Reclaiming Sustainability With National Certification Schemes for Palm Oil

If satellite mapping could see the true impacts on the ground, it would see key indicators like falling rates of infant mortality in the top palm oil producing countries. This fact is inextricably linked to improved healthcare as these countries developed, a fact that is being ignored by “rainforest defenders” who deny the rights of forest peoples to modern healthcare.

Fighting myths or fighting deforestation: the downsides of oversimplification
Stigmatising and discriminating a specific commodity or origin has not shown so far to be effective for reducing deforestation. Complex situations cannot be tackled with oversimplification, false or inaccurate allegations.” COCERAL, FEDIOL and FEFAC.

“In recent years, sustainability has become something of a buzzword in international supply chains, the media, and consumer marketing. However, this has not yet created the desired impact, for there can be no genuine sustainability when the people who produce the products consumed by us all continue living in poverty” Solidaridad

These are powerful statements from Europe’s grain and oilseeds trade who warned that:
“As the EU is about to set its strategy to fighting deforestation, we should bear in mind that criticisms and bans from the EU market alone can help getting rid of potential embedded deforestation in our own supply chains but are doomed to fail in actually improving farming practices worldwide.”

Its call for “dialogue at government-to-government level, both in bilateral and multilateral set-ups, to strengthen land use planning, governance and land tenure, notably” is supported by Solidaridad, an European NGO that wants to create a sustainable future that includes consumers in industrialized countries all the way down to the farmer or worker in developing countries.

The ambitions of the multi-nation Solidaridad campaign in 17 selected countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America to reclaim sustainability bodes well for the national certification schemes in Indonesia’s ISPO and Malaysia’s MSPO.

Historical Challenges in the Media Blitzkrieg
The biggest historical challenge to producing palm oil sustainably has been the definition of “sustainable palm oil” which weighed conservation heavily against development.

This was further exacerbated by foreign groups who make a living off demonizing palm oil at the expense of palm oil farmers and workers. The toxic media campaigns by “non-profit” groups and Western media can only be described conservatively as a blitzkrieg that has seen palm oil farmers struggling to survive in a hostile business landscape.

Even the opinions of a 17 year old Indonesian was shared by The Thompson Reuters Foundation which reported that there was no such thing as sustainable palm oil. This was a dig at the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) which unfortunately did not respond to Reuters. This is unfortunate as silence to criticism is always seen as complicity.

Yet the failing of the RSPO to respond to Reuters or its incapacitation to hold its members to its principles for certified palm oil lend well to a redefinition of sustainable vegetable oils. One that is based on sustainable development goals for both consumers in industrialized countries and farmers in developing ones.

Zero Deforestation Policies At Risk of Violating Human Rights
The CPOPC has also noted well that new ESG commitments for climate-friendly investments is gaining momentum globally. This is a matter of some concern as the popular tool for gauging sustainability, which is satellite monitoring for forest loss, tells only part of the story.

This applies as well to corporate buyers of palm oil who are pledging to net-zero or deforestation-free supply chains. A good case example would be the Indonesian provinces of Papua where satellite monitoring of canopy change has led to excessive campaigns by foreign groups.

Tree cover loss in developing countries tell only one side of the story.
If satellite mapping could see the true impacts on the ground, it would see key indicators like falling rates of infant mortality in the top palm oil producing countries. This fact is inextricably linked to improved healthcare as these countries developed, a fact that is being ignored by “rainforest defenders” who deny the rights of forest peoples to modern healthcare.

It is however, understandable that foreign groups will place the preservation of forests in other countries as more important for their own well-being over the welfare of people in some remote jungle.

National Certifications The Way Forward for Sustainable Palm Oil
This is a point that is well understood by palm oil producing countries whose efforts towards defining sustainability has always weighed the needs of their people and the demands of those who buy palm oil.

Forest coverage in Indonesia and Malaysia remain well above the average for developed countries. There is no threat that increased demand for palm oil will lead to wanton destruction of these forests beyond what is need for the sustainable development of these countries.

There is no greater assurance of the sustainability drive by palm oil producing countries than the models being set in the Indonesian provinces of Papua. As the flavor-of-the-day for foreign groups who have run out of targets as the palm oil industries mature in Indonesia and Malaysia, the Ministry of the Environment and Forestry Indonesia has released a comprehensive report on the sustainable development of palm oil in Papuan provinces which found significant swatches of primary forests remain within existing palm oil plantations.

This feat was achieved in the absence of third party or voluntary certifications for sustainable palm oil and shows clearly that palm oil producing countries are aware of what needs to be done to create a global model of a sustainable vegetable oil.

The credibility of certified sustainable palm oil has been degraded for too long as voluntary third party schemes failed to deliver landscape impact. The national schemes for sustainable palm oil under the ISPO and MSPO will seek to undo the reputational damage that has been done and show unequivocally that it is a dynamic contributor to the sustainable development of producing countries.

Palm oil producing countries, led by CPOPC, can promote national schemes in parallel with establishing global framework or norms for sustainable palm oil as a model and standard for all vegetable oils. The stated generous contribution from Switzerland towards Indonesia’s economic development and the well-being of her citizens towards sustainable economic development is to be seen in overall objective of meeting sustainability. The palm oil industry looks to reclaim the definition of sustainable palm oil in the context of multilateralism, an approach that is “rules and rights-based, which protects the global commons, promotes shared public goods, and delivers benefits for citizens in Europe and across the globe.”. That is also what Indonesia and Malaysia want to achieve through the ASEAN-EU Joint Working Group on vegetable oils.