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  • Informal, traditional and semiformal property rights should be fully acknowledged, panel agrees 

Informal, traditional and semiformal property rights should be fully acknowledged, panel agrees 

A father and child are pictures in a garden in Colombia. Photo by Augusto Riveros/TBI
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A father and child are pictured in a garden in Colombia. Photo by Augusto Riveros

LANDac, the Netherlands Academy on Land Governance for Equitable and Sustainable Development, held its annual international conference on June 28-29 in Utrecht, the Netherlands.

Titled “Land governance and (im)mobility”, the conference explored the nexus between land acquisition, displacement and migration.

On the second day of the event, the wide range of parallel sessions included “‘Good Enough Tenure’ in Sustainable Forest and Land Management”, organized by Tropenbos International (TBI), in collaboration with the universities of Wageningen, Freiburg, Campinas and Kyoto, Kadaster Internationaal, the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA).

The session discussed the practical implications of the increasing evidence from research and experiences in different parts of the world on the value and scope of so-called ‘good enough tenure’ arrangements for international and national policymakers and investors.

The main message that emerged from the panel session was that all players need to think beyond formal land regularization to provide enabling conditions for smallholders to secure property rights and incentives for investment.

A lack of formally recognized land and resource property has always been a constraint for small-scale farmers and forest communities. Mainstream land governance focusses largely on tenure regularization as a means to provide security. Smallholders without such formal tenure tend to be excluded from external funding streams, because banks, other private investors, governmental agencies and even some donors often require land titles as collateral to mitigate the risk of default from failed investment.

As a result, these actors have not been able to deal effectively with the mobility and the complex local reality, including the local needs and opportunities that exist in rural and forest areas in tropical countries.

The four panelists – Marieke van der Zon of Wageningen University, Kyoto University and TBI; Peter Cronkleton of CIFOR; Bastian Reydon of Universidade Estadual de Campinas’ Land Governance Group; and Benno Pokorny of University Freiburg – provided hands-on examples from Latin America, providing evidence that there is a variety of formal, informal and semiformal tenure situations and arrangements in these areas.

In many cases these informal, traditional and semiformal property rights are considered good enough for social and economic development and for conservation, as they are respected, upheld and protected by strong local institutions. These good-enough tenure right arrangements should be fully acknowledged as a valuable “local institutional capital” for making trustful and secure arrangements between local smallholders and external actors to engage, to invest and collaborate on a reciprocal basis.

They must therefore play a much more prominent starting point in promoting sustainable, inclusive and equitable development, with the panelists emphasizing the need to understand the local specificity of arrangements, advocating a “fit-for-purpose and place” approach.

Read the panelists’ abstracts: 

View the presentations from the session:

Adapted from the article first published by Tropenbos International. 

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  • FTA names new Independent Steering Committee members 

FTA names new Independent Steering Committee members 

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Birds perch among mangroves in North Sumatra, Indonesia. Photo by M. Edliadi/CIFOR

The CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) has named two new, independent members of its Independent Steering Committee (ISC).

The appointment was formalized by the Board of Trustees (BoT) of FTA’s lead center, the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), following a review of candidatures by the ISC.

The ISC – along with the CIFOR BoT, to which it reports, and the FTA Management Team (MT), the work of which it oversees – is a key component of the governance of FTA. The ISC oversees the research programming, partnership engagement, delivery and effectiveness of FTA at a strategic level.

Bringing many years of experience and expertise to the ISC, new members Linda Collette and Susan Braatz officially commenced their three-year terms in May 2018.

Collette, an ecologist who has worked on environmental and developmental issues for more than 35 years at both technical and policy levels is currently an advisor to the Legal Research Chair in Food Diversity and Security of Laval University in Québec, Canada. As well as qualifications in biology and ecology, she has Master’s degrees in environmental sciences and project management.

During her career, which has included over 17 years at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Collette held various positions including team leader on sustainable crop production intensification, Secretary of the FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, and secretary and then chair of the FAO working group on biodiversity.

Under her leadership, the secretariat of the commission initiated a process for the preparation of the first report of the State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture, and developed a program of work on climate change and genetic resources adopted by members of the commission.

Braatz, a forest ecologist with over 35 years of experience in international forestry, natural resource management and sustainable development, is experienced in forest ecology, climate change, agroforestry, community forestry, dryland forestry, urban forestry, forest policy, and forests and food security.

Over 25 years at FAO, she held a number of positions, most recently as Team Leader: Dryland Forests, Agroforestry and Climate Change, and Senior Forestry Officer/Climate Change. She was also seconded to the UN Secretariat as Senior Policy Adviser to the United Nations Forum on Forests for four years.

