By Tom Esslemont
LONDON, Aug 23 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Hundreds of small-scale palm oil farmers in Indonesia have won the right to export their crop with certification from a global sustainability body, boosting their chances of raising profits and incomes, an industry umbrella group said on Tuesday.
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), an umbrella organisation for growers, traders and environmental campaigners said 2,700 independent farmers received the approval making them the world's single largest group ever to be certified.
"The ability to produce sustainable (palm oil) not only will improve our livelihood but also helps link us ... to the global sustainable market," said Amin Rohmad, one of the independent smallholders based in the province of South Sumatra.
Despite producing less oil per hectare than larger multinational firms, smallholders account for about 40 percent of the world's palm oil output, the RSPO said.
But the system of certification has often been too costly and complex for them to navigate, campaigners say, with the sector coming under fire for its impact on land rights and the environment.
The world's biggest palm oil producing countries, Indonesia and Malaysia, have been pressured to address environmental concerns as "slash and burn" forest fires cause parts of Southeast Asia to become shrouded in haze every year.
Palm oil, used in everything from chocolate to cosmetics, has become one of the world's fastest expanding crops.
But pressure over deforestation and methods used to clear land has driven many buyers - and consumers - to demand certification of environmentally sound behaviour.
The RSPO has in turn stepped up pressure on the biggest growers, with some accused of illegally planting the crop on protected areas.
In April it withdrew Malaysian plantation giant IOI's 'sustainability certification' after allegations the company had illegally chopped down rainforests in Indonesia and planted palm crops on peatland.
But earlier this month, it said IOI, one of the world's leading palm producers and traders, had satisfied conditions for the suspension to be lifted, a move that has sparked sharp criticism from environmental groups.
The consortium of 2,700 newly certified Indonesian smallholders won the status in June this year with support from Wilmar, a Singapore-based agribusiness firm specialising in palm oil, an RSPO spokesperson said.
"It is crucial for companies ... NGOs and governments (to)continue promoting smallholder inclusiveness and capacity building, so that they can achieve RSPO certification," said Julia Majail, smallholder programme manager at RSPO.
To date the RSPO has helped more than 100,000 individual smallholders gain certification and helped to forge partnerships between smallholders, NGOs and the private sector, the industry body said in a statement.
(Reporting By Tom Esslemont, Editing by Katie Nguyen. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)
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