Deforestation in Malaysia for palm oil. Photo by Rhett Butler
Singapore-based Musim Mas has established a new sustainability policy that it says will eliminate deforestation, peatlands conversion, and social conflict from its palm oil supply chain. The company, which operates plantations in Sumatra and Indonesian Borneo, has been under pressure from environmentalists to join a growing number of palm oil producers and traders that have made zero deforestation pledges.
Musim Mas’s policy — which takes effect “immediately” and “extends to all third-party suppliers” — includes elements that are consistent with other zero deforestation commitments, including no conversion of high conservation value and high carbon stock (HCS) areas as well as peatlands. The company said it will use a HCS definition based on methodology under development by the Sustainable Palm Oil Manifesto group of producers. Until that definition is established, Musim Mas will forgo any conversion of potential HCS forest.
Musim Mas also says it will ensure all of its palm oil is produced under standards established by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). The company’s palm oil will also be traceable back to the mill level by the end of 2015 and the plantation level by December 2016.
Oil palm plantation in Sumatra
On the social front, Musim Mas says it will “respect the rights of smallholders to develop or conserve their land, while maintaining a strict guideline of No Deforestation, No Peatland development and No Exploitation.”
“The policy ensures that development will be carried out responsibly, with a positive impact on the rights and welfare of local communities,” said the company.
Musim Mas also noted that it has partnered with The Forest Trust (TFT), which has brokered and is implementing a number of zero deforestation commitments.
Development of oil palm plantations on peat soils in Indonesia and Malaysia between 1990 and 2010.
Palm oil production has been a leading driver of deforestation and peatlands destruction in Southeast Asia over the past twenty years. Some 3.5 million hectares of forest were cleared for plantations between 1990 and 2010 in Malaysia and Indonesia alone.
But over the past year, some of the largest companies in the sector have adopted safeguards that should limit future expansion to non-forest areas. Those commitments generally extend to those companies’ operations outside Southeast Asia as well, potentially guiding future expansion in Africa and Latin America.
However a significant proportion of palm oil planters and producers remain outside these zero deforestation policies, meaning that forests are still being chopped down and peatlands drained for new plantations. For example in Sarawak, the government is aiming to convert vast areas of forest and peatland — much of which is recognized as native customary rights land — to plantations.
Accordingly, environmentalists are continuing to apply pressure to the sector, singling out operators that have yet to commit to zero deforestation.