The Palm Scribe

Smallholders need continuing support from other stakeholders

BANGKOK – Even after the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) passes its new sustainability certification standards for independent smallholders, these small palm oil producers would continue to need support to maintain their sustainable practices, Bakhtiar Talhah, the COO of RSPO said on Monday (4/11).

“Even if we pass the new standard, we believe the smallholders’ business model will still need a lot of support… that support needs to continue,” Talhah said at an event on the margin of the RSPO annual meeting. He said that experience has shown there is not a single group of independent smallholders who can achieve certification without any assistance from another party.

He said that the new standard that would be put to vote at the RSPO annual general assembly on Wednesday, would make RSPO certification simple, more inclusive but at the same time, more robust without having to sacrifice the core principles of sustainability.

Smallholders, he said, accounted for some 40 percent of the market and although the challenges were huge, there has been plenty of evidence that a sustainable business model can work for smallholders. However, other stakeholders in the palm oil sector must facilitate this.

Talhah said that to be able to solve smallholder issues went beyond what standard-setting bodies such as the RSPO could do. He pointed to the theme for this year’s annual meeting which was “Shared Responsibility” where all stakeholders could and should help. He cited the example of land legality issue, where government central and local needed to be involved, in capacity buildings, companies could help, while mills, for example, should assist by buying, in credits or physical from smallholders who produce in a sustainable way.

To keep smallholders who have received certification, to keep their sustainable practices, support was needed, including in the form of providing training to enable independent smallholders to implement practices in line with sustainable standards, providing financial assistance to attain or maintain sustainability certification, buying in credits or physical, paying premium prices and other forms.

Talhah said, however, that financial incentives remained very much the primary motive for smallholders to get certified.

“Whether you like it or not, money talks,” Talhah said, calling on all the buyers in the industry to continue and even strengthen their support for smallholders,” he said

At the same event, representatives of independent smallholders presented certificates of appreciations to 14 palm oil mills, processors and buyers as a token of appreciation for their support in helping the smallholders attain and maintain their sustainability certification. The independent smallholders presented the certificates of appreciation on behalf of Indonesia’s Sustainable Palm Oil Smallholders Forum (Fortasbi).

H. Narno, Fortasbi Chairman

“Tangible support from these companies show us that they appreciate independent smallholders’ role in the palm oil industry in Indonesia,” H. Narno, Chairman of Fortasbi, said at the occasion.

The recipients were buyers like BASF SER, Bayer AG, Felleskjopet Agri SA, Henkel, Johnson & Johnson, Loreal, PepsiCo, Rewe Group, and Unilever and mills and processors such as PT Bumitama Gunajaya Agro, PT inti Indosawit Subur, PT Musim Mas, PT Perkebunan Nusantara III, and PT Sawit Sumber Mas.

In a press release issued after the ceremony, Ingrid Richardson, Senior Manager Sustainable Sourcing at Unilever, said that smallholders were keen to be involved in sustainability and get certified and that “by working with them, we can help them to overcome challenges, and gain access to knowledge of good agricultural practices, quality inputs, and markets.”

Oliver Tichit, Director of Sustainable Supply Chain at Musim Mas, said in the same release that independent smallholders are set to produce more oil palm in the years to come.

“It is essential for the private sector to work closely with smallholders to empower them to produce sustainability,” he said.

The 17th RSPO annual roundtable conference will be officially opened on Tuesday and a general assembly of the organization will follow after the conclusion of the conference on Wednesday.

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