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Oil palm smallholders: a primer

Smallholders News | March 17, 2016
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Datuk Darrel Webber, CEO, RSPO

When one of the world’s most well known philanthropist placed a bet that the “lives of poor countries will improve faster in the next 15 years than any other time in history – and their lives will improve more than anyone else’s” – most would think that’s an idealistic notion. It must be understood that any reality is based on how much strive and effort goes into a vision.

There are over 2.2 million oil palm smallholders worldwide, who account for 30% of the total global production of palm oil while making up 40% of the land coverage used for palm oil cultivation. Hence, the vision of ensuring they adopt sustainable practices through RSPO certification is imperative in ensuring their livelihood is improved through increased productivity and sustained business opportunities.

Smallholders usually work in community clusters and therefore may generally lack access to expertise, capacity building and infrastructure for sustainable practices. However – in the past two years, we have evidently seen how this barrier has been overcome through increased awareness, training and education, voluntary dedication, funding provisions and systemic vigilance. Today, over 160,000 smallholders (schemed and independent) have been RSPO certified across geographies from Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Oceania, Africa and Latin America. The estimated volume of certified sustainable palm oil by schemed and independent smallholders is over 8.66 million metric tonnes, representing over 14.5% of total RSPO certified sustainable palm oil. 

I take this opportunity to commend the Smallholders Working Group, the representation for smallholders on the RSPO Board of Governors, the moderators and facilitators of the initiatives and my team at the Secretariat for their instrumental role in changing the course of a significant community, the smallholders, and their contribution towards a pressing global agenda in ensuring sustainable practices in palm oil production.

Beyond the statistics that show smallholders as dots on a map to portray their significant and ubiquitous presence around the world – it is indeed the personal story of every individual and their experienced triumph and benefit from this process of certification that requires acknowledgement and celebration. From the 43 year old widow with five children in a fisherman’s village in Kinabatangan, Sabah, to the hardworking middle-aged man from the Indonesian province of Riau and to the breadwinner of a family of three in the remote village of Rh Lichong, Sarawak, Malaysia- it is their conviction and labour which will proliferate and revolutionize sustainable practices amongst smallholders around the world.

Darrel Webber