Independent smallholders in Indonesia have become the first to be certified under the new RSPO independent Smallholder (ISH) Standard, the RSPO announced on 21 October.

Certification body, Mutuagung Lestari, completed the audit for the group of 30 smallholders who manage 130ha of oil palm under KUD Mitra Bersama, in South Sumatra.

The group’s approval for the eligibility phase of certification means that it can allocate 40% of its production volume of fresh fruit bunches as RSPO Smallholder Credits traded via the RSPO Palm Trace platform.

“This new standard serves as an important foundation in RSPO’s movement to transform markets while ensuring the inclusion of smallholders, and I am thrilled that Indonesian smallholders are the first in the world to attain this major achievement,” RSPO’s Indonesia country director Tiur Rumondang said.

KUD Mitra Bersama was supported through a project run by global agribusiness giant Louis Dreyfus Company (LDC), an RSPO member, in collaboration with the Louis Dreyfus Foundation and Dutch non-profit organisation SNV.

“Due to low yields, smallholder palm growers often have limited means to invest in sustainable agriculture. Struggling to meet the complex requirements of certification, they risk exclusion from the supply chains of companies committed to sourcing certified products, said LDC Indonesia CEO Rubens Marques.

“We are therefore extremely pleased and proud to see this farming community, with which we have worked since 2019, become the first smallholder cooperative to access RSPO ISH certification, an achievement that we hope will pave the way for many more smallholders – in Indonesia and elsewhere – to embark on the journey toward more sustainable supply chains.”

RSPO head of smallholder programme, Ashwin Selvaraj said the new standard was an opportunity to bring about a ‘systemic, sustainable change’ that considerably improved the welfare of smallholders globally.

“We are also seeing positive impacts with groups in Malaysia, Thailand and Mexico, who are ready to be audited,” he added.

The RSPO ISH Standard certification scheme consists of three phases: Eligibility, Milestone A and Milestone B, each with specific claims that smallholders can make about their production, and corresponding benefits for the producer. A field audit takes place at each phase to assess specific compliance requirements.

To progress to the next phase, the KUD Mitra Bersama smallholder group will need to demonstrate further improvements to meet the next milestone indicators, while remaining compliant with existing eligibility phase criteria.

KUD Mitra Bersama’s group manager Nyoman Sucipta said the training provided by SNV on the implementation of the ISH Standard had taught them about sustainable oil palm cultivation and had also supported the group’s efficiency in production costs, allowing them to save more of their income.

“This process helped us learn about recording fruit transactions, developing standard operating procedures, and establishing an Internal Control System (ICS), which are all key elements of the standard,” he said.

Adopted in November 2019 at the 16th annual General Assembly in Bangkok, Thailand, the RSPO ISH standard aims to increase the inclusion of smallholders into the RSPO system while taking into consideration the diverse challenges and situations faced by smallholders globally.

A not-for-profit international organisation formed in 2004, the RSPO’s objective is to promote the growth and use of sustainable oil palm products through credible global standards and stakeholder engagement.