Smallholder palm oil farmers can farm sustainably, but external support is necessary


Smallholder farmers are important players in the palm oil sector, yet they are largely overlooked by sustainability initiatives and discussions about deforestation and palm oil production.

SNV, one of the few international NGOs working with small palm oil farmers through its Sustainable Palm Oil Programme, understands that impacts on reducing deforestation will be limited if smallholders are not included in the conversation. For this reason, SNV serves as the focal point for the Smallholder Acceleration and REDD Programme (SHARP) in Indonesia.

SHARP works with the private sector to support sustainable smallholder development. The programme aims to improve the capacity of independent smallholders, provide access to markets and facilitate access to credit, agricultural inputs, information and technology. Furthermore, SHARP aims to assist smallholders in achieving certification through the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) or other certification schemes.

Smallholders farm 40 per cent of oil palm plantations in Indonesia

Smallholders represent a big share of the world’s palm oil production. In Indonesia, smallholder growers already manage more than 40 per cent (4.2 million hectares) of all plantations and independent smallholders own more than 3.1 million hectares of oil palm farmland. These independent smallholders cultivate palm oil without outside help. In contrast, plasma smallholders, smallholders who have an exclusive supply agreement with a mill, receive technical assistance and can access agricultural inputs such as seed stocks and fertilisers thanks to their partnership scheme with the mill. Plasma smallholders are more likely to be able to meet RSPO sustainability standards than independent smallholders.

SHARP introduces RSPO group certification and funding to smallholders in Riau

SHARP hosted its first smallholder workshop on RSPO group certification on 23 December 2014 in a village in Sumatra. The objectives of the workshop were to share the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of pursuing RSPO group certification for independent palm oil smallholders. The event was attended by 28 participants, including employees of Inti Indosawit Subur (Asian Agri) mill, Asosiasi Petani Sawit Swadaya (Indonesia’s palm oil farmer association) from Tri Mulya Jaya Village, a cooperative of Usaha Tani from Air Putih Village and cooperatives from Trani Maju from Pontian Mekar Village.

The meeting was a valuable occasion for smallholder participants to meet other stakeholders in the sector and gather information about how to achieve RSPO certification.

“I feel that the support of many stakeholder groups is crucial,” said the head of the cooperative Tranji Maju. “Support from the mills, from non-government organizations as well as from relevant government institutions. This support will increase our members’ capacity for implementing good agricultural practices. As a result, we can increase our yields, reduce our negative environmental impacts, and gain more livelihood opportunities.”

Although a $6 million RSPO Smallholder Support Fund (RSSF) is available to assist farmers in switching to more sustainable practices, it remains difficult for the smallholders to understand how to access the funds. “They still need external parties to ensure knowledge transfer about how to apply to RSSF,” explains Dani Rahadian, coordinator for SNV’s Better Management Practices training programme for smallholders in Indonesia. The SHARP initiative seeks to address this issue by promoting improved communication within the sector.