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THERE is a sluggish uptake of sustainable palm oil, and the frequent excuse is that nobody wants to pay the premium. What is the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) response to this?

Bek-Nielsen (Datuk Carl Bek-Nielsen is RSPO co-chair): People generally do not like broken promises. Growers are no exception and the growers who committed themselves to the RSPO in many instances feel short-changed. The producers have taken a leap of faith undergoing an herculean task (not without costs) to live up to the standards of sustainable palm oil set in force by a number of stakeholders, amongst them NGOs and multinationals like WWF, Conservation International and Unilever to mention a few.

palm-oil-2015However, today we have an unfortunate and quite unacceptable situation where the supply of RSPO-certified oils far exceeds the demand. Think about it: for every two tonnes of RSPO-certified palm oil produced, only one tonne is sold, and may I add, sold at peanut-premiums. This hypocrisy has got to stop and it is now time for all members of the RSPO, I underline all members, to live up to the spirit of “commensurate effort” whereby there is a general understanding that there are also obligations to the end users, the buyers, NGOs, the multinationals and not just the growers. Twenty percent of world palm oil is now produced in accordance with the RSPO’s principles and criteria, would it not be a re-affirming story if all of this oil could find a home to go to?

If such commitment can be given and more importantly followed through, I am convinced that this can help to create an environment where all parties can work towards a common goal, thereby achieving the common objective faster. If not, growers may rightfully start asking why should additional areas be certified in accordance to RSPO if there are no buyers and rightfully so.

Hence the need to affirm and agree on the spirit of “commensurate effort”, i.e. “We produce but you buy.”

On negative labelling whereby certain manufacturers are using the “no palm oil” label on their products, what is the stand of the RSPO on its group member manufacturers and retailers who support this kind of practice?

Bek-Nielsen: This “no palm oil” labeling issue has been going on for far too long, and we as the grower representatives of the RSPO are certainly not satisfied with the double standards displayed by some companies. We must understand that the RSPO is a multi-stakeholder organisation, it is voluntary, it is intricate and complex, it is not perfect but it is still necessary and evolving.

In respect of the “no palm oil” claims made by many, even here on certain shelves in Malaysia, in my opinion boycotting palm oil or using the label “contains no palm oil” in order to polish one’s own glory is not going to yield any long-term positive results. Believe me, this stance is short-term and it is not a part of the solution, it is a part of the problem as it does not help to encourage producers to step up one notch and commit themselves towards more sustainable practices, like for example the RSPO that prohibits them from clearing high conservation value jungles, from burning, from cultivating on peat lands, yet promotes farmers to embrace good agricultural practices and creating a platform that can help show others who are sitting on the fence that this is the way to go.

Sustainability is about development as much as it is about conservation and above all, doing the right thing. If you are against these noble intentions where development can equal positive change and where small farmers can be educated to understand that starting a fire is not the way to manage your agricultural land, well then your company is all about short-termism as you don’t wish to participate in making a positive change.

Source : The Star

  (The Star Roundtable on Palm Oil 2015)

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