Verslag: Netwerkavond 21 april 2016: "Palmolie en Duurzaamheid?"

Objective of the evening was to get a clear understanding of the concrete results from recent initiatives which aim to make palm oil production and trade more sustainable. Central question of the evening: “Do these initiatives contribute positively to conservation of biodiversity and social conditions or are we stuck in good intentions and fine words?”

 Johan Verburg, the chairman of the evening, started the Network evening by explaining the rules: all guest speakers should give their presentation in the form of a short pitch of ten minutes. With the result that all speakers came up with lively stories and a quick and sharp argument. 

As first speaker of the evening Sandra Mulder of WNF revisited some of the facts: Palm oil production is still one of the greatest driving forces behind deforestation in the world. Globally, 70 million palm oil is produced per year, of which 80% in Indonesia and Malaysia. Production does not only take place on land designated for agriculture, but plantations also move illegally into national parks, for example in Tesso Nilo National Park, Sumatra. Sandra explains the principle behind an initiative of WNF: ‘The Dutch Oil Palm Scorecards’ which keep track of palm oil use by internationally active Dutch food producing companies. These scorecards have shown clearly the progress of the Dutch companies regarding the use of sustainable palm oils and which steps are still there to be taken. Besides, WNF focusses on lobbying for protected areas as high conservation areas. For example in Gabon, where large producer Olam received a permit to exploit 50.000 ha. Of this 50.000 ha, 10.000 ha was appointed as protected chimpanzee territory. Another example is the establishment of elephant corridors (fitted with banana plants, grasses, and other delicacies for elephants) through palm oil plantations, which only have to be fenced-off for the first seven years. 

Maja Slingerland (WUR) presents a project of the Wageningen University that promotes Best Management Practices (BMP) in oil palm plantations in SE Asia. The demand for knowledge on BMPs is badly needed considering that on average small holders produce only 3 ton oil/ha, whereas large plantations produce about 6 ton oil/ha. The potential yield in SO Asia is 9 ton oil/ha. By increasing the yield per ha, the need to expand towards surrounding lands and convert it into a plantation, diminishes. In the light of the rising global demand for palm oil in the future this is a promising solution. Examples of BMPs are proper fertilization, mowing vegetation around palm trees to see fallen fruits (indicator that shows the ripeness of bunches), maintenance of access roads, and canopy pruning. 

 Marieke Leegwater of Solidaridad works on a program for small holders to increase the positive impact of palm oil plantations on social level. Like Maja Slingerland’s projects in SE Asia, Solidaridad implements BMPs in Honduras and Ghana to increase the yield per ha and increase financial benefits for small farmers. In Ghana Solidaridad works with 500 farmers; in the future the aim is to expand to 5000 farmers. She underlines the importance for projects to approach the issues from a landscape point of view: from ‘do no harm’ to a healthy impact on an area in which all supply chains act sustainable. Furthermore, she mentions the risk of putting too much emphasis on traceability and standards to enter the European market. A large risk is that that small holders are not able to meet the high standards, with the result that they cannot deliver to their mill anymore. Therefore we need to invest in the improvement of practices of small holders. 

Peter van der Meer of the University of Applied sciences Van Hall Larenstein (VHL) presents the SEnSOR research project, financed by the RSPO, which aims to mitigate the impact of palm oil production. The SEnSOR project covers five research topics. One of the topics is to investigate the level of carbon stock and biodiversity within HCV areas and other land use areas. One of the results was that palm oil plantations and HCV areas within plantations are relatively poor when it comes to carbon stock, but contain a surprisingly high level of biodiversity, especially in the borders of the plantation. Important questions for future research are what the optimal size of a conservation areas is in order to serve biodiversity, carbon stock and other important aspects. Another question is what the differences are in the impacts of RSPO criteria on people living around certified plantations compared to those around non-certified plantations. 

Eddy Esselink of the Netherlands Oils and Fats Industry and chair of the Dutch Task Force on Sustainable Palm Oil focused his speech on what we should do as end consumers and the importance of sustainable palm oil for the European market. The 19 th of May minister Ploumen gets the scoop to announce whether the task force reached its goal of 100% sustainable palm oil on the Dutch market.  

The Network evening ended with a discussion between guest speakers and the audience, in the form of questions and answers. Suzanne Kröger van Greenpeace is also invited to the stage and thanks the speakers for the existing initiatives. Nevertheless, deforestation by palm oil plantations is still every day’s business. Therefore, we urgently need to scale up all positive initiatives. Johan Verburg stimulated the discussion by some provocative statements. The speakers provided useful answers, based upon their own experience. The audience consisted mainly of people working for organizations and businesses linked to palm oil and land management, but also students and others with interest in in the topic were present.

Contact

Secretariaat Vereniging Tropische Bossen
Postbus 124
6700 AC Wageningen

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