Prior to her time at FAO, Braatz held Chief Technical Adviser positions with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Niger and Somalia. Her research experience includes field studies on nutrient cycling in forest ecosystems and policy research on economic botany for the US Congress. Braatz has a Master’s of Forest Science and a Bachelor degree in Environmental Biology.

Collette and Braatz join three other continuing independent members of the ISC – chair Anne-Marie Isaac, Yemi Katerere and Florencia Montagnini – as well as lead center representative Robert Nasi, non-CGIAR centers representative René Boot, CGIAR centers representative Stephan Weise, and ex-officio member FTA Director Vincent Gitz.

With the new appointments, the ISC expects to continue its focus on the strategic programmatic oversight of FTA, monitoring the program’s delivery, oversight and strengthening of partnerships, as well as reviewing the Plan of Work and Budget and allocations from CGIAR and other program-level resources.

Following the two new appointments, FTA is reopening the call for applications as it seeks a third new ISC member who has specific and demonstrated pan-African policy and development experience. For more information on the position and to submit an application, please click here.

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  • Comparing governance reforms to restore the forest commons in Nepal, China and Ethiopia

Comparing governance reforms to restore the forest commons in Nepal, China and Ethiopia

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  • Forest ecosystem services and the pillars of Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness

Forest ecosystem services and the pillars of Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness

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In the eastern Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan, culture, society, economy and environment are linked in the development framework of Gross National Happiness (GNH). In this literature review, we highlight the relationships between forests and Bhutan’s development framework and current priorities, identifying plausible causal pathways. Due to the mountainous nature of this country, our particular interest is in the impacts of upstream forest activity on downstream stakeholders.

Our hypothetical framework identifies specific causal pathways between forests and the four pillars of GNH (environmental conservation, cultural preservation, equitable socioeconomic development and good governance), and evidence was sought in the published literature to test the hypothesis. While conceptual support for many linkages between forests and each of the pillars was found in the literature, evidential support specifically for Bhutan is limited. The strongest evidence is found for the role of forests in socioeconomic development and good governance, particularly through the community forestry program.

To develop incentive programs for forest conservation and restoration, such as payment for ecosystem services and pay-for-performance donor funding, the evidence base needs to be expanded for causal pathways between upstream forest condition and downstream security, particularly for services such as water regulation. The evidence should inform public policy and forest management strategies and practices.

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  • MRV for REDD+ in Mexico: The political process of a technical system

MRV for REDD+ in Mexico: The political process of a technical system

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  • The monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) of activities carried out for REDD+ in Mexico can shed some light on the challenges that could be faced when complying with the provisions of the Paris Agreement and the enhanced transparency framework (ETF) it establishes. Addressing the concerns presented by multiple stakeholders on several levels will contribute to highlighting transparency, in accordance with the ETF.
  • National and subnational stakeholders should make an effort to officially clarify the objectives and scope of the National Monitoring, Reporting and Verification System (SNMRV); and of subnational stakeholder participation (institutional arrangements, times, inputs, outputs, roles, and responsibilities); and how to establish complementariness with other national and subnational monitoring initiatives.
  • The experience and knowledge of subnational stakeholders can improve and enrich MRV in Mexico, since its efforts, interests and needs go beyond the simple monitoring of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that the SNMRV has performed so far.
  • Long-term institutionalization should be ensured for REDD+ and the MRV system at the different government levels to overcome changes associated with political cycles and ensure the continuity of financial, technical and administrative efforts. Given that budget cuts have affected public administration in Mexico, more stakeholders and funding sources (private sector, academia, civil society, foundations) should support technical requirements for MRV and other monitoring initiatives.
  • Interviewed national and subnational stakeholders valued the implementation of the national initiative for the reduction of forest emissions (IRE) through the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) and the mechanisms to strengthen subnational stakeholders (such as the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force, GCF), as well as opportunities to clarify questions on MRV procedures and empower the states for decision-making.
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  • Community concessions bring newfound hope for forest conservation and socioeconomic development

Community concessions bring newfound hope for forest conservation and socioeconomic development

Men in a community forest enterprise in Petén, Guatemala, involved in milling precious woods. Photo by D.Stoian/Bioversity International
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Men in a community forest enterprise in Petén, Guatemala, involved in milling precious woods. Photo by D. Stoian/Bioversity International

Recent findings evidenced that when forests are in the hands of local communities, governance, conservation and livelihoods improve.

