Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, RSPO certification continues to advance in Latin America. The volume of Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) has surpassed 1.3 million metric tonnes, and membership applications have also been increasing steadily. Recognising the importance of this market and the need to continuously increase RSPO’s presence in the region, we are pleased to welcome a new Technical Manager in Latin America, Diego Luis Pierrend Weiss, who joined us on 1 April 2020.

Graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Agro-Industrial Engineering from San Ignacio de Loyola University, in Lima, Peru, and a master’s degree in Management and Quality Certification from IMF Business School in Spain, Diego shared his views about the production of sustainable palm oil in the Latin American region. He will work closely with our Latin American team to further develop RSPO’s presence in the market.

What is your background and experience, and how do they help you in your new role at RSPO?
I’m from Lima, Peru, and I started my professional career in the agricultural export sector, which made me interested in other requirements for the international markets. After that, I joined a certification body (CB) there, before being transferred to Colombia in 2008 to manage the certification office. I was with the CB for 7 years, before joining a Colombian oil palm company, where I learned a lot about sustainability commercial projections, implementation in the ground, and smallholder management. 

When I came to Colombia, I had to change from just promoting the usual certification to focus more on sustainability certification. Back then, I wasn’t familiar with the palm oil industry, as Peru is not an oil palm producer, unlike Colombia. It was definitely a major shift for me, and that was how I entered the palm oil world.

In Colombia, I started to look into sustainability certification and also started to promote RSPO. I believe I was among the first people to promote RSPO in the Latin American region. I travelled a lot to Mexico, Guatemala, Ecuador, and around Colombia at that time, and I started to become more interested in the palm oil industry. So, I kept promoting RSPO and pushed for its sustainable standards and certification in the region since 2008.

My in-depth knowledge on certification schemes and integrated verification processes will complement the commercial and operational objectives of RSPO. My experience will also help me to provide advice and input into strategic and policy significance to facilitate decision-making and enhance the efficiency of the RSPO Latin America office. I’m also bringing in a lot of different perspectives to the office to improve its internal procedures and management. As I was with a CB previously, a lot of RSPO members know me and I have a good relationship with them, hence it’s easier for me to engage with them. 

What are some of the biggest challenges (or opportunities) in the Latin American market in terms of sustainability and certification?
The biggest challenge would be trying to get the majority of the oil palm producer members within the plantations, mills, and the supply chain to be at least 80-85% certified. In Latin America, the production of palm oil has been mainly for local consumption. Apart from Guatemala, Honduras, and Costa Rica, which are exporters of oil palm products, there has been a lot of focus on the national market. Now, they are starting to focus more on export to the international market, particularly Europe. Besides that, another challenge would be getting more smallholders to achieve certification, as there are a lot of smallholders with great potential in Mexico, Honduras, Colombia and Ecuador.

In terms of opportunities, I would say the Latin American region is currently leading in terms of certification, as about 27% of all the palm oil produced in the region are RSPO certified. Besides that, one third of all the HCV areas that are maintained in oil palm plantations are also in the region.

Do you think there’s an opportunity for Latin America to be the global leader of sustainable palm oil production and why/why not?
Yes, I believe Latin America can be a global leader of sustainable palm oil production. CSPO production as well as membership numbers have been growing steadily. Like I said earlier, 27% of CSPO produced in Latin America is certified. That’s a good sign! And we are still growing, despite the COVID-19 crisis. We still have members going through the certification process and there is a lot of  interest in RSPO certification.

The export to international markets has also been growing a lot, as the demand for certified products has increased in the last 5 to 6 years. The commercial value of sustainable products and the demand for those products have increased, especially from Europe, the Netherlands, Germany,  Spain, and lately, from the US. So, there’s a lot of opportunities in the market for the Latin American region to grow and to be a leader in sustainable palm oil production

What are your top priorities for the coming months?
First of all, I will focus on the internal office and the regional objectives. I will strive to boost our members’ confidence in RSPO and improve our customer service by providing more direct answers and solutions to our members, and work closely with our technical team to reduce response time. Together with the rest of the team here, we will continue to strive to increase the number of RSPO members in the region.

Besides that, I also need to focus on smallholders’ certification. Currently, we are working with several countries to increase the certification of smallholders and we have been making good progress on that. In the past few years, I have been travelling to Mexico, Honduras and around Colombia, and I’m pleased to share that we are able to get some smallholder groups to be certified this year. In addition, we also have plans to  work with national federations of palm oil and producers in Colombia, Mexico, Honduras, Ecuador, Peru, and Guatemala to help them to promote their internal consumption of sustainable palm oil. Generally, we will continue to improve our communication with our members, and assist them in every way we can, including the certification process.

To get in touch with Diego, please feel free to drop him an email at [email protected]

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