If the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is serious about making the entire palm oil supply chain sustainable, it needs to address flaws in the system for plantation owners who do not own their own mills, according to one such grower, Daniel Tan.
Speaking at the RSPO tenth annual meeting in Singapore last week, Tan, who is a member of the Malaysian Estate Owners Association (MEOA) told delegates that he had come to an impasse in trying to certify his 392-hectare plantation – and the options open to him could even result in a less environmentally friendly product.
The problem, he said, was that RSPO requires certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) to be processed at an RSPO-certified mill. However, that could mean ignoring local, independent mills in favour of transporting raw materials much longer distances to a certified mill.
“Worst of all, compliance with RSPO will result in bigger carbon footprint,” said Tan, adding that transporting the raw product in order to use certified mills “may be convenient for the large growers – the big boys – but the mill lock-up is not practical to outgrowers.”
He acknowledged that this situation is likely not deliberate, but urged the RSPO to dismantle barriers to certification for outgrowers (plantation owners unaffiliated with a mill).
“Growers like me feel like an unwanted homeless child. There is no key to the door. All the windows are shut and there is a lot of work to be done inside. Why is it so difficult for an independent outgrower like me?” he said. “...We should all be part of a happy family.”
During Tan’s presentation, RSPO secretary general Darrel Webber invited the MEOA to engage with the RSPO to find a solution.
“Would MEOA be willing to spearhead a multistakeholder task force?” he asked.
Tan replied: “I can’t speak for MEOA but if I, as a farmer, get involved in spending all this time with a task force, I think when I get back to the farm there won’t be a farm left.”
Speaking with Webber later, I asked whether he had a response to Tan’s concerns.
Webber said that the RSPO was aware of the issue before Tan’s presentation.
“It is easier to deal through these umbrella groups,” he said. “We hope that they can be the group to deal with this issue. …We have overlooked this in the past and now we need them to come to the table.”