How does Socfin manage biodiversity on its concessions?
Socfin has developed a particularly detailed strategy to protect and improve biodiversity.
This strategy includes:
- total protection of primary forests and areas of high conservation value;
- protection of critical habitats;
- protection of rare, threatened and/or endangered species.
It also includes a commitment to improving biodiversity even within its concessions.
Thus, certain degraded areas (such as river banks) are being replanted and biodiversity conservation areas are being created (voluntary nature reserves); local companies are prohibiting hunting, fishing and the cutting of certain forest species, according to their local conservation status and in light of the IUCN red list. The stems of palm trees are no longer weeded, to allow epiphytes to grow.
This enhancement of biodiversity will also have a positive effect on the balance of pests and reduce the use of biocides, as these biodiversity areas contain habitats for the predators of our pests.
Do you use many pesticides on your plantations? How do you ensure that these pesticides do not end up in palm oil that will be consumed?
To optimize sanitation and maximize output at our plantations, we do use some biocides (pesticides and herbicides).
In nurseries, we use fungicides, insecticides and herbicides. In mature plantations, we use herbicides to clear harvest paths and the base of the palms by limiting the growth of ground cover. In some countries, we also have to use rodenticide against rats and other rodents that like young palm shoots.
All products are approved by the local authorities and used in accordance with the instructions of technical and safety data sheets.
We are aware of the cost of these products and their potential impact on the health of our workers, and make every effort to avoid unnecessary and excessive use of these substances.
Integrated pest control techniques have been introduced, for example:
Against insect pests:
- habitat destruction
- planting of host plants for parasitic insects
- pheromone traps
- standard trees to facilitate the movement of birds of prey that will feed on rodents
- fencing around palm seedlings
- prohibition on killing snakes.
To limit the impact of fungal diseases, research focuses on the selection of palms resistant to Fusarium or Ganoderma; this makes the use of fungicides unnecessary for these specific diseases.
The oil palm is recognized as an oil crop that requires very little input: for an equal output of vegetable oil, the oil palm requires about 100 times less pesticide than soya (10 kilos per ton of soya oil compared with 0.1 kg per ton of palm oil).
The herbicides used in mature plantations are biodegradable, systemic and foliar (i.e. acting via the leaves and transported as far as the roots) or contact-based. They do not come into contact with the palm trees themselves and are not transported by the roots of the palm to the fruit. They therefore cannot end up in palm oil sold for consumption.
Palm oil contains numerous carcinogenic saturated fatty acids. Do you think it can be consumed without any problem?
First of all, there is a misconception here: saturated fatty acids are in fact not carcinogenic. Only trans unsaturated fatty acids are. Trans fatty acids also cause a far more significant increase in cardiovascular risk, as they raise concentrations of ‘bad cholesterol’ and lower levels of ‘good cholesterol’.
Trans fatty acids are produced when a vegetable oil is partially hydrogenated by artificial means to make it solid. As palm oil is naturally solid at normal temperatures and does not need to be hydrogenated artificially, it contains no trans fatty acids.
However, saturated fatty acids should be consumed in moderation, as they cause an increase in the level of bad cholesterol in the blood.
At the same time, it is important not to completely eliminate fatty acids from our diet: in humans, α-linolenic acid and linoleic acid, which are polyunsaturated fatty acids found in palm oil, are known as ‘essential’ because they are not synthesized by the body and must be obtained nutritionally. To avoid these would be harmful to your health!
As a general rule, we should limit our fat consumption, vary our sources of fat, participate in sports and eat plenty of fruit and vegetables.
Cutting out palm oil, as some advocate, would lead to a more intensive use of other vegetable oils (including GMOs), which would have to be hydrogenated and would have a greater impact in terms of land use (and probably deforestation) and the use of pesticides and fertilizers. This is a classic example of a well-meaning misconception.
The consumption of palm oil is not dangerous in itself, in its raw form, in fact, it contains the antioxidant vitamins A and E, which have beneficial effects on our health.
People often refer to land grabbing. How does Socfin compensate displaced villagers?
First of all, it should be made clear that Socfin does not ‘grab’ land from villagers; we are offered land, or we ask for it, when exploratory surveys have demonstrated the economic, environmental and social feasibility of a plantation project.
In all our developments, population density is a key criterion. When this density is too high, the social impacts are so great that Socfin discontinues its prospecting activity or turns down the offer, as the case may be.
Socfin does not rent or buy land from villagers.
All land transactions are conducted with the State, which is the legal owner of the land. The land is usually occupied on the basis of annual land leases of 25 to 99 years depending on local laws. Full ownership is only acquired in exceptional cases.
However, we are well aware that although the land belongs to the State, it is used by the villagers, and that they have certain traditional rights which are not set down in writing.
We therefore usually offer villagers a choice of several different forms of compensation, depending on local circumstances: these may include financial compensation for the loss of land use or the loss of their existing plantations, in accordance with local laws; or relocation to another plot of land within the concession at our expense; or the villagers staying on their land and maintaining a living space there where they can continue to grow their traditional and subsistence crops.
In any case, the villagers always have a free choice, based on preliminary information that is complete and accurate.
How does Socfin acquire the land for its agricultural developments?
The development of a plantation is a long and complex process.
Every agricultural development project starts with an exploratory survey in which its technical, environmental and social feasibility is analyzed.
If this preliminary study proves favorable, negotiations are entered into with the landowner (usually the State) to acquire a right of occupancy in the form of a long lease of 25 to 99 years.
When the plans are sufficiently advanced, a social and environmental impact study is carried out, with consultation of local people who might be affected by the development.
