RSPO focuses on smallholders in support of sustainable palm oil

By Katy Askew contact

- Last updated on GMT

RSPO aims to empower smallholders as part of RT15
RSPO aims to empower smallholders as part of RT15
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil and United Nations Environment Project have joined forces to help promote sustainable practices among smallholders producing palm oil as the environmental group sharpens its focus on smallholder farmers.

The small-scale funding agreement struck between the two aims to support palm oil smallholders and help them develop improved livelihoods and sustainable production.

A total funding of US$199,611 from the 10YFP Trust Fund administered by UN Environment and matching funding US$83,683 from RSPO will be distributed between smallholder farmers in the regions of Sabah, East Malaysia, and Seruyan, Central Kalimantan, over the course of the two-year project.

The UN and RSPO said that it is hoped the funds will reach at least 50,000 smallholders in Sabah and around 5,300 smallholders in Seruyan.

The project was selected for funding by the 10-Year Framework of Projects (10YFP) Trust Fund, which is hosted by UN Environment. The goal of 10YFP is to enhance international cooperation to accelerate the shift towards sustainable consumption and production in both developed and developing countries.

Danielle Morley, European director of outreach and engagement at the RSPO said that the programme is one of the actionable outcomes outlined during the organisation’s fourteenth annual roundtable meeting, RT14, which was held in Thailand last year.

“One of the crucial elements of the plan was to bring all independent smallholders in the Seruyan district to achieve sustainable performance at the same level, with other producers/companies, by improving their agronomy practices and providing support to achieve it. The end goal is to increase the income and livelihood for these smallholders,”​ Morley told FoodNavigator.

Backing smallholders

Developing support structures that enable smallholder farmers to adopt more environmentally sustainable practices and increase their incomes is an important aspect of the RSPO’s work to develop a sustainable global palm oil supply chain.

Significantly, Morely explained, as of mid-2016 smallholder farmers produced 40% of the world’s palm oil.

“Millions of people around the world depend on palm oil for their livelihood. Sustainability means not just environmental, but also social and economic sustainability. Smallholder farmers continue to suffer from lower yields, which is why the RSPO wants to certify more smallholders so that they produce more oil using less land, are enabled to use sustainable practices and can access new markets, raising their income and reducing the risk of land conversion which threatens forests and biodiversity. Supporting smallholder farmers is, therefore, a crucial element to securing a global sustainable supply of palm oil,”​ she stressed.

The food industry can help deliver on this effort by sourcing certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO), Morely suggested.

“This is crucial as it supports smallholder farmers who are already certified, by keeping demand for their product high. It also helps to incentivize new smallholders to come into the fold and source sustainably.

“We also encourage the food industry should look into their supply chains and see how they can support smallholders’ transition towards RSPO certification, providing them with educational or technical assistance where possible.”

RSPO launches ‘smallholder strategy’

The RSPO is currently hosting its fifteenth annual meeting in Bali with the theme of inclusivity and accountability. The organisation is working to encourage “greater transparency and collaboration”​ amongst stakeholders and is launching a ‘smallholder strategy’ at the event.

Chief executive officer of the RSPO, Datuk Darrel Webber said that the group’s efforts must reflect the interests of all stakeholders – especially those “less privileged”.

“This process must empower stakeholders to find local solutions to local issues that work within an international framework,”​ he added.

The latest impacts report, reviewing progress over the past year, highlighted the increase of total RSPO smallholders to 139,123 from 109,415, with smallholder certified land increasing to 333,345 hectares from 257,649 hectares, in the previous year.

Recognising the challenges faced by many smallholders, RSPO said it has established several structures including working groups, funds, and other approaches to specifically address smallholder issues.

The RSPO also noted a total of 189,777 hectares of High Conservation Value (HCV) area have been identified and managed by RSPO members, an increase of 21% on prior-year levels. 

RSPO membership has increased “steadily”​ across the world, with China and North America recording increases of 30% and 62% respectively.

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