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RSPO-certified smallholders: growing from strength to strength

Since the introduction of the RSPO Smallholders Support Fund (RSSF) in 2013,  a number of smallholder initiatives around the world have received approximately 1 million euro to promote the production of Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO).

These 6 initiatives comprise 9,300 smallholders over 41,940 hectares of land, including:

  • 2 initiatives in Africa (Ghana and Nigeria)
  • 1 in Thailand
  • 1 in Latin America (Honduras). and
  • 2 in Indonesia

The two initiatives in Africa are critical as palm oil is indigenous to West Africa. The region now produces about 6% of global palm oil, which is far short of its potential on account of:

  • poor agronomy
  • low yielding planting
  • limited use and access to fertiliser.

Independent smallholders make up 90% of oil palm farmers in both Ghana and Nigeria.

In Ghana, the land available for cultivation of oil palm on new large-scale plantations is limited due to population growth and traditional land tenure systems. Hence, improving smallholder productivity is a priority in addressing Ghana’s infrastructural limitations in the production of fresh fruit bunch. The RSSF financing for this project will play an instrumental role in supporting farmers to improve yields and income through train-the-trainer programmes and conversion from traditional unsustainable methods of farming to best management practices. This preparation will eventually lead to RSPO certification of smallholders enabling them to access international markets that have stipulated strict policies in buying only certified sustainable palm oil from this year on. Spearheaded by the NGO Solidaridad, this project aspires to achieve certified sustainable practices for at least 2,000 independent smallholders.

A key challenge in Nigeria is that smallholders do not have any links with established mills and process their fresh fruit bunches through mini-improved processing mills generally owned by private operators who are merely service providers. The big mills on the other hand have no interest in buying fresh fruit bunches from independent smallholders because the mills are adequately covered from estates’ supply and are usually located some distance from most smallholders’ fields. However, local palm oil producer PZ Wilmar is working towards RSPO certification and has shown willingness to buy from independent smallholders who comply with sustainable farming practices. Hence, it is critical to begin transforming the practice of independent smallholders towards RSPO certification within the catchment area of PZ Wilmar as a prospective supply base for the plantation mills. Local regulators are interested for Solidaridad to assist in the field to gradually build an efficient and strong palm oil sector in Nigeria, which in the longer term will alleviate poverty through the provision of employment and a means of livelihood. This project aspires to achieve 75% increase in yields and RSPO certification for at least 2,500 independent smallholders.   

As the third largest palm oil producer in the world, Thailand has over 200,000 smallholders throughout the country. A key challenge in this market, as in most other new frontiers, is the lack of technical know-how and financial capacity. As a result of its successful RSPO certification in 2012, Patum Vegetable Oil has now partnered with Shell Thailand to provide necessary funding and knowledge through training to oil palm smallholders in the country. A key focus here is the introduction of activities for smallholders from the very beginning to ensure their long term commitment towards sustainable practices post-certification. This includes close alliances with partner mills as well as training and coaching to mills and leaders of farming groups.

The initiative in Honduras, the third largest palm oil producer in Latin America with approximately 6,800 smallholders, is aimed at increasing RSPO certification by assisting smallholders and mills to implement the required standard. Spearheaded by Proforest Initiative, the project will support and work together with the Honduran palm oil producing company Jaremar and UNPALA - an independent smallholders association. The poor understanding of best management practices, and low compliance with environmental requirements is common. The longer term aim is to use the results and lessons learnt from this project to get the larger community to embrace sustainable practices. The goal of the project within a 3-year period is to have 800 smallholders certified.

In Rokan Hulu, Indonesia, Serikat Petani Kelapa Sawit (the Oil Palm Smallholders Union comprising smallholders as members) has received a grant from the RSSF to promote good agricultural practices for 800 smallholders. Riau was chosen as the project location because the province is the largest oil palm producer nationwide.The good agricultural practices training aims to realise better incomes through increased productivity targets. In order to ensure the long-term impact and smallholders’ progress towards sustainable practices, support for obtaining RSPO certification will be integrated into the project. This project will be a pilot to promote the yields produced by independent smallholders as guided by the RSPO standard.

The sixth project is also based in Indonesia, and is implemented by  a group called Sapta Tunggal Mandiri that is a supplier of a RSPO-certified mill owned by Wilmar. The group is pursuing RSPO group certification to be achieved before the end of 2015. Certification will is a starting point to study the effectiveness of RSPO certification as part of an incentive process for replanting.

While all projects have their respective objectives, the overall goal is to:

  • build a resilient infrastructure so that smallholders within those jurisdictions establish best management practices for higher yields through reduced fertiliser cost and usage as well as health risks
  • increased networking opportunities with potential partner mills
  • develop informative and educational materials as well as to sustain post-certification initiatives

The RSSF has also confirmed funding support to fully cover 7 certification audits: 6 in Thailand and 1 in Indonesia.

In addition, the RSSF has committed funds to cover the cost of High Conservation Value (HCV) assessments for smallholders within plantations that are considered high-risk areas. HCV assessment is a mandatory requirement for the RSPO certification process, and demands technical know-how and funding. Third party professional assessors are engaged to run these assessments. The application process for the RSPO panel to approve the support of the HCV assessments requires the provision of sufficient information. Further enquiries for this matter can be directed to:  julia.majail@rspo.org​