Many reasons to be positive
This is the first major milestone in our jurisdictional approach to commodity sourcing. Now the pilot has proved successful, we plan to roll it out to other farmer groups across the region with the potential to positively impact more than 5,000 smallholders.
Sustainability certification is important for many reasons. It allows the farmers to sell their produce at a premium price, increasing their income and improving their livelihoods, while ensuring they adopt sustainable agricultural and business practices. And it helps Unilever secure more sustainable palm oil for our products, while including smallholders in our supply chain.
To get an insight into why this programme matters so much, we spoke to three key people involved: Rauf Prasodjo, Unilever’s Sustainable Sourcing Manager for palm oil; Ofra Shinta Fitri who is the Innovation Manager at our partner Inobu; and Roni, one of the farmers.
Rauf Prasodjo, Unilever’s Sustainable Sourcing Manager for palm oil
I have always been interested in understanding the origin of products that end up on supermarket shelves. Working directly with smallholders who are striving to become more sustainable and provide higher quality raw materials to Unilever and our customers excites me. Seeing the learning process of the farmers and the improved techniques being implemented is very rewarding.
I am thrilled that this first group of smallholder farmers in the programme have adopted a way of producing their crops that is good for both people and planet, just a year since we started. Ensuring compliance with sustainability standards and training can be challenging for them. But once this is achieved, I see the positive impact we have in enhancing the livelihoods of farmers, and how buyers can incentivise them to be more sustainable.
The uniqueness of this project is that it also supports a jurisdictional approach to sustainability certification. That means it looks at sustainability on a village, district or province level, providing a set of indicators to be measured against and complied with. The idea is that, once a jurisdiction obtains certification, all commodities coming from that area could be counted as sustainably produced. There are many steps we must still take to make this a reality, but together with our partners, I believe we are heading in the right direction.
Ofra Shinta Fitri, Innovation Manager, Inobu
I began my career as an agronomist in a large palm oil plantation company in Indonesia, and across multiple commodities in a research consulting firm. I bring this experience – and my expertise in soil and land management – to my role leading sustainability and supply chain work on palm oil at INOBU.
Independent smallholders face huge challenges in growing palm oil sustainably. A key reason why their productivity is generally low is because many receive no training, and therefore lack essential knowledge and skills. They also don’t have the money to support themselves through certification.
Through this programme, we are seeing a significant change in how farmers treat the environment, particularly in terms of managing harmful waste such as pesticides, and protecting the land and surrounding water sources. Indirectly, in many cases, health issues experienced by the farmers – such as coughing and shortness of breath – are becoming less severe.
There has been a very positive response from the young people involved. Their participation is intended to raise awareness of sustainability, which will hopefully influence the farmers – through socialisation and monitoring activities – to ensure the programme continues and expands. We will also escalate it into an initiative called Agriculture Facility, where smallholders can access agricultural inputs and training.
I’m 64 and married with three children. Most of my life, I farmed crops like corn and yams for my family’s daily needs. I became an oil palm smallholder in 2009 as it provided a higher income for me to support my family.
Cultivating oil palm is very different to other crops, so I needed lots of information on best practices and techniques before planting the palms. I joined the Purwa Galuh Farmer Group and became actively involved in meetings. Being part of the Unilever-Inobu programme has helped me improve my knowledge – in areas such as fertiliser use – to increase the amount and quality of my crops, while cultivating them in a more sustainable way.
For RSPO certification, farmers should establish a five-meter conservation zone adjacent to riverbanks and springs. In my plot, I allocated ten metres. I hope that it will set a good example for my children about the importance of protecting the environment. I’m very proud to say that, with the additional income I now earn, I was recently able to send my youngest son to university.
The project is part of a ‘sustainable village’ model which includes oil palm plantations, a livestock farm and a fish farm. Oil palm by-products, such as fronds, are used in feed for livestock, cow manure is used for fertiliser for the oil palms, and a by-product from the mill is used in fish feed. As well as repurposing waste materials, this model provides additional economic value to the farmers and the wider community.