Personal note: Purely based on my experience of Indonesia I choose not to believe the claims below even though they are backed by WWF.
JAKARTA, Indonesia, April 7, 2009 (ENS) - A large Indonesian plantation company has become the country's first certified maker of sustainable palm oil. Indonesia is the world's biggest producer of palm oil, an edible plant oil derived from the fruit and seeds of the Arecaceae Elaeis oil palm tree.
Musim Mas Group Plantations, is the first company in Indonesia to demonstrate that some of its plantations comply with the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil, RSPO, Principles and Criteria, a set of standards that helps ensure that palm oil is produced in an environmentally and socially responsible way.
The Roundtable brings together oil palm growers, oil processors, food companies, retailers, nongovernmental organizations and investors to ensure that no rainforest areas are sacrificed for new oil palm plantations, that all plantations minimize their environmental impacts and that basic rights of local peoples and plantation workers are fully respected.
Musim Mas Group's business unit located in Pelalawan Regency in Riau Province on the Indonesian island of Sumatra was successfully audited and certified by Control Union Certifications, which has been endorsed by the Roundtable. The business unit consists of two palm oil mills and six estates with a total of 28,336 hectares.
"This is a significant achievement for Musim Mas Group and Indonesia," said Musim Mas President Director Bachtiar Karim. "It underlines the on-going efforts in achieving the highest standards in operations and making palm oil production sustainable. This is the beginning and we are working towards full certification for all our business units."
"Musim Mas hopes that its certification will encourage more Indonesian companies to follow suit,” said Liantong Gan, head of the company's ustainbility Department.
Palm oil is widely used as a cooking oil, as an ingredient in margarine and as a component of many processed foods. It is used to make soaps, washing powders and personal care products, and is used to treat wounds. Palm oil also is a feedstock for biodiesel.
When tropical rainforests are cleared for oil palm plantations, valuable plants and animal species such as wild orangutans are lost and the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere.
While palm oil enriches the Indonesian economy, developing plantations has resulted in deforestation, destruction of ecosystems, loss of biodiversity, and conflict between humans and endangered species like the Sumatran tiger, the orangutan, and the elephant.
Because oil palms do not absorb as much carbon dioxide as the rainforests or peatlands they replace, palm oil biodiesel can generate more carbon than petroleum diesel, according to some estimates.
Musim Mas' certification indicates the progress that the global conservation organization WWF and others have made to increase the number of palm oil producers who operate sustainably.
As a founding member of the Roundtable, WWF has worked since 2002 with a wide range of stakeholders to ensure that the RSPO standards contain "robust" social and environmental criteria, including a ban on the conversion of areas with high conservation value into oil palm plantations.
WWF works to ensure that oil palm expansion does not come at the expense of tropical forests by promoting its expansion onto degraded or idle lands.
Ian Kosasih, director of the Forest Programme at WWF Indonesia, said, "WWF is pleased to see progress in Indonesia, but there is much work to be done before sustainable palm oil can be a mainstream reality."
"WWF Indonesia will continue to cooperate with stakeholders to build the capacity of farmers to implement the RSPO guidelines, promote the use of idle or degraded land for oil palm expansion, and put pressure on those companies that persist in converting natural forest for oil palm expansion," Kosasih said.
The organization also is helping to develop guidance for the small landholders who represent 40 percent of Indonesia's palm oil growers. An estimated 1.5 million small farmers grow the crop in Indonesia.
WWF helped organize a training workshop in March for 21 representatives from small Indonesian palm oil plantations from West Sumatra, Riau, South Sumatra, Jambi, and West Kalimantan. The training stemmed from a memorandum of understanding signed on February 17 between the Roundtable and the Indonesian Department of Agriculture.
WWF held the training in collaboration with the Indonesian Smallholders Working Group, the Department of Agriculture, the RSPO Indonesia Liaison Office, Sawit Watch, and various certification bodies.
The aim was to educate trainers on the threats of oil palm plantations to the region's forests and local species and to motivate smallholders to comply with the RSPO Principles and Criteria.
The standards include eight principles, 39 criteria and 144 indicators which describe in detail the requirements for legal, economically viable, socially beneficial and environmentally appropriate management and operations. These requirements must be met in order to be certified.
The training offered practical ways in which smallholders can comply with the sustainability criteria, including mitigating the wildlife-human conflict that often occurs on oil palm plantations.
A syllabus and training modules were developed so that the representatives can use them for educational purposes in their own operations.
The Indonesian Smallholders Working Group is planning to hold further trainings in the five provinces represented at the March training, and follow them up with audits.
The workshop and Musim Mas' certification come several months after the first shipment of RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil arrived in Europe from southeast Asia.
Several European companies, including Unilever, Sainsbury's and Albert Heijn, have madepublic commitments to buy certified sustainable palm oil.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.