Big strides for sustainable palm oil: RSPO reports 165 percent spike in independent certified smallholders - 31/10/2019

31 Oct 2019 --- Furthering a mission to grow the global volumes of responsibly sourced palm oil, new statistics released by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) reveal a spike in its number of certified smallholders. The new 2019 Impact Report details that numbers jumped 165 percent during the period of 1 July 2018 to 30 June 2019. The organization further reports an uptick in its membership, outlining an 11 percent growth since 2018.

“I’m thrilled to see this sort of growth across a number of important parts of the sustainable palm oil value chain, particularly with regard to smallholders, and just before the new Independent Smallholder Standard is tabled for adoption at our upcoming roundtable conference this November,” says Datuk Darrel Webber, CEO of RSPO.

Other noteworthy trends included significant growth in RSPO certified area in Africa by 56 percent. From a global perspective, the total RSPO certified area grew by over 22 percent year-on-year to 3.89 million hectares across 16 countries, with a production volume of 14.29 million metric tonnes (MT) of Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) and 3.21 million MT of Certified Sustainable Palm Kernel (CSPK). 

RSPO also approved 19 new grower members over the past financial year, totaling 171 growers in the organization as of June 30, 2019. 

RSPO membership rose to 4,349 as of June 30 2019.In terms of membership, RSPO grew by 11 percent, reaching 4,349 members as of June 30 2019, with the US Germany, and the UK achieving top three respectively for membership. Notably, the report also showed a 25 percent increase in holders of the RSPO Trademark licence – a globally recognized eco-label – since the last reporting period. Furthermore, there was also a 2 percent growth in overall demand and uptake during this reporting period.

“Without more pressure and demand from the downstream market, the likely outcome is more unsustainable palm oil,” adds Webber.

Additionally, RSPO members continued their efforts by avoiding land clearance and any new planting on peat, and by sequestering conservation areas in new development. This led to savings of 1.4 million metric tons of CO2 according to reports by the organization.

Early next month, RSPO members from across the world will meet at the 17th Annual Roundtable Conference on Sustainable Palm Oil (RT17) in Bangkok, Thailand, under the theme, “A Shared Responsibility: Converting Commitments into Actions.” With 2020 sustainability targets fast approaching, RT17 is pegged as the ideal platform for representatives from the global palm oil industry to discuss the latest challenges and opportunities facing the sustainable palm oil sector.

Thereafter, members of RSPO‘s 16th Annual General Assembly (GA16) will vote on a number of resolutions, including the new proposed RSPO Independent Smallholder Standard.

RSPO’s Smallholder StrategyForty percent of the world’s palm oil production comes from small landowners, notes RSPO.
In June 2017, the RSPO launched a Smallholder Strategy to improve smallholder inclusivity into its system and help smallholders achieve sustainable livelihoods. And, in November 2017, the RSPO launched a dedicated platform known as RSPO Smallholder Engagement Platform (RSEP), which aims to connect smallholders with potential project partners, as well as provide additional resources and support to smallholders around the world.

RSEP works by allowing smallholder groups who are seeking potential financial or non-financial support to upload the details of their project to RSEP, and for facilitators and/or market players to directly connect and assist them with their project.

“Forty percent of the world’s palm oil production comes from small landowners (less than 50 hectares but most of them have one or two hectares of land) and we’re talking about millions of farmers. Through RSPO’s best management practices, certified smallholders are now reducing or eliminating the use of harmful pesticides and chemicals and replacing them with more ecologically sound alternatives. Most importantly, farming communities learn the importance of protecting their natural resources, and they acquire the tools and resources to do so through the collaboration with industry and NGOs RSPO members, and through the RSPO network,” says a spokesperson of the organization. 

“Yet the challenge remains that some smallholders find certification too costly and may continue to suffer from low yields due to poor quality of planting material. The RSPO wants to support more smallholders to become certified in order to improve productivity, raising levels of income among poor farmers and reducing risk of land conversion, which threatens the forest and biodiversity,” adds the spokesperson.

Innova Market Insights reports a strong rise in products claiming to be “palm oil-free.”The polarization of palm oil
Despite being a hotly contested commodity, demand for palm oil is sustained across industry. The product is consumed daily in multiple food items including margarine, chocolate, cookies, confectionery, bread, instant noodles and more. 

Palm oil production methods, however, remain under intense scrutiny by consumers and key industry players alike. A growing movement towards creating a viable 100 percent sustainable palm oil supply chain is a work in progress, hence the existence and continuing work of the RSPO and many other pro-sustainable palm oil organizations and initiatives.

Despite this progress, other NPD steers clear of palm oil altogether, driven by brands’ fear of reputational implications. Statistics from Innova Market Insights report a strong rise in products claiming to be “palm oil free,” with 73 percent CAGR reported from 2015 to 2017. Top global market categories with a palm oil free claim, as a percentage of new food and beverage launches in 2017, are bakery (55 percent), spreads (7 percent), cereals (5 percent), ready meals & sides dishes (4 percent) and baby/toddler food (3 percent).

In June, European Palm Oil Alliance (EPOA) joined forces with other industry associations, stakeholder companies and civil society bodies to urge all European stakeholders to get behind the Sustainable Palm Oil Choice (SPOC) initiative. The shared aim of the organizations is to drive the uptake of certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) across Europe’s food manufacturing value chain. An overarching goal is for all manufacturers and retailers to choose and use only CSPO in their production and to achieve the target of 100 percent CSPO in European food manufacturing by 2020.

By Benjamin Ferrer