On 25 June 2020, the RSPO Board of Governors (BoG) endorsed the Côte d’Ivoire National Interpretation, and on 3 September 2020, the Gabon National Interpretation was endorsed, marking significant progress for the intent to make the production of palm oil in the Africa region sustainable.

The application of the RSPO Principles and Criteria (P&C), and the accompanying Indicators and Guidance, are crucial in ensuring that the production of sustainable palm oil meets the legal, economic, environmental, and social prerequisites. However, different countries might have different laws for the same criteria, such as minimum wages for workers, labour rights, etc. Therefore, the RSPO P&C are adapted for use by each country through National Interpretation (NI). The RSPO BoG has previously endorsed several NIs (for the 2018 P&C), including Malaysia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Island, Ghana, Mexico, and India. 

Elikplim Dziwornu Agbitor, RSPO Technical Manager in Africa, said, “The NI process of the RSPO P&C is aimed at defining RSPO national indicators adapted to the Côte d’Ivoire and Gabonese contexts, following the rules and guidance issued by the RSPO Secretariat. The approval by the RSPO BoG marks an important step in making palm oil certification in both countries more locally relevant and effective.”

Ida Navratilova Oye Obame of Brainforest (member of the Gabon National Interpretation Working Group), added, "Gabon is now obliged that producers can guarantee sustainable, high-quality production of palm oil, while protecting the country's natural capital, and taking into account the interests of local communities." 

The Côte d’Ivoire National Interpretation
The Côte d’Ivoire NI 2020 supersedes the previous standard document, which was being used for certification of plantations and mills in the country. Developed by the Côte d’Ivoire NI Working Group (NIWG), the NI involved a balanced representation from multi-stakeholder groups to ensure that it accurately reflects the nature of the industry in Côte d’Ivoire, especially with regard to its national legislation and customs, while maintaining, and, in some cases, strengthening the integrity of the RSPO requirements for certification. 

Besides holding numerous meetings to finalise the document and ensure that it is in compliance with international best practices, a 60-day public consultation was conducted from 12 February to 11 April 2020. It was participated by 32 stakeholders from various sectors, including producers/mills, banks and financial institutions, environmental NGOs, etc.

It was then reviewed  by the RSPO Secretariat and submitted to the RSPO Standard Standing Committee (SSC) for approval, before being sent to the BoG for endorsement. All Certification Bodies (CBs) and members are now required to use the document for all audits conducted after the release of the official announcement by RSPO.

Based on the feedback received during the public consultation, contextual issues in Côte d’Ivoire that needed close attention were land tenure and land rights for smallholders, especially the complexity and cost in obtaining the land certificate. More than 70% of oil palm producers in Côte d’Ivoire are independent smallholders.

The Gabon National Interpretation 
The NI process in Gabon started in November 2019. Currently, the palm oil sector in Gabon is represented by one major international company – Olam International – which develops new plantations within a joint venture framework with the Gabonese government. Olam has been RSPO certified since 2016 and is committed to implementing RSPO standards.

The first NI process in Gabon was initiated in 2012. Following the update of the P&C in 2018, a review of the study on the applicable laws was conducted and a new RSPO NIWG was established in November 2019 to adapt the indicators to the national context. 

It was co-chaired by two of the three representatives of RSPO members in the country, namely the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and Olam. The entire project was a collaboration of WWF, Olam, Proforest and Brainforest, and was co-funded by WWF, the RSPO Secretariat, Olam Palm Gabon and the Africa Palm Oil Initiative (APOI). 

"This working group of experts examined a generic document and took into account the national context, with emphasis on deforestation and the rights of local communities and indigenous peoples," said Ida Navratilova.

At the end of the NIWG’s first meeting, the first version of the Gabon NI was presented for public consultation. Due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the second meeting, originally scheduled for early March, had to be postponed and the NIWG had to change its working methodology. The NIWG succeeded in advancing through a series of webinars that were held between 17 March and 7 July 2020.

A public consultation was held from 13 December 2019 to 10 February 2020. An online consultation with a survey in French and English was made public via the RSPO website. In addition, a 3-day consultation workshop was also carried out with the communities in the activity zones, with a total of 181 participants. The working group then further worked on the text of the NI taking into account the comments raised by the various parties during the public consultation. On 9 July, a final online meeting was held, with the presence of all NIWG members, where the NI was validated, and it was translated into English before being sent to the RSPO for approval and endorsement by the RSPO BoG.

In June 2019, the Gabonese Government officially adopted the RSPO P&C as the National Standard that will govern sustainable palm oil production in the country. Gabon is the first and only country, to date, to have adopted the RSPO standard into national policy. We are hopeful that this will set the precedent for other countries, particularly those in the Congo Basin, and elsewhere in the Region to follow suit. 

"Gabon now has a governance instrument for the palm oil sector that includes best practices for responsible and sustainable management. This will allow the committed operator OPG (Olam Palm Gabon) to continue on the path it has taken since it was established in the country and possible new investors to align themselves with this standard, one of the most demanding in the agricultural sector and recognised worldwide in the sector," said Ida Navratilova.

RSPO Standard Development Director, Julia Majail, said: “We are delighted that the NI process in both Côte d’Ivoire and Gabon are completed and have been endorsed by the RSPO BoG. This is definitely a cause for celebration as it involved a huge amount of work and challenges. With this success, I believe they will be the driving force for sustainable palm oil in the West and Central Africa region, which is often regarded as the next frontier for palm oil.”

“The endorsement of the NIs is important as it promotes more growers and communities in the region to adopt sustainable palm oil production. Currently, a few other countries in the region are in the process of completing their NI development, namely Liberia, Nigeria, Cameroon and Sierra Leone. Other than Gabon and Cote D’Ivoire, the Ghana NI was also endorsed by the RSPO BOG in 2019,” Julia added.

The endorsed Côte d’Ivoire and Gabon NI documents are available for download here. If you have any enquiries regarding the Côte d’Ivoire and Gabon NIs, please contact [email protected]

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