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Has RSPO’s objectives been derailed?

This is written by my colleague Zaidi Ismail.

SINCE its establishment in April 2004, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has one main objective – to champion the sustainability and viability of the world’s oil palm industry.

RSPO, an international body grouping all stakeholders in the industry, has been able to rally all stakeholders to team up for the betterment of the oil palm sector. The stakeholders – from producers, bankers, processors and consumers to traders and non-governmental organisations – are all grouped under one banner with a common rallying call to ensure that the industry practises what it pledges to do.

However, of late, the group has been at the short end of the stick, having been lambasted even by some of its members, especially the growers for being piggy-backed, manipulated and controlled by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the processors.

So much so, Indonesia and Malaysia, which are the world’s top two oil palm producers, are setting up their very own dedicated RSPOs – the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil and Indonesia Sustainable Palm Oil, respectively.

Felda Global Ventures Holdings Bhd president and group chief executive officer Datuk Sabri Ahmad, who was one of the founding directors, said: “The main objective and guiding principle of the roundtable is to provide a platform for members to engage in constructive engagement.

“Over time, oil palm growers’ role has diminished while NGOs and processors have taken the main lead.”

Sabri noted that NGOs and processors have taken over control, while the principle of a win-win situation was not practised and smear campaigns became the norm.

“Demand for sustainably produced palm oil is not taken seriously and the cost of certification became a burden for growers. Plantation owners have no voting power and their influence has waned over the years,” he explained.

TH Plantations Bhd chief executive officer and executive director Datuk Zainal Azwar Zainal Aminuddin said the RSPO should not be used by select stakeholders for their own agenda.

“NGOs impose further penalties on producers under the pretext of allegations that the industry is killing orang utans and involved in illegal clearing of jungles. These claims are untrue because Malaysia is committed to preserving 50 per cent of its land under natural forest cover and does not condone illegal timber clearing,” Zainal said.

He added that the actual situation on the ground is that these NGOs are slanted in protecting their interest in competing oils rather than upholding the sustainability of the oil palm industry.

“To me, the RSPO is detached from reality and its days are numbered. The group is not vocal enough in supporting premium value in palm oil and will be taken over by the MSPO and ISPO,” he added.

Zainal, however, said in terms of technical compliance and other related aspects, RSPO has carried out its job well. “RSPO-certified members go through tedious processes to ensure sustainability according to criteria. RSPO has changed a lot of mindsets and a lot of opportunities to embrace good processes along the entire value chain,” he said.

However, Zainal reiterated that the industry does not want to see stakeholders with self-serving agendas. “It’s better to have engagements rather than seeing some stakeholders impose further penalties on producers on the pretext of killing the orang utans or the clearing of jungle. These claims are not true and does not hold water.”

He added that oil palm is a very resilient crop and it is difficult to reject its oil in view of its good properties and ability to overcome non-tariff trade barriers.

In a separate interview, London-based Godrej International Ltd director Dorab Mistry said the more-than-500-member group is a bridge between the growers, processors and the western NGOs. “Sometimes each side feels the other is being unreasonable. RSPO provides the platform where both can meet and talk and arrive at win-win solutions,” he said.

Up to August 2011, the global production of RSPO-certified palm oil has reached five million tonnes or 10 per cent of global palm oil production.

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  1. Goh
    January 10, 2014 at 10:42 pm

    This is all just SCAM and Kiasu-ness from those ANG MO countries.Those RSPO is hurting the industry. IF ANG MO doesnt want to buy Palm Oil, there will be an end to Chocolate and Shampoo industry, as the main input for these two products are Palm Kernel.Damn those Ang Mo !

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