Oil Palm Growers Fail to Block Adoption of New RSPO Principles

KUALA LUMPUR: As expected, the oil palm grower members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) have failed in their attempt to block the adoption of the newly revised RSPO principles and criteria (P&C) for the production of certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) at the grouping’s extraordinary general assembly (EGA) here yesterday.

At the EGA, some 210 multi-stakeholders of the RSPO passed the resolution for the adoption of the new P&C, with six members opposing and three spoilt votes.

This came as no big surprise, as oil palm growers only represent 15.4% of the RSPO members. If the other member categories vote en bloc, then the growers’ views would be isolated.

In recent months, disgruntled growers who are members of the RSPO have been lashing out at the grouping’s new P&C, which dictate that oil palm growers minimise greenhouse gas emissions in their operations, do away with development on peat land, and address issues pertaining to human rights, corruption and forced labour in the plantations sector.

Newly appointed Malaysian Palm Oil Association (MPOA) chief executive Datuk Dr Makhdzir Mardan, who attended the EGA, told StarBiz that the association would have to make a decision that considered the inclusive fitness of the industry, taking cognisance of the MPOA membership at large, and also internalise the philosophy on sustainability.

“It would be a strategic blunder to ignore the interests of future generations by abandoning sustainability principles.

“Nevertheless, the MPOA would not be dumb enough to absorb technical tariffs that are imposed on oil palm growers in the name of conserving the rainforest or saving the world from the ravages of the climate change in the guise of sustainability,” he pointed out.

MPOA, a member of the RSPO under the growers’ group, can be best described as the single largest integrated voice that represents the private plantation industry in Malaysia, including Sime Darby Bhd, IOI Corp Bhd, Kuala Lumpur Kepong Bhd, United Plantations Bhd and Felda Global Ventures Holdings Bhd.

According to Makhdzir, economics and social and environment factors were the three cornerstones of sustainability.

“While the RSPO multi-stakeholders can be overly concerned about the environment, why can’t they be equally sympathetic with the socio-economic well-being of the plantation owners, smallholders and their workers?

“Should we continue to listen to the unbalanced view of the least important and inconsequential RSPO downstream stakeholders such as the NGOs, who couldn’t care less about the economic well-being of the oil palm growers?”

The MPOA, on the other hand, understands the premise of the challenges existing in the palm oil sector.

“The market landscape and battlefield have become so knowledge-intensive that demand and supply can only dictate so much on the price of crude palm oil.

“Therefore, the oil palm growers must continue to expand their knowledge and intellectual bandwidth to comprehend and engage in developing policy stands and be involved in trade negotiations,” added Makhdzir.

Meanwhile, RSPO executive board president Jan Kees Vis warned members, in particular oil palm growers, to take note of the increasing global initiatives for competing sustainability standards in major food-based commodities.

Of interest and a bigger challenge would be the latest intiative towards zero net deforestation in palm oil, soybean, beef and timber, he told reporters after the RSPO EGA.

“The RSPO and also oil palm growers cannot afford to stay in this vacuum and completely ignore the movement in the global markets, where more competing sustainability standards are coming in with stricter requirements.”

The RSPO, for now, does not have the zero net deforestation requirement put in place but “we will need to think through what will be our position on this,” added Vis.

Asked on the continued poor offtake of the RSPO-CSPO, answered Vis: “A 50% offtake on a growing volume of the premium palm oil is not bad, given the fact that there is no single sustainable certification out there that can have a 100% takeup rate.”

According to Vis, the RSPO currently supports many of the national commitments in Western palm oil-consuming nations.

“The low CSPO offtake suggests that the market is not working transparently enough. Therefore, the RSPO will continue to encourage the retail and consumer groups to buy more CSPO and stick to their commitments.”

On whether oil palm growers’ membership in the RSPO was stagnating, Vis said the number of growers joining the RSPO had actually been increasing from Malaysia, Indonesia, Africa and Latin America.

 

Source : The Star

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