Prof. Bungaran Saragih, former Indonesian Minister of Agriculture speaks during the launch event of the ISPO-RSPO study. Photo:Nick Hurt/Jakarta/InPOP
18 February 2016, Jakarta – The Indonesian government’s sustainable palm oil certification program announced the findings of a joint study with the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil on Wednesday that details how the two systems might collaborate in the country’s problem-fraught oil palm industry.
The study, which took two years to complete, marks a significant step in developing a working relationship between the agriculture ministry and external sustainability schemes like the RSPO, an industry-led association whose members agree to adhere to more stringent standards than those dictated by Indonesian law.
“Findings from the joint study showed how ISPO and RSPO could complement each other and offer robust solutions for all stakeholders beyond what each could accomplish alone,” said Tiur Rumondang, head of the RSPO’s Indonesia office.
The ministry’s own certification scheme, the Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil Standard (ISPO), is running as a pilot program with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Riau province that hopes to certify 5,000 smallholders by the end of this year. ISPO aims to rein in illegal practices in the production of what has become the world’s most controversial edible oil by requiring plantations to comply with the rules and regulations of the various ministries, agencies and levels of government.
It is also seen by experts as the best chance the country has at engaging its sizable contingent of “smallholders” — a term used to reference the small and medium-sized growers which together account for at least 40 percent of Indonesian palm oil production.
Tomoyuki Uno, Asia manager of the UNDP’s Green Commodities Programme, heralded the joint study as the first step in a long process of finding lasting, systemwide solutions to curb environmentally damaging practices in the oil palm industry.
“This meeting officially identified the similarities and differences between the two certification systems,” Uno said. “It marks the start of a process where the two systems not only facilitate simpler and more cost-effective certification arrangements, but actively work together to recommend improvements of the schemes but also the underlying regulations.”
Under ISPO, all oil palm firms operating in Indonesia must undergo a process that ensures their compliance with Indonesian law. Various regulations ban the conversion of state-owned land or conservation forests for plantations, as well as the use of destructive land-clearing practices or new plantings on carbon-rich peatland.
The scheme is also a direct response to industry-led sustainability and zero-deforestation pledges like the RSPO and the Indonesian Palm Oil Pledge (IPOP) that some in the government view as an infringement on Indonesian sovereignty. One agriculture ministry official demanded IPOP’s dissolution at a press conference this week, for example, though it wasn’t clear if he was speaking on the ministry’s behalf.
The head of ISPO himself dismissed questions as to why the scheme lacked some of the stricter protections of the RSPO, asking why the Indonesian government should have to follow the lead of a foreign association.
“We have our own regulations,” Herdradjat Natawidjaja, chairperson of the ISPO secretariat, told Mongabay. “We cannot follow other regulations. Maybe we can follow international conventions but it should be ratified in parliament to become our regulation. That is the procedure. Many international conventions have been ratified in Indonesia and become regulations and the basis for ISPO certification.”
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