The Palm Scribe

Transparency over concessions is crucial in times of forests and ground fires: RSPO

 Photo: AFP

Transparency over palm oil concessions and their legal boundaries is important in times of forest and ground fires, to help dispel many of the rhetoric around this, CEO of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), Darrel Webber said.

“Publishing our members’ legal boundaries and providing the public access to conduct analysis, will hopefully dispel many of the emotional rhetoric around the topic of fires and oil palm plantations,” Webber told The Palm Scribe in an email interview.

lndonesia, which currently going through an El Nino period of a dry spell, has been battling widespread forest and ground fires in the past weeks that have since sent a chocking blanket of haze that has also reached neighboring countries, including Malaysia and Singapore. Many, especially environmental activists have blamed the fires on large palm oil plantations,

The Global Forest Watch Fire, a partnership of a number of non-government organizations convened by the World Resources Institute (WRI), however, has issued maps showing that monitoring of fire alerts in Indonesia is showing that most of the fires were outside large concessions, including those of oil palm plantations.

“From our perspective, it is even more important to have these maps in the public domain, in view of the current forest fires in Indonesia. This will certainly help in creating a more objective discussion around a highly emotional topic such as the haze,” Webber said.

He also congratulated Indonesian for allowing the publication of RSPO grower members map in the country and hoped that it would complement the government of Indonesia’s One Map Initiative.

He said that RSPO growers in Asia, the Pacific, Latin America, and Africa have been committed to transparency and have been willing to voluntarily submit their maps to RSPO for publication. An exception has been Malaysia where concerns about running against the Official Secret Act of 1972 (OSA) have made the RSPO leave out plantations and mills in Malaysia out of the map. An exception, Webber said, was those in the state of Sabah which has allowed the organization to publish those members operating there.

“We are hopeful that the new government will be open to a greater level of transparency. It is our understanding that the present Malaysian government is indeed looking forward to improving transparency on many levels, as per its public commitment,” Webber said, adding that his organization was still trying to obtain clarity from the Malaysian government on this matter of publication of the maps.

He stressed that Malaysian growers, have however, submitted boundary maps for their operations outside of Malaysia, including in Indonesia.

Webber also stressed that although not perfect, RSPO and its members were very much in the lead when it comes to transparency.

“This sort of transparency is not seen in any other agri-commodity. And perhaps not for any other commodity, agriculture or otherwise. Indonesian growers play a major role in demonstrating this sort of transparency,” the Malaysia-based RSPO CEO said.

He aired hope that the objective discussions that could arise from the transparency, will help to identify real solutions and encourage greater cooperation to solve the problem of forest and ground fires which has almost become an annual occurrence.

Webber echoed what the maps of the Global Forest Watch Fire showed saying that according to the RSPO’s own analysis, the current forest fires seemed to be mostly from outside oil palm concessions.

Indonesian Director General for Plantations Kasdi Subagyono said last weekend that the government was going to soon launch its National Palm Oil Map, and was only awaiting the completion of its legal aspect before publishing it. Kasdi said that the map, based on satellite imaging data, would include data such as the coverage of oil palm plantations, concessions surfaces, and their ownership and added that the data had been cross-checked on the field.

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