Thursday, 20 May 2010

It is not about going against palm oil

Personal note: The very same message I have conveyed in newspaper letters, but the palm oil industry don't want to listen - yet.


It is not about going against palm oil

THU, 20 MAY 2010 11:28

From Dionysius Sharma & Dian Achmad Kosasih, via e-mail

Several oil palm producers in Malaysia and Indonesia are facing scrutiny by NGOs for alleged violations of the principles and criteria for sustainable palm oil set out by the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), leading them to call for a rethink of this scheme in a decision that may challenge the RSPO and could hurt their economies in the long-run.

The Jakarta Post and other news outlets have reported that several oil palm producers in Indonesia and Malaysia met in Kuching, Sarawak to establish the Indonesia-Malaysia Palm Oil Group (IMPOG) to formalise their collaboration on sustainable palm oil development. Reports reveal that the two countries, which together account for 85% of the world’s palm oil production, are closing ranks to respond to what they perceive as a threat to their industry by European NGOs.

A spokesperson for the newly formed IMPOG stated that the criticisms are coming from foreign NGOs who are keen on protecting their home-grown edible oil industries. In a statement released after the meeting, they have announced their intention to engage with the RSPO to develop a “more practical and implementable scheme”.

WWF-Indonesia and WWF-Malaysia are part of a global network of conservation NGOs but are both locally registered and governed by local board members. As part of the Indonesian and Malaysian civil societies, we have always recognised the value of the sustainable palm oil industry in bringing economic growth, providing livelihoods and ensuring food security for our nations.

The issue is not about going against palm oil, but how to improve the sustainability of the industry.

We helped found the RSPO in 2003, and have since worked closely with all stakeholders, including major Indonesian and Malaysian producers as well as both GAPKI and MPOA, to agree on a robust set of standards to ensure strong environmental and social safeguards in palm oil production.

More than 300,000 hectares of oil palm production have been certified and an increasing number of plantations in Malaysia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea are becoming certified. This demonstrates that the RSPO principles and criteria are, already, both “practical and implementable.”

The RSPO offers a solution for manufacturers, traders and retailers who are facing consumer pressure to source their palm oil from sustainable sources. With the publication of the WWF Scorecard on European buyers of palm oil products, we have seen the demand for certified and sustainable palm oil grow three fold and estimate that demand in Europe alone can potentially reach two million tonnes by 2012.

The RSPO is not without its weaknesses; as a multi-stakeholder forum, it faces criticism from both environmental activists and industry players who simultaneously accuse it of not being strict enough and of being too stringent. The fact that it does not satisfy any party completely underscores that it strives to be as balanced as possible in meeting different expectations.

It would be counter-productive to call for a lowering of standards as this would undermine the success that have been achieved and brings into question the credibility of the RSPO.

If there is no RSPO, or the RSPO loses credibility, edible oil buyers may be forced to abandon palm oil, which would have a major impact on Malaysian and Indonesian economy.

This letter was jointly written by Dionysius Sharma, CEO/Executive Director, WWF-Malaysia and Dian Achmad Kosasih, Director of Forest, Terrestrial Species and Fresh Water Program, WWF-Indonesia