Reform advocates claim that local communities are better stewards of forests than the state, particularly in settings where understaffing and other limitations do not allow government agencies to live up to their mandate.

There is increasing evidence that the devolution of rights to forest communities leads to a decrease in deforestation rates, better protection of biodiversity, and significant livelihood benefits of community members, especially if linked to the development of community forest enterprises.

Bioversity International and partners are contributing to this evidence base through large-scale socioeconomic surveys in the Petén region of Guatemala where 25-year forest concessions have been granted to the communities in the late 1990s.

CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) scientist Dietmar Stoian of Bioversity International, who has led this research since 2014 says: “For the first time there is a complete socioeconomic data set across the nine active concessions, which show that, if carefully managed, the community concessions allow local people to move out of poverty while conserving the forest and its inherent biodiversity.”

“While we observe significant variation across and within the concessions, community stewardship of the forest resources has proven to be a viable model for forest conservation and livelihoods development,” he adds.

Members of a community forest enterprise grade leaves of the Chamaedorea palm for export. Photo by D. Stoian/Bioversity International

As the community concessions need to undergo renewal over the next few years, Bioversity International, Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the Asociación de Comunidades Forestales de Petén (ACOFOP) — the umbrella organization of forest communities in the Petén — organized a workshop in September.

Over 40 researchers, practitioners, and policy makers, attended the workshop to take stock of existing evidence of the concessions’ environmental and socioeconomic performance and to discuss options going forward.

CIFOR scientist Steven Lawry explained in an interview with Forests News that the approach has produced positive results: “Deforestation rates within the concessions are markedly lower than in surrounding areas. Employment has increased, and community members receive dividends from timber sales.”

What is more, the resident forest communities are now able to make an income also from regulated hunting, collecting non-timber forest products, farming, and working off-farm. The diversification of their income sources contributes to their improved livelihoods by providing greater stability and food security.

“The community forest concession model has informed other ongoing processes for rights devolution in forest regions,” said Iliana Monterroso, co-organizer of the workshop on behalf of CIFOR. In fact, Indonesia, China and Colombia are looking at how the forest concession model might benefit their countries.

Originally published on the website of Bioversity International.


This research has been supported by the Austrian Development Agency (ADA) with funding by the Austrian Development Cooperation (ADC). It is part of the CGIAR Research Programs on Policies, Institutions and Markets (PIM) and Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) and is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors. We thank ADA and ADC for their funding and all donors who support PIM and FTA through their contributions to the CGIAR Fund.

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  • Community concessions bring newfound hope for forest conservation and socioeconomic development

Community concessions bring newfound hope for forest conservation and socioeconomic development

Men in a community forest enterprise in Petén, Guatemala, involved in milling precious woods. Photo by D.Stoian/Bioversity International
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Men in a community forest enterprise in Petén, Guatemala, involved in milling precious woods. Photo by D. Stoian/Bioversity International

Recent findings evidenced that when forests are in the hands of local communities, governance, conservation and livelihoods improve.

Reform advocates claim that local communities are better stewards of forests than the state, particularly in settings where understaffing and other limitations do not allow government agencies to live up to their mandate.

There is increasing evidence that the devolution of rights to forest communities leads to a decrease in deforestation rates, better protection of biodiversity, and significant livelihood benefits of community members, especially if linked to the development of community forest enterprises.

Bioversity International and partners are contributing to this evidence base through large-scale socioeconomic surveys in the Petén region of Guatemala where 25-year forest concessions have been granted to the communities in the late 1990s.

CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) scientist Dietmar Stoian of Bioversity International, who has led this research since 2014 says: “For the first time there is a complete socioeconomic data set across the nine active concessions, which show that, if carefully managed, the community concessions allow local people to move out of poverty while conserving the forest and its inherent biodiversity.”

“While we observe significant variation across and within the concessions, community stewardship of the forest resources has proven to be a viable model for forest conservation and livelihoods development,” he adds.

Members of a community forest enterprise grade leaves of the Chamaedorea palm for export. Photo by D. Stoian/Bioversity International

As the community concessions need to undergo renewal over the next few years, Bioversity International, Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the Asociación de Comunidades Forestales de Petén (ACOFOP) — the umbrella organization of forest communities in the Petén — organized a workshop in September.

Over 40 researchers, practitioners, and policy makers, attended the workshop to take stock of existing evidence of the concessions’ environmental and socioeconomic performance and to discuss options going forward.

CIFOR scientist Steven Lawry explained in an interview with Forests News that the approach has produced positive results: “Deforestation rates within the concessions are markedly lower than in surrounding areas. Employment has increased, and community members receive dividends from timber sales.”

