The Palm Scribe

RSPO Seeks to Draw More Smallholders into the Sustainability Fold

Photo: AFP

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), the world’s most widely recognized global certification scheme for ‘sustainable palm oil’ is working to adjust its standard to draw more smallholders to join the sustainability path.

“The new standards for smallholders, if there are no obstacles, could be endorsed in November,” said Imam El Marzuq, RSPO’s Community Outreach and Engagement Manager, told The Palm Scribe in a recent interview.

The holder of a degree in forest management from the state-run Gadjah Mada University who has been dealing with smallholders in the palm oil sector since he joined RSPO seven years ago, said that his organization was acutely aware that the ratio of smallholders who have received its sustainability certification was insignificant compared to their number in the country, accounted for about 43 percent of oil palm plantations in Indonesia.

RSPO data by July this year shows that globally a total of 144,943 smallholders, 5,114 of them independent, had so far received certification through 23 groupings. Their production account for some 8.37 percent of global palm oil supply.

In a bid to motivate more smallholders to seek certification, the RSPO is currently working on a new certification standard specifically for smallholders, whether independent or tied under a partnership scheme with plantation companies.

“Previously, there was no specific mention of smallholders. In the new standard, this will stand alone,” he said, referring to the new RSPO Principles and Criteria endorsed in November last year.

“Regarding the strategy for smallholders, when seen from the actual achievements it is still very small, and there is a need for a strategic design to get them to get involved in sustainability,” Imam added.

In the arrangement for smallholders currently being prepared, the process of certification will not be in a single stage s it currently is, but rather split into three separate phases, each carrying their own benefits. The phased approach, Imam said, would enable smallholders to achieve compliance over a specified period of time.

“They would not have to complete the whole process first before they can enjoy the benefits,” he said.

The three phases are respectively named Eligibility (E);  Milestone A(MS A/or TC A); and Milestone B (MS B/TC B), the last one being equal to full compliance.

At the entry-level, the E phase, the group of smallholders, as they can only apply as a group and not individually, must comply with all eligibility indicators — all basic requirements for seeking certification.

The indicators include the legality of the smallholder groups such as having the proper legal documents, decision making and governance system, etc. The smallholder groups must also sign a document declaring all their landholdings and their status as well as the presence of any conflict regarding them. It also contains their commitment to sustainability including no new plantings or expansion in primary forests, HCV areas, riparian buffer zones, on a steep slope and on peat, no forced labor, and no child labor.

Once eligibility is validated, the smallholders would have the rights to sell half of their oil palm production under an eligibility label, some sort of RSPO credit.

Under the system, the fresh fruit bunches (FFBs) are not physically traded but instead, they sell the associated credit to another party committed to advancing the cause of sustainability among smallholders. This buyer will then have the right to display a label on his or her product certifying that the company took part in the program. The smallholders can still sell the said portion of fresh fruit bunches at regular prices at his regular market.

In the second phase, the group of smallholders strives to achieve Milestone A sustainability indicators within a two year period.

The indicators include forming an Internal Control System and undergoing a series of training and courses on marketing; group dynamics; best practices for smallholder organizations as well as on-farm business operations, monitoring and planning, and record-keeping.

Once achieved, the smallholders can sell up to half of their FFB as certified to a certified mill through the physical supply chain models and up to 50 percent of the FFB can be sold as RSPO Credits.

MS B, the last phase has to be reached within a year after reaching MS A.  This practically means fully ready for certification. All members of the group must be able to demonstrate 100 percent capability in meeting Milestone B sustainability indicators. When reaching this stage the smallholders have the right to seel all their FFB as certified and also 100 percent of their FFB for RSPO credits.

Smallholder groups must operate in accordance with best management practices for groups, manage their farms effectively and maintain records of production and transaction data of all FFB sales. They should adopt good agricultural practices and track productivity while their land and resources should be free of conflicts, and clearly demarcated.

Workers must have access to their identity documents, and have freedom of movement. There should be no children labor (under 15) and young workers should not hare mentally or physically harmful work and that could interfere with their schooling, should be paid and have safe working conditions and amenities such as housing, health and safety training, and equipment.

“Learning from statistics, we need much more farmers to join and we need to motivate them,” Imam said, adding that as in general what motivated them was the tangible economic benefits of going sustainable, providing early access to them could be key.

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