Monday, 4 February 2008

Meeting global standards to market palm oil products

2008/02/02 New Straits Times

Meeting global standards to market palm oil products

KOTA KINABALU: Oil palm growers and producers in the state stand to gain should they choose to adopt principles that guide them in creating a balance between business demands and environmental concerns.

WWF International's Darrel Webber said players in the state's bustling oil palm sector could market their products as having followed sustainable development guidelines.

This meets the need of some international buyers who only want to purchase palm oil-based products that come from properly managed plantations.

He said the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which promotes the production of sustainable oil palm products by developing credible global standards and engaging stakeholders along the supply chain, provides guidelines on what planters and producers could do to set themselves apart from producers of other edible oils such as soy and corn.

"Large companies in Europe, for instance, recognise RSPO standards and some pledge to only buy palm oil products that come from sustainably managed plantations.

"The goal for Sabah is to leverage on this. It makes perfect economic sense. Consumers today are more educated on environmental matters."The market can only grow for products that come from sustainably managed oil palm plantations.

Orang utan live next door to plantations in harmony, but no one will believe this unless growers gain certification," he told the New Straits Times.He said the Sabah Development Corridor (SDC), which was launched on Tuesday, notes that promotion and enforcement of sustainable palm oil and food traceability were necessary to ensure continuous access to markets in developed countries.

The blueprint states that process for certification and enforcement of the sector needs to be strengthened based on RSPO standards.Oil palm currently covers 1.2 million ha or 16.6 per cent of the state's land area and is the leading agriculture crop for the state, contributing RM3.4 billion to the gross domestic product (GDP) in 2005.

About 200,000ha of the Kinabatangan area, which is known for unique wildlife such as orang utan and Borneo Pygmy elephants, is planted with oil palm.WWF is a founding member of RSPO which serves as a platform for growers, producers, consumer goods manufacturers, retailers, investors, environmental NGOs and social organisations, to find ways and means to ensure that the highly-sought after commodity does not come with high environmental costs.

Webber said although certification based on RSPO standards was voluntary, the state government could make use of what had been outlined and enforce it as a "code of practice" to set the sector on the right track.Webber, who is also a RSPO board member, said that costs were not only lowered for the environment but also the government when plantations adopted good practices.

"For instance, the government will not have to spend millions to rectify the impact of floods at plantation areas if good practices are in place."While no company can claim to be perfect in terms of sustainability, they can make use of indicators in their report card on where they stand when it comes to the balance between profit, people and the environment. You cannot do business without these elements.

"The government recognises that Sabah is home to world class natural resources, and for that reason, it makes sense to have world class management of these resources." He said some of the things that planters could do was to ensure they did not plant beyond their boundaries and at slopes above 25 degrees.

"It's not very hard to do. They must also avoid high-conservation value areas. Companies that want to enter a certain area should plan ahead by identifying riparian reserves, flood plains and burial grounds."Companies that are already growing oil palm can minimise waste, have a good track record and reduce the use of pesticide." Based on information in the RSPO website, areas under oil palm cultivation have increased by about 43 per cent from the 1990s, with most plantations located in Malaysia and Indonesia.