Stakeholders discuss innovations to sustain oil palm industry

About 200 delegates in the oil palm industry across the continent have convened in Accra for the third Sustainable Palm Oil Conference, hosted by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and Proforest, to discuss the urgent need for a long-term sustainable development plan for oil palm production in Africa.

As RSPO’s presence increases with certified members in over 15 countries across Africa, and with stringent new Principles and Criteria in place, the conference provided an ideal platform for a constructive debate around regional vision and renewed commitment from key producing countries.

With high-profile dignitaries, growers, NGOs, financial institutions and consumer goods manufacturers in attendance, it was mutually acknowledged that if African palm oil producing countries achieve their ambition to convert from net importers to net exporters, palm oil production will significantly increase.

Godwin Nogheghase Obaseki, Governor of Edo State, Nigeria, delivered a strong message to delegates and the industry: “If you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem. Let me congratulate all of you here today for demonstrating your commitment to a solution…It is in the interests of all of us in Africa to make sustainable palm oil the norm”.

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In a region where livelihoods are intricately connected to both the palm oil sector and natural resources, and where oil palm growing areas overlap areas of international conservation importance such as High Forest Cover (HFC) in countries like Gabon, it is vitally important that any development is done sustainably – ensuring a balance between palm oil production and nature conservation.

RSPO’s Assurance Director, Salahudin Yaacob, called for a “long-term sustainable development plan” in the region, stating that: “RSPO can only achieve its vision of transforming markets to make sustainable palm oil the norm through collaboration with all stakeholders; from growers to governments, and financial institutions to NGOs”.

Abraham Baffoe, Africa Regional Director for Proforest said: “A sustainable oil palm industry in Africa is something we are deeply committed to – and it is wonderful to have so much interest from companies and other stakeholders. We look forward to seeing these connections deepen as a result of this conference, as we all work together toward an industry that contributes to the economic development of African countries, while preserving the crucially important biodiversity of the region”.

With smallholders estimated to account for approximately 70% of the palm oil production area in Africa, yet roughly only 30% of output, supporting smallholders to improve their yields was another keen area of focus for delegates.

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Robert Fagans, Deputy Minister for Agriculture, Liberia, stated that: “Working with smallholders to improve their yields through sustainable farming methods is critical for palm oil growth in Liberia”.

In the last year RSPO has been developing a new, separate standard to simplify the entry process into the certification system.

RSPO members will expectedly vote to adopt the proposed RSPO Independent Smallholder Standard during the RSPO General Assembly in November 2019. The RSPO will continue working with local partners on the ground to ensure that sustainable palm oil production in Africa benefits both people and planet.

The conference covered tregional implementation of the 2018 RSPO Principles and Criteria; the role of financial institutions in promoting sustainable agriculture; how governments can mainstream sustainability; and opportunities to change the deforestation narrative in African palm oil producing countries.

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