Getting it right from the start

Rainforest Alliance discusses SHARP tools with stakeholders in Africa’s burgeoning palm oil sector

How to include smallholders in the development of a sustainable African palm oil industry was the subject of much debate in September when the Africa Sustainable Palm Oil Forum took place in Ghana’s capital, Accra.

At a dialogue session, SHARP’s regional focal point Rainforest Alliance presented our two tools aimed at small farmer sustainability and inclusion: the Responsible Sourcing from Smallholders (RSS) framework and the simplified HCV (High Conservation Values) approach for smallholders.

The attendees at the dialogue session considered the challenge of integrating smallholders into responsible supply chains and strategies for financing such integration. Around 90% of all palm oil produced in Africa originates from  smallholders and the vast majority of these are independent and do not have any formal contractual obligation with a mill or buyer. One of the big challenges raised by participants is reaching these self-managed, independent smallholders. Both the RSS and the HCV approaches require organisational capacity, such as a group manager to steer HCV identification and monitoring. Some attendees suggested that it may be necessary to build capacity in independent smallholder settings in Africa to direct the process and implement the tools efficiently.

There was general interest in the HCV approach as an effective way for smallholders in low HCV risk areas to comply with Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) principles. This dialogue session also engaged and informed key stakeholders in the Central and West Africa region about wider aspects of SHARP’s work.

Guiding new investments

The forum, held on 29 September, was organised by Proforest and Solidaridad West Africa, with the support of RSPO. The event aimed to bring together a range of stakeholders, such as oil palm growers, financial institutions, governments and key experts, to share knowledge and experiences of palm oil production in Africa. The event attracted close to 180 attendees, with presentations from Ghana’s Minister for Food and Agriculture, RSPO, Unilever, African Agriculture Fund, Benso Oil Palm Plantation, WWF, Solidaridad, Proforest, African Brand Warrior, Sime Darby, the NGO Coalition for the Environment (Nigeria) and Root Capital.

During the last five years over a million hectares of land have been leased

Investment in the oil palm industry has been growing rapidly in Central and West Africa. During the last five years over a million hectares of land have been leased through concessions for palm oil production. The expansion includes not only establishment of new plantations, but rehabilitation of old estates, investments in new efficient mills and refineries as well as innovations in smallholder production.

The industry has the potential to contribute significantly to economic and rural livelihood development. However, there are concerns that the rapid development will be driven by large international companies with limited inclusion of smallholders and few benefits to local economies. The aim of the Africa Sustainable Palm Oil Forum was to address such challenges under the theme: Getting it Right from the Start.   

As a sign of the interest in stimulating sustainable practices in African palm oil, two RSPO Open Days were held in Accra on the days before and after the forum, on 28 and 30 September. They included a session to raise awareness on smallholder certification and the RSPO smallholder support fund. So far RSPO has 32 members in Africa producing a small but growing volume of certified palm.

The RSS framework and HCV for smallholder approach are already in use in the field, supporting multi-stakeholder efforts to develop sustainable palm oil in Africa. The RSS framework is being implemented in Ghana by Norpalm, supported from Rainforest Alliance. A similar pilot with TOPP is imminent. The simplified HCV approach has been trialled by oil palm smallholders working with BOPP in Ghana and Seed Change in Tanzania (see our Updates page). SHARP partners are clear on the need to engage with their smallholder suppliers on risk management and improved production practices. These two SHARP tools are helping companies to do just this, adding real value to get palm oil production in Africa “right from the start”.

Photo courtesy of Abraham Baffoe, Africa Regional Director, Proforest.