How supporting independent palm oil farmers will have a big impact on deforestation
Together with IDH - the Sustainable Trade Initiative, PT Perkebunan Nusantara III Persero (PTPN III), and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), we are working to drive sustainable palm oil through the RSPO certification programme. Working with UD Lestari, a group of independent farmers, 63 farmers received the first RSPO certification in North Sumatera in 2017, of which 30% were women.
As one of the world’s largest palm oil end users, we’re committed to ensuring our ingredients don’t come at the expense of the environment or people.
That’s why we have been working with specialist partners to drive sustainable palm oil in North Sumatra, Indonesia – one of the country’s most productive areas for the crop. Following our partnership with the IDH – Sustainable Trade Initiative, PT Perkebunan Nusantara III Persero (PTPN III), and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), UD Lestari – consisting of 63 farmers of which 19 are women, has now achieved RSPO group certification. The move makes UD Lestari the first independent oil palm farmer group in the entire Indonesian province of North Sumatra to be RSPO certified.
The group of farmers signed up to the project last year and have since received extensive training on subjects including conservation, health and safety and good agricultural practices. Together with our partners, various trainings were conducted on topics including Good Agriculture Practices (GAP), Best Management Practices (BMP), High Conservation Value (HCV) areas, work health and safety requirements, and the RSPO P&Cs.
Certification can bring many social, environmental and economic benefits. For farmers, this means they can now sell their produce at a premium price, thereby increasing their income and improving their livelihoods. And, for Unilever, it helps to secure more sustainable palm oil for our products with the inclusion of smallholder farmers in our supply chain. “Becoming RSPO certified is important because we want to increase our income,” says certified smallholder Bu Supini.
“It’s important that other farmers become certified too, so we can balance preserving the environment and farming palm oil,” she adds.
Why smallholders can make a big impact
According to government statistics, the majority of global palm oil comes from Indonesia and approximately 41% of the country’s total production comes from smallholders, rather than large-scale agricultural suppliers.
Supporting independent smallholders to understand, invest in and adopt sustainable practices on their farms is therefore vitally important when it comes to creating a palm oil industry that protects both the environment and people.
Unilever Chief Supply Chain Officer Marc Engel explains: “As one of the world’s largest palm oil end users in the consumer goods sector, Unilever is committed to leading the transformation of a sustainable palm oil industry.
"By sourcing sustainably, we aim to reduce the impact of palm oil cultivation on forests and drive positive economic and social impacts for smallholder farmers, indigenous people and forest communities. The certification of UD Lestari farmers in North Sumatra is an important milestone on that journey,” he says.
Driving industry-wide best practice
RSPO’s Indonesia Country Director Tiur Rumondang agrees: “To achieve our vision of transforming the market to make sustainable palm oil the norm, smallholder inclusivity is a must.
“The commitment from stakeholders to support smallholders to implement sustainability principles and help them to get technical and market access as well as financial support, is crucial to ensure the norm is adopted across the palm industry,” she adds.
This group of RSPO-certified smallholders might be the first in North Sumatra, but they certainly won’t be the last. Unilever is working with the RSPO, palm oil companies and local farmer co-operatives to scale up certification to smallholders across Indonesia. We are currently planning the scale-up plan to certify more than 500 independent smallholder farmers in this landscape in the next two years.