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Supporting Smallholders Towards Improved Livelihoods and Sustainable Production

  • Published on November 21, 2017
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was formed to promote the growth and use of sustainable palm oil products through credible global standards and engagement of stakeholders. The RSPO standards were developed and set in a multi-stakeholder environment, to address the main environmental, social and economic challenges associated with conventional palm oil production. When properly applied, these standards can minimize the negative impact of oil palm cultivation on the environment and communities in palm oil-producing regions. RSPO is currently supporting several local initiatives to develop a system to support certification at a jurisdictional level for the sustainable production of palm oil. The jurisdictional certification approach requires a jurisdiction (a governmental administrative territory that applies a specific system of laws and regulations) to meet the criteria in one or more sustainable certification system(s). It is meant to address sustainability concerns such as deforestation, biodiversity loss, resource management, land conflict and the application of Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) which are difficult to solve at an operational unit level (i.e. farm, mill) without wider engagement with government and society. This approach is expected to lower the entry barrier for smallholders to participate in the sustainable palm oil supply chain through wider multi-stakeholder collaboration, reduced transaction costs, and provision of government support. It is currently being piloted at the sub-national level in both Malaysia and Indonesia and this project proposal is focused on two such pilots being conducted in the state of Sabah (Malaysia) and the district of Seruyan (Central Kalimantan, Indonesia). The objective of this project is to increase the capacity of smallholders to adopt agricultural practices that improve productivity while reducing negative environmental and social impacts. This will be achieved through a variety of pilot initiatives, which include facilitating the capacity building on best management practices (BMPs) for the smallholders, developing formal agricultural curriculum on BMPs, engaging mills to conduct agricultural extension programmes and conducting learning exchanges between the two project sites. The outputs from these pilots will be scaled up at the jurisdictional level to be implemented state-wide in Sabah and district-wide in Seruyan.
The smallholder farmers in the Seruyan district are operating at 30% less productivity than other oil palm growers. Sustainability and certification adds a significant requirement that smallholders in Seruyan are unable to achieve without external intervention. This project will support the establishment of an Agricultural Facility to support smallholders in Seruyan district. Beginning with the leadership demonstrated by the provincial government of Central Kalimantan announcing commitment to 100% sustainable palm oil by 2019, the local government of Seruyan, as well smallholder farmers there have shown firm commitment to working towards jurisdictional certification. The purpose of the Agricultural Facility is to ultimately provide direct support and training for capacity building for 1,000 smallholder oil palm farmers. The pilot project proposed here would develop rigorously researched model for the Facility, and establish a train-the-trainer program for 100 farmers who will later upscale the program to train 1,000 farmers. The Facility will: ● Serve as a training academy to build the knowledge and capacity base among smallholders on Good Agricultural Practices and other key principles of sustainable agriculture; ● Provide access to agricultural inputs including seeds, fertilizers, and a nursery. ● Develop partnerships with the local and regional financial community to develop a mechanism for the extension of low-interest loans to the smallholders. In Sabah, the project will trial a set of four intervention activities with approximately 2,000 smallholders in 20 selected villages in the Telupid, Tongod, Beluran and Kinabatangan districts (TTBK). This region has been selected because it represents a wide range of circumstances for a large concentration of smallholders; furthermore, there are many on-going activities in the TTBK area upon which to build. At the end of the funding period, a plan for full implementation of smallholder interventions throughout the state will be crafted based on the experiences from the TTBK trials. In the final stages of this project, field visits and learning exchange workshops will be organized for some of the smallholders in Seruyan and Sabah so that they are able to benefit from the respective experiences and lessons from both project sites. RSPO works with smallholders across Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa through the RSPO Smallholder Support Fund and the RSPO Smallholder Academy. These are ready platforms to disseminate the results and achievements from this project and can be turned into case studies when working with smallholder groups from other regions. RSPO also conducts annual conferences and member events in Southeast Asia, Latin America, Africa and Europe whereby there are always workshops and learning sessions specific to smallholders. The outputs from this project will be highlighted and promoted during these events. Expectation: The success of this project will result in improved livelihoods for at least 50,000 schemed and independent smallholders in Sabah and 5,311 independent smallholders in Seruyan. Reality: Upon the completion of the project: 1. A total of 1219 smallholders have benefited from the activities in TTBK, Sabah 2. A total of 683 smallholders have benefited from the activities in Seruyan, Indonesia. Although the expected outcome was not achieved, this project has initiated a positive movement for sustainability, especially for the RSPO Jurisdictional Approach. Below are the achievements of the project: 1. Smallholders needs are identified and addressed through training and capacity-building activities; 2. Roadmaps for smallholder intervention across a wider area (jurisdiction i.e.: Sabah and Seruyan) were developed, aiding to the overall process of achieving RSPO Jurisdictional Certification. This includes methodologies and strategies for intervention; 3. The first Agricultural Facility (AF) that supports Seruyan smallholders with capacity building activities, agricultural inputs, and financial management was established; 4. With regards to the decision-making process, a multistakeholder approach was applied in both pilot areas; and 5. Smallholders are involved in the sustainability movement through the knowledge exchange and Training of Trainers (ToT) programs. The findings and results of the project will help to shape the development of the Certification System Document for RSPO Jurisdictional Certification, especially on the smallholder requirements. In addition to this, the activities contributed to the overall RSPO's Smallholder Strategy, as well as the RSPO Smallholder Academy implementation. For example, the design of the Agricultural Facility in Seruyan can be replicated in other regions and act as RSPO's training academy to host training program; the Facilitated Land Application Process methodology in Sabah can be replicated in areas with similar legal requirements; and the knowledge exchange program can be extended to areas beyond the South East Asia region for wider knowledge sharing. Both pilot areas have developed separate roadmaps for their smallholder intervention strategy and these roadmaps can be used as benchmark or examples for other regions to replicate. In addition, a clear strategy is now available for the pilot areas to certify their smallholders (50,000 smallholders in Sabah and 5,311smallholders in Seruyan). The activities reported in this project are part of the respective pilots' roadmaps for RSPO Jurisdictional Certification. Therefore, most of the activities will be continued, with improved objectives and goals after the project period. Interested stakeholders who wish to learn more about the respective RSPO Jurisdictional Certification Pilots may directly contact RSPO at or direct your intentions to the two local implementers, Forever Sabah for Sabah, Malaysia, and INOBU for Seruyan, Indonesia. RSPO is currently developing a Certification System Document (CSD) for the jurisdictional approach to certification. The results and findings of this project will be used as a benchmark to guide the development of the CSD. The CSD will be going through the second round of public consultation process in February 2020 for another 60 days. Interested stakeholders who wish to take part in the public consultation process, may refer to our website ( for more information, otherwise, contact
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