A total of 304 independent oil palm farmers who are part of the Association of Independent Oil Palm Smallholders Karya Serumpun, in the Indragiri Hulu Regency, have become the first group in the region to successfully obtain certification from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

This achievement is the result of a collaborative programme between Widya Erti Indonesia (WEI), Unilever and Daemeter Consulting, which was carried out from 2017-2019 utilising the Palm Oil Field School (SLKS) approach, to help independent smallholders implement Good Agricultural Practices (GAP). After one SLKS cycle was implemented, 35 talented SLKS alumni farmers interested in self-development were given training related to facilitation, facilitation techniques and institutions.

Furthermore, in an effort to address the anxiety of the facilitating farmers regarding difficulties in obtaining fertiliser, the instability of oil palm Fresh Fruit Bunch (FFB) prices, and the challenges sometimes faced with debt to middlemen, the facilitating farmers agreed to establish the Association of Independent Oil Palm Smallholders Karya Serumpun in 2019.

In 2020, WEI Riau and the Association of Independent Oil Palm Smallholders Karya Serumpun commenced a project for strengthening their sustainability practices. Cahyo Risambodo from WEI Riau said, “the strengthening project was seen as a way to help the independent oil palm smallholders improve their sustainability practices in order to be better prepared to go for RSPO certification”.

RSPO Certification Benefits
As a part of the programme, the association of smallholders signed a letter of commitment to implement the RSPO Principles and Criteria (P&C) and its relevant Indicators. Additionally, the group established an Internal Control System (ICS) team to conduct monitoring of Karya Serumpun’s units, including Integrated Pest Management (IPM) units, High Conservation Value (HCV) areas, and other important factors to ensure they are compliant with the RSPO standards. 

In the process of obtaining certification however, one of the key challenges faced is related to the legality of land ownership. There are still some smallholders who do not have legal rights to their land, which is a key requirement for obtaining RSPO certification, due to costly expenses and difficulties related to administrative processes. Fortunately, WEI supported these smallholder farmers in obtaining a legal letter (SKT or SORADIK) for their land, allowing the farmers to proceed with the certification process. 

In August 2021, the RSPO audit for certification took place. This saw 304 farmers out of the 825 members of the Association of Independent Oil Palm Smallholders Karya Serumpun officially obtain RSPO certification on 1 December 2021, with a land area of ​​584.09 hectares.

Cahyo said that the benefits of RSPO certification had become clear to the association members through an improved plantation management system in terms of both plantation maintenance and crop productivity, as well as an improved economy for their families. Additionally, because the certification process requires proof of legal land ownership, the farmers were able to obtain this through a Statement of Commitment to Environmental Management and Monitoring (SPPL) and a Cultivation Registration Certificate (STDB), which includes the coordinates of each farmer's land.

The Chairman of the Karya Serumpun Oil Palm Smallholders Association, Juliono, shared that trying to encourage the farmers to switch to more sustainable agricultural practices at the start of the process is most challenging.

“There was no knowledge or understanding of RSPO certification and members questioned the benefits of implementing the RSPO P&C,” he said.

However, Juliono added that by continuing to socialise the concept and provide an understanding of the benefits of participating in RSPO certification, the oil palm smallholder members agreed to pursue the RSPO certification process further.

“After going through various mentoring processes, the farmers finally have a better understanding of good plantation care, fertilisation, weed control, pest and disease control, and good FFB harvesting procedures,” said Juliono. "The implementation of RSPO certification has proven very beneficial, oil palm plantations are well maintained, production results increased, the value of the farmers' plantations is higher, and the legality of their land has been formalised." 

On another positive note, the Association of Independent Oil Palm Smallholders Karya Serumpun has grown in membership from 200 members to 825 farmers, of which 304 have now achieved RSPO certification.

Regional Role Model
The achievements of the association also received appreciation from the local government, said the Head of Plantation at the Indragiri Hulu Agriculture and Plantation Service, Sri Wahyu Haryanto.

“I hope this achievement can be a model for other smallholder groups in the region and it encourages them to implement more sustainable oil palm practices,” Haryanto said.

Unilever's Director of Sustainable Sourcing, Martin Huxtable, said, “Independent oil palm smallholders are valuable partners, which is why we are pleased to hear that 304 farmer members of the Association of Independent Oil Palm Smallholders Karya Serumpun in Indragiri Hulu Regency, Riau are now RSPO certified.” 

“This has been realised thanks to the hard work of our partner Widya Erti Indonesia, the Association of Independent Oil Palm Smallholders Karya Serumpun and independent oil palm smallholders and we hope that the existing cooperation will continue in the future,” he said.

Huxtable added that the application of sustainable palm oil practices according to the RSPO P&C will be an example of the life-changing impact that can be achieved when different stakeholders come together for the same goal.

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