RT13 report: Learning from smallholders around the world

Report from the SHARP secretariat at RSPO's annual event

Smallholders and practitioners from around the world gathered to share insights into how small-scale oil palm growers get organized and achieve certification, at a linking and learning session held in Kuala Lumpur. The workshop took place in November one day before the start of the annual meeting of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.

During the session, SHARP presented the experience of working in Honduras to implement the HCV approach for smallholders (click here to read more). An interactive board game allowed the smallholders to strategise the road to RSPO certification, which proved a fun way of learning and reflecting. 

The SHARP secretariat was one of 800 attendees from 44 countries to attend the RSPO’s RT13 event. Important decisions taken included the development of an RSPO smallholder strategy (see here) and allocation of the Smallholder Support Fund, which has been USD 711,000 to 13,000 small producers managing 43,000 hectares up to date. During the opening plenary, smallholder associations in southeast Asia representing more than a thousand producers received RSPO certificates.

Smallholder Support Fund will disburse USD 711,000 to 13,000 small producers

The consensus among attendees was that smallholders are an intrinsic part of the sector and that their context must be understood and addressed within the RSPO system. Many of the RT13 sessions mentioned the challenge faced by smallholders to achieve certification, maintain it and access market benefits. Representatives of companies and government suggested that smallholders of all types should be considered as a key constituency and targeted with efforts to obtain certification if we want to achieve scale, improve livelihoods and support sustainable development in rural tropical areas.

Involving smallholders in RSPO’s evolution

On 17 November, the Smallholder Working Group discussed the progress made in the RSPO system, from technical to financial support. It was remarkable to see not only the RSPO secretariat but also the RSPO members and supporting organizations in the room exchange information and ideas on how to make further progress, based on what has been achieved so far and feedback from the grassroots. A key concern expressed was that as the RSPO system evolves, it should not become too complicated for smallholders to achieve RSPO certification. New documents and rules should allow for the situation of independent smallholders and the information should be communicated in a way that is easily understandable by everyday farmers. Participants stressed it is not a question of simplifying procedures or watering down RSPO standards, but rather of understanding smallholders’ conditions around the world and ensuring the procedure corresponds with those contexts so that uptake by small farmers is not prevented.

The overall message from the RT13 is that to achieve sustainable goals for smallholder communities and the palm oil sector, public and private actors must work together in defining policies, developing capacity and getting the voices of smallholders heard throughout the RSPO system. RT13 demonstrated that it is time to walk the talk to consider smallholders part of the RSPO system.

Find a summary of the RT13 and presentation here.

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