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A group of independent smallholders from Thailand are leading the way in sustainable palm oil production by becoming the first in the world to sign up to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)
By singing up, they are trying to show their commitment to producing oil in a more efficient, environmentally-friendly manner.
Palm oil is one of the world’s most versatile raw ingredients and is used in one in two products on supermarket shelves, from crisps and biscuits, to cosmetics and cleaning products. It is also the highest-yielding oil crop in the world, producing an average of 4.3 tonnes per hectare, compared with 0.5 tonnes for soy oil and between 1.5 – 2 tonnes for sunflower oil.
Palm oil cultivation has a positive effect on the incomes and lifestyles of farming families and on the development of rural areas in the countries where the palm oil is grown, namely Indonesia, Malaysia, South America and Thailand.
However, while there are benefits to palm oil production, as the demand continues to rise, the areas where the oil palms are grown are seeing the destruction of virgin rainforest, the extinction of endangered species and the displacement of small farmers in order to establish enormous monoculture plantations. So, while halting the production of palm oil is not a viable option, educating growers and changing cultivation methods would have a positive impact both on the environment and on the economy of these areas.
As part of the RSPO certification process the smallholders will be shown how to grow the oil palms to improve yield and lessen the impact on the environment, and if they meet the stringent RSPO criteria, they will be able to charge a premium for their sustainable product using the GreenPalm programme.
General manager of GreenPalm Bob Norman said, “Globally, Thailand is the third largest producer of palm oil following Malaysia and Indonesia. However the percentage of that area under cultivation by independent smallholders is more than 70 per cent - far higher than Indonesia or Malaysia. It’s crucial we make these growers aware that their cultivation methods may be harming the environment and that by employing more sustainable methods they will see their yield and their income increase.
“By signing up to the RSPO and going through the certification process, these farmers can learn how to grow more sustainably to achieve higher yields, and once certified they can charge a premium for their oil by signing up to the GreenPalm programme. Hopefully this first step will encourage other independent smallholders and larger farms to follow suit.”
The GreenPalm programme provides all growers with a way of gaining a premium for their oil by bypassing a complex supply chain which makes physical segregation of sustainably produced oil difficult and costly.
Those growers who meet the RSPO criteria gain a premium for their oil by claiming one GreenPalm certificate for each tonne of sustainable oil they produce. They can then offer these certificates for sale on the GreenPalm trading platform to purchasers who can then rightfully claim they are supporting the sustainable production of palm oil. So far the programme has passed worldwide takings of US$14mn back to certified growers.
Businesses already signed up to purchase certificates using the GreenPalm programme include Unilever, Danone, Oriflame, Arla and M&S.
GreenPalm works in conjunction with the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), which implements the RSPO smallholder project on the ground and is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Environment, supporting the smallholders and helping them meet the stringent requirements of RSPO.
Bob Norman hopes that the Thai farmers will soon begin to feel the benefit of certification and in turn, more independent smallholders from across the globe will follow suit.