register up to two participants to take part in the Master Trainer training sessions which for the time is being held only once in a year. They also will have access to a platform where the academy, its graduates and partners can communicate and network between.

“The whole idea is to build a community of trainers,” Guntur said.

There are no particular educational requirements for participants, whom Guntur said came not only from different background but also had different skills and fields of expertise. The program aims at exposing these participants to the various aspects and knowledge needed to train trainers in their home areas as well as to the different skills and expertise of fellow master trainers.

“The whole idea is that those who are joining, are people who by default have programs with smallholders so that once they graduate, they will use it in their jobs that are related to smallholders,” Guntur said.

The reference manual, training guide, and curriculum are prepared for a global consumption but in practice, the contents are adjusted to local needs and requirements.

Topics included in the curriculum are social labor issues, environment, agribusiness, financial education, and leadership as well as on RSPO certification. The master trainers are also taught the skill needed to communicate with and train smallholders, individually or in groups.

Guntur said the curricula were developed with the help of Aflatoun, a network of partner organizations, teachers, supporters, and staff, delivering high-quality education through a social franchise model, but he added that it had also accommodated various inputs and comments from a broad range of stakeholders in the palm oil sector.

After completing the training, the master trainers will then have to prepare their own training plans for their respective areas and report both progress and results to the platform.

RSPO, according to Guntur, is not setting any target, but he said that if, for example, it could train 150 master trainers globally, the impact would cover a much wider audience, at around 10,000 smallholders.

This year’s pick of Aceh to host the academy’s first training session was made on the basis of the region having direct air links to Kuala Lumpur, where RSPO is based, and that local smallholders had long demanded that the organizations hold some activities there and the fact that the province had yet no certified oil palm smallholders.

Aceh also turned out to be good choice as it was sparred from the thick smoke haze that has blanketed the regions for weeks following widespread forest and ground fires in other palm oil-producing regions in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

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