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Thai smallholders certified for sustainable palm oil

By RJ Whitehead , 12-Oct-2012

Independent Thai smallholders have become the first in the world to be RSPO-certified in a move that will significantly add to the global quantity of sustainable palm oil available on the market.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is an international multi-stakeholder organisation and certification scheme for palm oil that has been collaborating closely with major producing countries around the world to build capacity amongst independent smallholders over the last few years.

Thailand is home to a community of 412 smallholders over more than 2,750 hectares of planted land. These independent growers will now have the opportunity to trade around 52,000 tonnes of certified sustainable fresh fruit bunches (FFBs), generating an estimated 10,000 tonnes of palm oil. Currently, the total annual production capacity of RSPO-certified sustainable FFB is approximately 36 million tonnes globally.

Darrel Webber, secretary general of RSPO, said that 70% of palm oil in Thailand is produced by independent smallholders, but several reasons have prevented them from becoming RSPO-certified until now, including a lack of expertise and the ability to increase capacity.

Smallholders also need to be made aware of the advantages of being certified, which includes access to international demand markets for sustainable palm oil, longer-term efficiencies in terms of yield and productivity, as well as effective cost management.”

He added that the benefits of embracing sustainability outweigh the costs incurred and confirm that responsible practices are not only good for the environment but are also commercially advantageous.

Daniel May, project manager at GIZ, an organisation funded by the German government to accelerate sustainable palm oil production among smallholders in Thailand, added: “The certification of independent smallholders was contributed by GIZ through training services on best-management practices, such as seed selection, fertiliser application and proper health, safety and environment practices. Thailand is certainly raising the bar in its commitment to sustainable palm oil.” 

The current estimated annual production capacity of RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil is 7.2m tonnes, which accounts for around 14% of global palm oil production. Spread over 1.6m hectares of certified area, 45.5% of the world's current RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil production capacity comes from Indonesia, followed by 44.7% from Malaysia, with the remaining 9.8% from Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Brazil, Colombia and Ivory Coast.