SL palm oil companies showing increased interest in getting certified
By Seetharam Rajiesh
A Rs 26 billion investment in the Sri Lankan palm oil industry is in a state of disarray following a certain environmentalist claiming that the industry would be environmentally destructive. In this back ground, Ceylon FT spoke to Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), India and Sri Lanka Representative Kamal Prakash Seth, who stated that RSPO certification ensures sustainable palm oil production and supply chain practices.
“RSPO offers two major certifications. One is the ‘Principles and Criteria’ certificate for plantations and mills, while the other is ‘supply chain’ certificate for refineries. RSPO Certifications are provided after valuing more than 100 indicators by a third party auditing company. Some of the key factors for providing the certifications are environmental conservation, integrated pest management systems, best water management practices, proper use of fertilizers to ensure health of the soil and the environment is not damaged. Another major factor for RSPO certification is the social criteria where concerns of local communities should be addressed, like fair wages for labourers and fair prices for farmers involved in the supply chain,“ stated Prakash Seth.
Watawala Plantations, based in Sri Lanka, is the only oil palm plantation company in South Asia to obtain the ‘Principles and Criteria’ certificate, noted Seth. A few other companies in Sri Lanka have obtained the RSPO Supply chain certificate. He further noted that many more Sri Lankan companies have shown great interest in obtaining the RSPO certification.
Sri Lanka has around 11,000 Ha under oil palm producing 18,000 Metric Tons of palm oil. When questioned regarding how only a Sri Lankan company, in the entire South Asia has managed to obtain the RSPO ‘Principles and Criteria’ certificate, when there are 300,000 Ha of oil palm plantations in India, Seth replied, “Watawala joined RSPO membership in 2012. They were very pro-active in obtaining RSPO. In 2020 they got the RSPO certification after eight years. RSPO certification is not easy to obtain as they have to go through stringent monitoring and evaluation systems. In India, several companies are working on it. We at RSPO are guiding many Indian companies, training farmers and various stakeholders in the supply chain of the palm oil industry to obtain the RSPO certification,”
The Sri Lankan palm oil industry has a good chance of being 100% RSPO certified due to it’s size compared to massive producers in South East Asia, opined the RSPO regional representative.
“Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand account for 90% of global palm oil production. In 2019, globally, 72 million metric tons of palm oil was produced, of which only 19% of global palm oil produced had RSPO certifications,” noted Seth.
In the past, RSPO has been criticized in Indonesia claiming that some of its members were allowed to clear pristine forest areas. In 2013, during the 11th annual RSPO meeting there was criticism regarding labour rights in some of the plantations regarded as sustainable. When questioned about these issues, Seth replied, “The dispute settlement facility was created to improve these issues. While many of those issues have been sorted, it has to be noted that it is a continuous improvement process.”
In 2014, the Sri Lanka oil palm plantation industry had been mandated by a government decision to increase the total area under oil palm to 20,000 hectares, under strictly-enforced guidelines that ensure the industry is not environmentally destructive.
However, in August 2020, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa stated that Sri Lanka will halt the cultivation of oil palm in the country. In early October, Palm Oil Industry Association (POIA) met the Sri Lankan President and requested him to relax the ban, and to uphold the 2014 government decision, as substantial investment of more than Rs 500 million had been made based on 2014 decision.
After meeting the President of Sri Lanka, POIA President Dr. Rohan Fernando told Ceylon FT that certain activists have spread false rumours to vilify the Sri Lankan palm oil industry by relating it to haphazard, unregulated and rapacious expansion of oil palm cultivation in Indonesia and Malaysia.
World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF), which cofounded the RSPO in 2004 states that boycott or substitution of palm oil (or other vegetable oils) does not offer long-term solutions, as alternative crops require far more land, thus it notes that only solution is to produce palm oil using environmentally friendly sustainable practices.