Small-scale oil-palm farmers are being encouraged to go green, and will be provided with training on how to run their plantations without harming the environment, Achmad Mangga Barani, the director general of plantations said at the Ministry of Agriculture on Friday.

The passport to environmental approval is the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil, or RSPO, certification. Previously, the endorsement had only been available to big plantation companies that could afford the training and environmental upgrades.

“We will start the training in March,” Achmad said. “Most farmers at present are handling their plantations in traditional ways, so it’s very important to heighten their awareness of RSPO certification.”

The roundtable was formed in 2004 by palm-oil producers, processors, traders, consumer-goods manufacturers, environmentalists and nongovernmental organizations, bankers, investors and other stakeholders with the aim of promoting the growth of sustainable products under responsible environmental conditions.

One of the concerns has been that although big companies had resources to reorganize their plantations to gain certification, smallholders, who own a total of 35 percent of the oil-palm hectarage in the country, would suffer by being unable to sell their produce for export without certification.

“After training, farmers must reorder the management of their plantations and then apply for certificates,” Achmad said. Given the high cost of certification, the ministry proposes to band smallholders into groups to request certification together. Auditing costs per hectare for certification range from $20 to $40, excluding the cost of modifying plantation practices.

RSPO certification involves eight general principles and 39 criteria, including the commitment to manage environmental and economic sustainability, and responsibility for natural resources and labor welfare.

Derom Bangun, vice chairman of the RSPO, said that aside from the nature issue, rumors in European Union countries that plantations in this country use child labor were disturbing

“Some say there are plantations that are employing children under the age limit and paying them very little,” he said. All of the stakeholders needed to be aware of the rumors and combat them, he said, in the effort to maintain exports to the EU and other countries.

Of nine major palm-oil companies controlling more than 2.9 million hectares around the country, only PT Musim Mas has gained RSPO certification. Five other companies — PT Hindoli, PT London Sumatera Tbk, PT Sime Indo Agro and PTPN III — are currently in the process, Derom said.