Norpalm adopts RSS approach in Ghana

A sustainable step in the smallholder direction

The palm oil company Norpalm has begun using the Responsible Sourcing from Smallholders (RSS) approach to work on sustainability with its smallholder suppliers in Ghana.

Rainforest Alliance, SHARP’s Regional Focal Point for West and East Africa, launched in September the process of scoping Norpalm’s supply base and assessing both sustainability risks and farmers’ needs. The exercise covered the three districts of Mpohor, Ahanta West and Shama and involved 300 independent smallholders in 51 communities within Norpalm’s catchment area around its mill at Pretsea in the Western Region of southwest Ghana.

According to plantation manager Charles Mate-Kole, smallholders play an important role in operations at Norpalm Ghana Limited. Outgrowers supply 70% of the Fresh Fruit Bunches (FFB) that enter the mill, with the remaining 30% coming from Norpalm’s own nucleus plantation.

Norpalm sources FFB from independent smallholders through six commission agents. The agents serve as the first point of contact for smallholders and provide support such as loans, farm maintenance services, scholarships to farmers’ children (offered by Norpalm through the agents) and FFB weighing scales and nets to sub-agents.

To implement the RSS framework, Rainforest Alliance identified and consulted key stakeholders. These included chiefs, community elders, heads of families, representatives of the Ministries of Food and Agriculture for the Mpohor and Ahanta West districts,and the six commission agents and their sub-agents. Consulted farmers comprised producers with small-sized land holdings (2 acres), producers with medium-sized land holdings (5–40 acres) and producers with large-sized farms (50 acres or more).

Outgrowers supply 70% of the Fresh Fruit Bunches that enter the mil

The consultations revealed interesting findings in relation to the core sustainability issues of RSS: land rights and conflicts; deforestation and land conversion; and labour rights and working conditions. Refreshingly, the majority of smallholders consulted were aware that forest reserves or protected areas are not to be used for farming and that offenders would be prosecuted. There is a risk of land boundary disputes but a grievance mechanism is in place and some farmers are in the process of securing land title documents for their land parcels.

Farmers are also abreast with programmes raising awareness of child labour issues. Smallholders in this area are keen to ensure that their children and grandchildren are in school. Children are their future, farmers told Rainforest Alliance, and so they aim for their children to get a good education and receive appropriate training in farming practices. This way, the children can continue with the oil palm farming when the parents are old.

Priorities for smallholder livelihoods

Farmers identified the following priority areas where support is needed: 

  • Options for improving yields, including improved (and affordable) seedlings, pruning and slashing, and fertilizer application
  • Training and capacity building
  • Organization of smallholders
  • Financing, including loans to pay for school fees and farm maintenance
  • Education on the FFB pricing mechanism
  • Improving access to harvesting areas, including transport services to bring FFB to the mill.

 

The next step for Norpalm and its smallholders may be to develop an action plan for mitigating risks and addressing the farmers’ needs. Norpalm, a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), is using the RSS approach in line with its priorities and objectives for engagement with smallholders. RSS is a useful tool in building a platform for increasing supply chain certification. Norpalm has a target that the majority of its outgrowers are certified by 2020 and that independent smallholders produce FFB responsibly.  

The farmers were happy that a tool has been developed with a whole chapter (RSS pillar 2) dedicated to their wellbeing. They promised to assist Norpalm to realize its production goals while ensuring that all of its activities are sustainable.

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