Oil Palm Smallholder Support Program Delivered in Mexico

SHARP’s Responsible Sourcing from Smallholders (RSS) Framework helps new project identify risks and needs of smallholders, paving the way for a process of RSPO certification.

In 2015, Mexico was the seventh largest palm oil producing country in Latin America (SIAP, 2015) with 82,150 ha  and 118,424 Mt of CPO produced. The Mexican government has plans for a further 50,000 ha of plantations by the end of 2018. Can the potential economic gains be reconciled with any environmental and social risks?

An estimated 80% of cultivated area in Mexico belongs to smallholders, most of whom own an average of 1-9 ha of land, with low yields of around 7-9 t/ha. A significant number of these smallholders belong to the supply base of Oleopalma, one of Mexico’s leading palm oil producer. To ensure any expansion is achieved in a way that is environmentally and socially sustainable, a new initiative is supporting a group of Mexican smallholders that form part of Oleopalma’s supply base to achieve RSPO certification. This is the first initiative of its kind in Mexico, working with a core of around 150 smallholders and a wider cohort of around 1,000. If successful, it could pave the way to introducing many more smallholders to the world of certification.

In partnership with PepsiCo and Oleopalma, the project’s baseline was developed using the SHARP Responsible Sourcing from Smallholders (RSS) Framework. Then, in March 2017, Proforest carried out an assessment to identify the potential risks and needs involved in smallholder production. A capacity-building program was then developed to ensure the implementation of best management practices. The RSS diagnostic was carried out in three phases:

  1. Preparation and scope; smallholder associations and the technical team were made aware of the process, a sample survey was planned and a working group was set up.
  2. Field assessment; of field practice, through interviews with field workers, producers and NGO/government representatives.
  3. Presentation of results; field assessment results were systematized and presented to the thee smallholder's associations and an improvement plan was developed and approved.


Key risks and needs identified by the RSS diagnostic included: low yields, low quality of FFB delivered to the mill which reduced producers’ incomes, lack of access to training and continuous technical assistance, inadequate farmer to farmer organizational capacity to assume the group manager’s role, lack of access to social security for field workers and lack of traceability systems in the field.

The resulting 3-year improvement plan focusses on providing training to Oleopalma’s technical teams and smallholder associations in order to improve their ability to support smallholders, to deliver training and technical assistance to smallholders, and to adopt the necessary organizational culture, in collaboration with PepsiCo, Oleopalma, RSPO and the smallholders themselves.


At the end of 2017 on 4 December, the RSPO Smallholders Support Fund (RSSF) panel announced the successful application of Oleopalma’s “Smallholder support program for sustainable palm oil in Mexico” proposal. This new program will develop a replicable model for the RSPO smallholders certification throughout the country. The program will be launched at the first Mexican Palm Congress on the 7-9 February in Villahermosa, Mexico.