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Driving Change: Towards Social Impact and Sustainable Growth

Posted: May 20, 2024 3 minute read SMART 0 Likes

How can we improve the livelihoods of those who are involved in the palm industry? How can we boost yields and improve the quality of production while ensuring no one, especially smallholders, is left behind?

Anita Neville, Chief Sustainability and Communications Officer, Golden Agri-Resources (GAR), talks about the unique value the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has brought to the palm industry by addressing its environmental footprint over the last two decades and how the sector is now shifting focus to social impact.

Q. In the early 2000s, palm oil production faced scrutiny due to its environmental impact. Can you describe GAR’s experience during that time?

Anita: Back in the past, palm as an industry was at the centre of campaigns and conversations around deforestation.

Seeing the need for change, we joined the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in 2005 as early members, through our primary subsidiary, PT SMART Tbk. Since then, we have been active contributors and have embraced RSPO’s principles and criteria. We combined the learnings from RSPO with our own social and environmental policies, and built the foundation of our efforts to decouple palm production from deforestation.

The positive impact of our continued efforts are clear. The trends of deforestation rates in Indonesia have been steadily declining, signalling that we’re on the right path.

Q: How is GAR contributing to a more sustainable palm oil industry?

Anita: Through GAR’s commitment to decoupling deforestation from palm production, we’ve been pursuing greater transparency and traceability in our supply chains. At the same time, we also strive to be socially responsible in how we produce palm oil.

Part of that is helping our suppliers to transform their practices to be more aligned to the RSPO principles and criteria. This is particularly true for our investments in smallholder farmers, which represent about 40 percent of global production. By empowering these farmers to adopt more sustainable practices, we help them increase their incomes by improving yields – all without having to open up new areas for development.

Sustainable palm oil production with reduced deforestation rates
Sustainable palm oil production with reduced deforestation rates


Q: How has the RSPO contributed to the industry since it was formed?

Anita: I think one of the most valuable contributions that the RSPO has made to the palm sector is that it has brought together a multitude of voices.

From smallholder farmers to big plantation companies like GAR, NGOs concerned about environmental and social issues, regulators, financial institutions, and of course, mostly importantly, our customers. We’ve all come together, facilitated by the RSPO, to agree what good and sustainable practices look like in the palm sector.

And that has been its unique contribution to our industry. Looking ahead, if the past two decades have been addressing the environmental footprint of the palm industry, I think it’s fair that the next two decades focus on the social impact.

Women taking roles in the plantation operations
Women taking roles in the plantation operations – a field traditionally dominated by men

I see the RSPO playing a crucial role in helping us tackle those social challenges. And let’s not forget about climate change – it remains a major challenge for anyone in agribusiness. The RSPO will be pivotal in defining what low greenhouse gas emissions from palm production look like, and in setting the standards for how we can meet global market demands sustainably.

Q: How can the industry, along with the RSPO and the broader ecosystem, work together to surpass the current benchmark where only about 20 percent of global palm oil production is certified as sustainable? What steps are necessary to break through this 20 percent barrier?

Anita: Breaking the 20 percent barrier for global sustainable palm oil certification is really challenging. It hinges on two things. Firstly, we need to drive demand for certified sustainable palm oil in markets that haven’t traditionally been focused on sustainability. These include large-volume markets like China, India, and Pakistan, where sustainability hasn’t been a primary concern.

Secondly, we need to make the RSPO certification process more appealing to more growers everywhere, especially smallholder farmers. This means making certification more affordable and accessible. We also need to

“We also need to ensure that growers understand that pursuing certification is not only feasible but also in their best interest, promising them greater market access and potentially higher returns.”

ensure that growers understand that pursuing certification is not only feasible but also in their best interest, promising them greater market access and potentially higher returns.



Discover how GAR leads in sustainable palm oil production through industry certification. Learn more about our certifications here.


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