Naturally, Socfin adheres scrupulously to land ownership and environmental legislation in the countries where it operates, as well as to the principles and standards with which it has decided to comply: the performance standards of the World Bank, the RSPO Principles and Criteria for its oil palm plantations, and the criteria of the Sustainable Natural Rubber Initiative for its rubber plantations.
The environmental and social impact assessment includes environmental and social management plans, impact mitigation measures, a community development plan and a stakeholder engagement plan, all of which will be part of the occupancy agreement entered into with the State and the people.
Where applicable, special attention is paid to indigenous peoples, who have their own relationship with their environment and different identities from those of the main population; in many cases, their status is vulnerable and their culture is under threat. We therefore do all we can to ensure that our development activities do not undermine their culture, their special relationship with the natural environment and their identity in general.
The cultivation of the oil palm is responsible for much deforestation in Southeast Asia. Does Socfin protect primary forests and biodiversity areas?
Socfin has always respected local and international laws for the protection of nature and biodiversity. For new projects, it uses specialist consultants who carry out environmental impact studies in line with national and international standards.
But our commitment goes far beyond protecting primary forests or high conservation value forests.
In July 2016, the Socfin Group embarked on a zero-deforestation policy following the “high carbon stock” approach (http://highcarbonstock.org/), which is the preferred approach by non-governmental organizations for environment protection.
All the forests in our concessions are now protected, whether developed for oil palm or rubber plantations.
In Indonesia, Socfin is not present on the island of Borneo and has played no part in the major deforestation taking place there.
I have seen a publication on toxic effluent in a river in Kienké. Has Socapalm done anything to treat its oil manufacturing effluents?
It is true that some images have been circulating on the Internet showing aqueous effluent being discharged into a river in Kienké. First, it should be noted that this situation already existed in the time of Socapalm, a public company, and was inherited by the Socfin Group when Socapalm was privatised, that the stretch of river actually impacted by these effluents is located entirely within the concession and that these effluents are not toxic: they contain only soil, plant debris and some residual palm oil.
It is true that its appearance is not very attractive and its smell may be unpleasant.
To remedy this situation, inherited from privatisation, Socapalm has constructed lagoon systems on all its plantations, not just Kienké. The lagoon system at Kienké was completed in early 2012.
The system consists of five pools: a cooling pool, two anaerobic pools and two aerobic pools. They are designed to allow an effluent retention time of at least 180 days; the effluent is naturally purified by the action of bacteria, and it is expected that the quality of the effluent at the exit from the last lagoon will meet the discharge standards set by our technical requirements (BOD5 less than 50mg/litre).
The oil palm depletes the soil of nutrients. You have to use a lot of fertilizer, don’t you?
It is true that the oil palm takes up a lot of nutrients, and we have to take care to maintain the fertility of the soil, which is our main asset. Soil fertility can be preserved by applying chemical or organic fertilizers.
Planters are down-to-earth people, and they do not waste their money. The cultivation and processing of palm fruit produce a lot of organic waste that planters carefully recycle and compost.
The fronds are left on the ground to degrade there, and the stems and fibers are put back on the soil for composting in situ. In Indonesia, we have built a stem-waste composting unit (a comparable unit is planned in Cameroon), which also enables us to recycle effluent rich in organic matter from our factories.
In addition, we use leguminous ground cover plants (Pueraria and/or Mucuna), which fix nitrogen from the air into the soil.
The widespread composting of our organic waste and the use of nitrogen-fixing plants allow us to minimize the use of chemical fertilizers. Their use is limited to plant nurseries and to a few kilos of potassium per tree during peak production periods.
How do you manage your hazardous waste?
Hazardous waste is managed in accordance with national laws and international recommendations, which generally state that such waste should be handed over to authorized collectors for disposal or controlled recycling.
However, in some remote areas such as the DRC, there is no approved collector and it is impossible to comply with these recommendations.
Hazardous waste is therefore disposed of in accordance with the instructions in the Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), which describe environmentally friendly solutions without resorting to industrial processing of hazardous waste.
In any case, the solutions proposed are analyzed in environmental impact studies and validated by national governments.
Does Socfin produce sustainable palm oil according to the RSPO Principles and Criteria?
The output of our African plantations is intended mainly for the local market and only enters export channels to a marginal degree. For reasons of efficiency, such products will first be certified to the ISO 14001 standard before consideration is given to RSPO certification, which ideally requires a prior national interpretation.
What certification will you use for your rubber plantations?
These good practices will be included in our management system, for which we will obtain ISO 14001 certification.
What do you do for the inhabitants of neighboring villages? Do you supply them with water and electricity? Can they use your clinics and schools?
We are aware that public services are in many cases not very effective in our areas of influence, which are often far from major cities, and that it is our social responsibility to provide certain essential public services.
Thus villagers living near our plantations or residents within our sphere of influence may use our health services for free in emergencies or for a small charge in the case of non-emergency care. Often our clinics are better equipped than those of the State, and supply certain medicines and serums that cannot be found at other medical facilities.
Village children have free access to our schools and benefit from modern facilities and effective teaching materials.
Our subsidiaries abroad are always ready to listen to problems raised by villagers; according to their requests, our subsidiaries build drinking water wells, schools or public places in villages, finance electricity supply infrastructure, maintain access roads, and so on.
What fringe benefits do you offer them: housing, access to the clinic for the family or other benefits?
What are the accident rates like in your factories?
The figures are presented every year in the sustainable development report, available on our website.
How much do you pay your workers? Do they earn a decent wage?
All our workers are paid in accordance with national law; in the case of our unskilled workers, their pay is always above the statutory minimum. All enjoy fringe benefits, which vary according to the country and local circumstances, in accordance with negotiations with the trade unions.