The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) will convene next week for a meeting in Kuala Lumpur. Palm oil observers around the world will be watching, anticipating the outcomes.
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To some quarters, the new RSPO P&C would seem to dictate that palm oil producers minimise greenhouse gas (GHG) emission in their operations, do away with planting on peat land, and address issues pertaining to human rights, corruption and forced labour in the plantations sector.
Therefore, these stringent rules are causing much discontent among RSPO members, especially oil palm planters from Malaysia and Indonesia.
Some critics have even gone as far as saying that the RSPO is no longer acting as a sustainability organisation for food production, but instead is fast transforming into a supra-national political sustainability organisation next to the United States and China.
Why is the RSPO, which provides food sustainability certification schemes, imposing the GHG criteria on palm oil, which is used mainly as a food item?
What about other food-based crops such as rice cultivation, as well as cattle and sheep rearing in Australia and New Zealand, which tend to emit a lot of GHG, too?
“Personally, I think the huge population of cattle, heifers and sheep is actually passing a lot more methane gas, considered a potent GHG, into the atmosphere compared with the Malaysian oil palm plantations,” says one oil palm player.
Also, what about oilseeds like rapeseed, sunflower, maize and corn, which have a larger planted acreage above the total oil palm planted acreage in the world?
Why are these commodities, which also contribute significantly to the entire food chain for the consumption of the world’s population, still not subjected to a GHG emission criteria such as palm oil?
The most glaring point is perhaps the United States and European Union’s standpoint of only imposing the GHG emission criteria on their biofuels and not on their food crops.
As for the other RSPO multi-stakeholders, such as Western consumers, major European retailing groups and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), it would be easier for them to simply pass the new P&C at the upcoming meeting, as they do not have to implement any of the P&C.
But to oil palm growers, adhering to the new RSPO P&C will not guarantee a 100 per cent sale of their CSPO to the Western countries. While the RSPO grouping may be proud that its new P&C may further raise the standard of palm oil, the flip side is the RSPO has failed to increase the sales volume of RSPO-certified oil from the current 45 per cent to a higher percentage.
The revised P&C will also enhance the effectiveness and relevance of the RSPO, but at the expense of oil palm growers having to be saddled with additional costs to produce the CSPO.
In fact, the new P&C is believed to be more difficult to comply with by even planters who have fully implemented and are RSPO-certified. Therefore, new planters considering getting certified by the RSPO might have to consider wisely their actual stance in the RSPO.
Furthermore, it is also envisaged that even as new participants from other sectors of the oil palm chain in the RSPO may be increasing, the interest among oil palm growers is waning, and fast.
As such, perhaps the palm oil industries in Malaysia and Indonesia should seriously consider implementing their own national sustainable palm oil standards, such as the Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil, the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil or even the Malaysian Responsible Palm Oil.
These national certification standards will likely be a more practical sustainability approach for the two largest palm oil producers in the world.
Will the RSPO meeting on the new P&C be deadlocked, given the opposition from its oil palm grower members?