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RSPO offers Nigerian smallholder palm oil producers path to free certification, access to int’l markets

Smallholder palm oil producers in Nigeria will soon be able to get certified according to RSPO standards, which till date appeared to be an exclusive reserve of multinationals and conglomerates in the palm oil production value chain.

In Africa, smallholders account for up to 70 percent of the palm oil output, just like almost every other commodity, and with the RSPO certification, will soon have access to better pricing for their commodities and international markets.

Elikplim Dziwornu Agbitor, technical manager – Africa, Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), in a Skype interview with Agribusiness Insight from his Accra base, said, “The vision of RSPO is to transform markets so that sustainable palm oil becomes the norm. Therefore, we cannot be concentrating on the big guys, who are just about 30 percent, and ignoring the smallholders who are at least 70 percent.

“We (now) have a standard that is specifically tailored for certifying smallholders. Before now, the smallholder just mirrored what was applicable to the big growers. And, of course, we know that the dynamics are very different,” he said. Since it is not expected that smallholders get certified to the same standards as the big-holders because the dynamics are different, RSPO has developed specific standards for certifying independent smallholders.

As Agbitor explained, this new process does not certify smallholders as individuals; rather, it certifies them as a group. The cooperative or the group would have one certificate that covers all the members in the group.

RSPO, as he says, also recognized that smallholders are at a disadvantage on many levels financially. They may not have the financial wherewithal to get certified because the certification could be quite expensive and also, they may not have the technical know-how to be able to implement the standards.

“Some smallholders may not be very literate to be able to read, interpret and implement (specifics of the RSPO standards),” said Agbitor, so RSPO decided to provide a support mechanism tailored for small holders.

The organisation came up with what it calls the RSPO smallholder support fund (RSSF). It has been using this fund to support smallholder groups to become certified. The fear he explains was, “with the way things are going, in a few years time, companies who even buy from smallholders may not want to buy from them anymore because the smallholders are not certified. And we don’t want smallholders excluded from the supply chain because for them, it is a matter of livelihood and so we cannot afford to have that.”

Presently, the RSPO support fund has been used to support five projects in Africa, one of which is in Cross River State, Nigeria. The funding was channelled through Solidaridad West Africa, which used it to support the smallholder groups there to get certified.

Apart from the RSPO smallholder support fund as a strategy being utilised to drive certification of smallholder producers, there is also an ongoing process of simplifying the standard for smallholder certification.

However, Agbitor explains that for smallholders, the most urgent need is not certification. They have other more pressing needs of income and yields because a lot of them use planting materials of very poor quality. Invariably, their yields are low, they are not able to afford the inputs that they require and also do not fully understand the best agronomic practices to get the most yields they could get.

To address all of these, there is now the RSPO smallholder strategy, which is seeking to holistically address the challenges that small holders face.  That strategy has three main objectives.

The first objective is to improve smallholder livelihoods. It has nothing to do with certification at all. The strategy aims to improve smallholder livelihood and this is to be achieved by improving the yields and also diversification of income source.

The second objective of the smallholder strategy is to have a more simplified approach towards smallholder certification. This is to be achieved through the simplified smallholder standard earlier mentioned, which is expected to be endorsed by the general assembly of RSPO on the 6th of November in Thailand.

To help smallholders achieve this, RSPO is providing access to simplified assessment tools. For instance, to get certified, a smallholder producer needs to do a number of assessments such as environmental impact, social impact assessment, and land use change analysis. All these cost a lot of money that smallholders cannot afford.

According to Agbitor, what RSPO has done is to develop very simplified apps that a smallholder group manager could easily use to conduct these assessments. For something like the land use change for instance, RSPO only requires the group manager to send it the GPS files for the smallholder farmers and the RSPO secretariat would do the assessments and generate the reports for them at no cost.

Whereas big companies pay tens of thousands of dollars just to get these assessments done, for smallholders, RSPO says it is doing it for them at no cost.

The third objective is to make a stronger business case for smallholder certification. The organisation is examining financial incentives that can be provided for smallholders to be certified and to remain certified.

While big players like Okomu, Presco, SNL are either certified or not certified, RSPO is offering smallholders a stepwise approach to certification. Once they commit to certification and they can prove their eligibility, the proposition at the moment is that they can begin to sell 50 percent of what they are producing as certified, even though they have not yet attained full certification. RSPO, he says, is still working on getting other incentives to make a strong financial case for smallholder certification.

Next week, benefits of getting certified will be discussed.



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