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Why only 623 smallholders RSPO-certified in Sabah
Published on: Friday, December 07, 2018

Kota Kinabalu: Sabah is a very important palm oil producing State in Malaysia.It is one of the largest palm oil producers in the whole of Malaysia with thousands of smallholders in the State alone. However, there are only a total of 623 smallholders in Sabah who have achieved the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certification to date.

They are in Beluran and Kinabatangan, covering 3,960 hectares total certified area.

The reason for the small number may be due to the challenges that smallholders find in the current standards.


"When we talk about RSPO, it is about production of palm oil, fresh fruit bunches (FFB) and eventually the palm oil and producers can be coming from big plantations and smallholders," said Standard Development Associate Director of RSPO Julia Majail.

Smallholders are unique producers because most of the time they are faced with limitations in terms of resources compared to size in general.

"In general, I think a lot of farmers here and globally, have maybe less than two hectares.

"In our case, I think in Sabah under the Native Law, the native people can apply for 15 acres which is about six hectares," she said.

She said in general, people would have that size of land for them to plant palm oil, so resources is very limited because size of plantation is small and that demographically they are not well educated.

"If they are educated, they are already in town looking for other jobs and so forth," she added.

Thus, this is where RSPO see that they need to ensure the smallholders included, participate meaningfully in the journey to sustainability.

"That is why we need to really review the current certification process for smallholders.

"What is it that appropriate and relevant in the context of smallholders, in the past what happen is, the whole generic P&C is being also put for smallholders to try and comply but then there are many things that are not relevant to them," she said.

Last year, RSPO endorsed the development of smallholders' strategy for global document.

This document is a roadmap for RSPO to prepare the path, how to make sure the involvement of smallholders in the journey and at the same time achieve RSPO mission.

The strategy document outlines three key objective, namely livelihood improvement, to simplify the certification process for smallholders and to facilitate access to financial institution and also market for the smallholders.

"We are already embarking into this smallholder college and the aspiration is to make training and capacity building a programme that is accessible to all smallholders where ever they are," said Majail.


She said they are working through partners to make sure that it reaches the targeted and intended group.

This means to say that they are working with the government, with non-governmental organisations, with mills, collection centres, and community groups for example JKKKs or corporative to bring this knowledge to the smallholders.

This was to ensure that they know what they should be doing in order to improve their practices, at least to improve the yield for example.

"This started last year in developing the curriculum and we are aiming for the smallholder academy to be launched in June or July next year," she said.

She also noted that there are currently two pilot pilots, one in Sabah and the other in Africa.

"In Sabah, we have tested this with two partners, one is Pacos and the other is UMS' School of Sustainable Agriculture.

"We are also developing more than 100 modules for the academy which is currently undergoing review for quality checking with the aim of launching it next year," she said.

The whole idea is about making this knowledge accessible to smallholders, making bodies, organisations that is working with smallholders or are in contact with smallholders is also strengthened empowered.

During the course of the P&C review recently, the taskforce have made a decision or rather recommended that a separate standard specifically for independent smallholders should be developed.

Majail said currently a body called a smallholder interim group was developed, was formed to specifically work on this development of smallholder standard.

The standard is done or developed based on the reality of smallholders without compromising the integrity of sustainability, without compromising the principles and criteria of RSPO.

"One of the thing that smallholders also face is that they don't have financial support to change, to buy things, to do this and that.

"So this is where we hope our partners within RSPO or even beyond RSPO can extend their support to smallholders," she explained.


She said there are many out there who are willing or wanting to support smallholders.

"One of the aspects that RSPO also would like to do is to bridge or rather make financial support accessible to smallholders. "It is to make sure that they can get access to market as smallholders and beyond just to get market access, it is more than just to get market access but also link more financial support.

"This is where I think financial institution can come on board to provide that or rather to develop some kind of initiative or financial programmes that banks can offer smallholders that currently might not be able to have that," she said. She said the process is one way of helping smallholders.

"Once the simplification certification for the smallholders is completed I think those aspects will also be considered, how to make it simple and affordable, for example," she added.

"What I can say is that RSPO is voluntary, while MSPO is mandatory as far as the Malaysian government is concerned.

"So I guess, the producer in Malaysia will have to subscribe to that, but when you enter the market in Europe for example, the market depends on what the market would recognise, if they recognise only RSPO, than naturally you will have to comply with that requirement," she said.

"I think the important thing here is to understand where the direction of all this things, personally I think the main objective here is moving towards sustainable practices, "I think that is the most important thing, and the vision, the purpose, the objective is the same, which is heading towards ensuring smallholders participation in moving towards sustainability," she added.

Towards this end, she said Sabah is a very important producing state in Malaysia, producing palm oil state in Malaysia, very important.

"I would say it is the largest palm oil producer in the whole of Malaysia, and there are thousands of smallholders in the state of Sabah."

She said based on studies that have been conducted, most of these farmers have expressed that one of the challenges that they are having is the land status of their land "So the role of the government in supporting this is very crucial to support and to help these smallholders to look at all this application, to process this application, so that we can move faster with smallholders in moving towards this sustainability.

"Because if we are to support the smallholders, the rakyat, it is the role of all parties, and we hope that through the jurisdictional approach which is currently spear headed by a number of government departments and also Forever Sabah, will be fully supported.

"I am saying there is already this jurisdictional approach steering committee formed between civil society and also the government.

"My hope is that this will be moving forward because this is the mechanism that was created by the government to help ease whatever challenges that is currently faced by smallholders and one of them is the land status of smallholders," she said. - Sherell Jeffrey

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