Engaging local communities and smallholders key to sustainable palm oil transformation

Inforial (The Jakarta Post)

Jakarta   ●  
Fri, April 29, 2022



In palm oil-producing countries, a sustainable palm oil supply chain respects biodiversity, natural ecosystems, reforestation, local communities and workers.

Local communities and smallholders who are able to join the sustainable palm oil discourse can reap great benefits, including a better understanding of their rights and how best to protect them, as well as the knowhow and capability to produce more palm oil using less land, increasing their access to international markets, thus leading to improved livelihoods.

Imam A. El Marzuq, Senior Manager of Global Community Outreach & Engagement of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), said that engaged communities are able to make meaningful contributions in determining the values, principles and indicators of multi-stakeholder driven initiatives, thereby making their voices heard in addressing their concerns.

“Smallholders and local communities can also improve their livelihoods by enjoying 35% and 89% higher profitability for certified Scheme and Independent Smallholders respectively,” he added.” They reduce the risk of land conversion which threatens wildlife, forests and biodiversity. RSPO certified palm oil has a 35% lower impact on global warming and a 20% lower biodiversity impact from land use changes.”

Enhancing smallholder inclusion

Despite the environmental and social benefits of a sustainable palm oil supply chain, certified palm oil has yet to gain significant ground. Ensuring the sustainability of the palm oil supply chain is one of RSPO’s foremost challenges and priorities, and enhancing smallholder inclusion in the chain is crucial to this transformation.

“Smallholders’ proximity to palm oil plantations and their knowledge of the local community allows them to voice specific needs, and highlight the benefits their society can receive from sustainable palm oil development,” said El Marzuq.

He added that communities must first be educated on the fundamental principles of sustainable palm oil, including the economical benefit of responsible palm oil cultivation, the social values it can bring to communities, and the technologies or platforms available that can enhance sustainable production.

“Local community leaders must be vigilant against violations or negative impacts on their ecosystem as a result of palm oil plantations. They must understand the proper channels to convey their grievances and seek remedies for problems. These platforms may include local government, company internal management, independent commissions, state institutions or the RSPO,” he said.

Smallholders – key to a sustainable palm oil industry

RSPO data has shown that more than 3 million smallholders and small-scale farmers make a living from palm oil globally. While their farmlands are small compared to industrial plantations, smallholders account for about 40% of total global palm oil production, making smallholders significant contributors towards a sustainable palm oil industry.

“However, we have seen that these individuals often have inadequate information and knowledge in growing and selling oil palm, while their yields are also typically relatively low,” El Marzuq highlighted. “We therefore need to ensure that communities have access to the resources they need to succeed, including independent advice and better documentation of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) procedures to address potential land rights issues and help provide better protection of their rights.

“We need to listen to our communities to make sure that we are recommending the appropriate actions towards these goals. Without this, we run the risk of inaction and regressing to business as usual,” he said.

Collaborating for effective solutions

“Truly effective solutions cannot be achieved solely by one organisation. The RPSO views itself as a convener and a resource that can bring together the best knowledge and local views and context for action. We are committed to leading the charge from the perspective of local communities and arming them with the best information and resources to tailor their approaches.”

“That said, there is a shared responsibility of our partners working in various regions to keep such collaborations going and make sure that we are being as inclusive as possible along all levels of the supply chain,” El Marzuq remarked.

RSPO is able to offer its comprehensive archive of best practices, technology and resources from its far-reaching international network and experience in ensuring the fundamental rights of landowners, local communities, plantation workers, and smallholder farmers and their families.

Recognising the need for a comprehensive outreach effort to affected communities and local civil society organisations in palm oil-producing countries, RSPO is drawing up two programmes, the Independent Smallholder Outreach in partnership with FORTASBI and Community Outreach in partnership with the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM). These programmes will disseminate discourses on sustainable palm oil and connect with local communities, Indigenous Peoples, trade unions, local NGOs and smallholders.

“Community engagement programmes are vital to improving grassroots stakeholder knowledge and understanding of the RSPO Principles & Criteria, which will build a cohesive relationship between communities and palm oil companies,” El Marzuq said.

Moreover, effective and efficient community outreach programmes involving palm oil companies and related actors will contribute to the compliance with national and international laws and best practices, especially FPIC; High Conservation Values and High Carbon Stock concept; and UN Business and Human Rights Principles.

“On the other hand, communities are clear on their rights that must be protected, such as customary land ownership. This will increase acceptability between both parties about the need to coexist,” he said.

The Independent Smallholder Outreach programme is focused on identifying potential smallholder groups, building capacity and awareness of local stakeholders to support Independent Smallholders and eventually preparing them to enter the RSPO system, so they can be involved in the journey of sustainable palm oil and benefit from it.

In Indonesia, the programme is implemented in seven districts that have the potential for independent palm oil smallholders, but so far do not have any RSPO-certified independent-smallholder groups. They include Subulussalam, Barito Kuala, North Bengkulu, Berau, Kapuas Hulu, Landak and Pesisir Selatan.

As to the community-outreach programme, according to El Marzuq, it has three main objectives. First, to strengthen the standard of sustainable palm oil pursuant to human rights values, including providing various channels of dispute settlement for the local communities affected by the activities of palm oil industries using the alternative-dispute-resolution approach.

Second, to increase the acceptance and trust of civil-society communities, affected communities and labour, including women’s communities, toward RSPO mechanisms as a tool of remedy.

Third, to ensure the synergistic cooperation between multi-stakeholders’ initiatives and business associations to support sustainable palm oil.

This programme will be implemented in palm oil-producing areas across the country. “Paving the way for a more effective engagement process that will then play a key role in

RSPO achieving its mission, including in materialsing a sustainable supply chain and a more competitive industry,” Imam concluded.

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