The Indonesian government is moving closer to launching its own certification system to ensure less damaging palm oil production, reports the Jakarta Post. The scheme would rival the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, a multi-stakeholder body that has been developing criteria since 2004 and began shipping certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) in 2008.
In a statement released at the opening of the eighth annual RSPO conference in Jakarta, Agriculture Minister Suswono said the Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO) scheme “is designed to make palm oil production sustainable in compliance with Indonesian laws and regulations.” The first shipments of ISPO-certified palm oil are slated for 2011.
But environmentalists say mere compliance with Indonesian laws is not enough to ensure sustainability. RSPO standards require producers to take specific actions to reduce the risk that oil palm plantations don’t result in pollution, deforestation of high conservation forest areas, or social conflict.
Joko Arif, Greenpeace Southeast Asia Forest Campaigner, said earlier this year that the ISPO may be a “smokescreen” to convince buyers that environmental problems associated with oil palm development in Indonesia are being addressed.
Palm oil is now found in up to half of packaged processed foods in some markets. By virtue of its high yield, palm oil is a cheaper substitute than other vegetable oils. In an effort to reduce costs, some candymakers are using palm oil in place of cocoa butter in their milk chocolate products. Photo by Rhett A. Butler
“The process for establishing these standards has also been non-transparent. There has been no stakeholder participation, despite Government promises to the contrary,” said Arif in a statement. “Furthermore, although it claims to be a standard for sustainable palm oil, it appears to be mere legal compliance. The ISPO standard must be amended to stop the conversion of peatlands and forest into palm oil plantations and the process must include meaningful stakeholder participation.”
The Indonesian government says it require plantation firms and smallholders to apply for ISPO certification starting in January 2011, according to Reuters. Growers found to be non-compliant would face legal sanctions.
In his statement at the RSPO meeting, Suswono emphasized the importance of including small and medium-sized palm oil producers, groups that have until recently largely missed out on RSPO certification due to the cost of compliance, which requires third party auditing. But the RSPO is now developing a program to subsidize certification for smallholders, making it “virtually free” to have their palm oil certified, according to RSPO president Jan Kees Vis of Unilever, who spoke with the Jarkata Post.
The RSPO has faced some difficulty in Indonesia due to standards that in some cases can conflict with Indonesian law and smallholder issues, including low yields from inferior breeding stock and poor understanding of what measures are needed to improve the sustainability of palm oil.
Certified palm oil now accounts for more than seven percent of global output, according to Reuters.