The palm oil industry’s sustainability initiative is making considerable progress toward improving its environmental performance, but needs to do more to accelerate the adoption of responsible practices, argue researchers writing in mongabay.com’s open access journal Tropical Conservation Science.
Gary Paoli and colleagues review recent gains under the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a body established by a range of stakeholders to establish social and environmental criteria for palm oil certification, including growing membership and production of certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) (388 voting members and 3.25 million tons of CSPO from 641,000 ha of plantations), wider uptake of CSPO by markets (60% of available CSPO purchased), and greater participation by small-holder producers (25,000 household farms). But they note fundamental changes are still needed to ensure the RSPO can effectively mitigate environmental harm.
One of the major challenges facing wider adoption of RSPO standards is lack of financial incentives for producers. Currently CSPO fetches only a one percent premium over conventional palm oil, a figure which is often insufficient to cover the cost of certification. Therefore encouraging buyers and traders to share the cost burden of greener palm oil production is an important step to improving the viability of the RSPO, according to the authors.
Paoli and colleagues also highlight the need for conservation groups to constructively support the efforts of palm oil producers. They suggest stronger partnerships between NGOs and palm oil producers could improve on-the-ground practices and help ensure that messaging at the executive level translates to actual conservation actions. Activist groups will still play a “vital role” in ensuring sustainability initiatives stay on track.
Finally Paoli and colleagues call for more support from producer country governments in the form of regulations that permit conservation activities within concession areas.
Without concrete action, the authors warn the RSPO could fail to achieve its mission of improving the sustainability of palm oil. For example, the RSPO is already being challenged by a weaker Indonesian sustainability standard, the ISPO, which is expected to launch next year and could further reduce margins and the credibility of certification schemes in the eyes of consumers.
The authors conclude that if executed properly, RSPO standards could slow rates of biodiversity loss outside protected areas.
“We are hopeful that if the broader RSPO membership makes progress on the issues discussed above, and leading RSPO members stay the course, then industry improvements will accelerate and the RSPO may well deliver long-term positive benefits to biodiversity in Southeast Asia.”
Paoli, G. D., Yaap, B., Wells, P. L. and Sileuw, A. 2010. CSR, Oil Palm and the RSPO: Translating boardroom philosophy into conservation action on the ground. Tropical Conservation Science December 2010 | Vol. 3 | Issue 4 | pages 438-446.
(11/10/2010) The Indonesian government is moving closer to launching its own certification system to ensure less damaging palm oil production, reports the Jarkata 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.
(11/09/2010) U.S. companies should take a leadership role in helping ensure that palm oil production is sustainable and does not come at the cost of forests, climate, and communities, argues a new report published ahead of the annual meeting of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). The report, published by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), says that while the U.S. is only a minor consumer of palm oil, its demand for the vegetable oil is fast rising, increasing four-fold since 2006. Palm oil, which is among the cheapest of vegetables owing to its high yield, is now found in up to 50 percent of packaged retail food products.
(03/26/2010) Last week Nestle, the world’s largest food processor, was caught in a firestorm when it attempted to censor a Greenpeace campaign that targeted its use of palm oil sourced from a supplier accused of environmentally-damaging practices. The incident brought the increasingly raucous debate over palm oil into the spotlight and renewed questions over an industry-backed certification scheme that aims to improve the crop’s environmental performance.
(01/12/2010) Palm oil is one of the world’s most traded and versatile agricultural commodities. It can be used as edible vegetable oil, industrial lubricant, raw material in cosmetic and skincare products and feedstock for biofuel production. Growing global demand for palm oil and the ensuing cropland expansion has been blamed for a wide range of environmental ills, including tropical deforestation, peatland degradation, biodiversity loss and CO2 emissions. In response to these concerns, a group of stakeholders—including activists, investors, producers and retailers—formed the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) to develop a certification scheme for palm oil produced through environmentally- and socially-responsible ways. It is widely anticipated that the creation of a premium market for RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) would incentivize palm oil producers to improve their management practices.