What is more, the resident forest communities are now able to make an income also from regulated hunting, collecting non-timber forest products, farming, and working off-farm. The diversification of their income sources contributes to their improved livelihoods by providing greater stability and food security.

“The community forest concession model has informed other ongoing processes for rights devolution in forest regions,” said Iliana Monterroso, co-organizer of the workshop on behalf of CIFOR. In fact, Indonesia, China and Colombia are looking at how the forest concession model might benefit their countries.

Originally published on the website of Bioversity International.


This research has been supported by the Austrian Development Agency (ADA) with funding by the Austrian Development Cooperation (ADC). It is part of the CGIAR Research Programs on Policies, Institutions and Markets (PIM) and Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) and is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors. We thank ADA and ADC for their funding and all donors who support PIM and FTA through their contributions to the CGIAR Fund.

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  • CIRAD research featured in new book on corporate governance

CIRAD research featured in new book on corporate governance

At a sustainably certified sawmill in Jepara, men carefully cut logs of wood that are then measured and marked. Photo by D. Ramsay/CIFOR
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A sustainably certified sawmill in Jepara, Indonesia. Photo by D. Ramsay/CIFOR

How does the complex pattern of shareholdings and subsidiaries – entangled, hierarchical and pyramidal – influence actions, decisions, policies and strategies? It could be said that the behavior of conglomerates and mega corporations is influenced by their ownership structure.

A new book, Minister of Finance Incorporated: Ownership and control of corporate Malaysia, looks at quantitative methods to decipher corporate governance, from biomass, forest and plantations to Malaysia’s corporate finance.

How the structure of commodity corporates could impact the sustainability of agricultural landscapes is of direct interest to the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD), one of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry’s (FTA) partner institutions.

Jean-Marc Roda speaks about the new book. Photo by IDEAS

Read more: Sustainable value chains and investments to support forest conservation and equitable development

This is because many activities linked to deforestation; forest management; the sustainability of palm oil, rubber and timber plantations; biomass and biofuel strategies are driven by the choices of international finance and mega corporations.

CIRAD’s activities concern the life sciences, social sciences and engineering sciences, applied to agriculture, the environment and territorial management. Its work centers on food security, climate change, natural resource management, the reduction of inequalities and poverty alleviation.

In particular, in Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia, research by CIRAD and its public- and private-sector partners focuses on natural resource management, food security, biodiversity studies and the sustainability of tree crop-based systems, paying particular attention to island agro-ecosystems, which are particularly sensitive to climate change.

ET Gomez presents during the book launch. Photo by IDEAS

In 2010, CIRAD’s Jean-Marc Roda and his Malaysian team at Universiti Putra Malaysia started to develop methodologies aimed at deciphering corporate governance and their environmental commitments among Southeast Asian transnationals. Deciphering corporate governance and environmental commitments among Southeast Asian transnationals: Uptake of sustainability certification was subsequently published in 2015.

The paper’s coauthor Norfaryanti Kamaruddin, who also contributed to the recently launched book, previously completed a PhD that was partially supported by FTA.

An important debate on global trade and sustainability relates to the role that corporate governance has on the uptake of sustainability standards. The paper suggests that financial factors, such as ownership structure and flexibility in decision-making, may have a fundamental role in understanding the adoption of sustainable standard systems in the corporate sector. This is based on the analysis of four major Asian agribusiness transnationals comprising about 931 companies.

In addition, this paper explores as a way forward the convergence of environmental sustainability with long-term family business sustainability.

Read more: Soils, governance, big data and 99 tropical countries: Best reads in forests, trees and agroforestry

The new book looks at corporate ownership and control in Malaysia.

Research tools developed throughout the project proved extremely accurate for deciphering any kind of corporate financial structure. Such quantitative methods of ownership structure analysis, initially designed for the analysis of the forest and agriculture financial sectors, were successfully employed to independently confirm and illustrate previously published results from ET Gomez.

Roda and his team were able to demonstrate how a core of 26 corporations controlled the Malaysian corporate sector and to provide details on how that control spread throughout the financial network, leading to the chapter “Understanding the network typology of the seven government-linked investment companies (GLICs)”.

The book was launched by the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) in August 2017. It covers all Malaysian financial sectors, with Chapter 4 focusing on the plantation sector and on quantitative methods used for comparison and validation.

Adapted from the article by Jean-Marc Roda, originally published by CIRAD.


This work is linked to the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA), which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

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  • The long and winding road to sustainable palm oil

The long and winding road to sustainable palm oil

A worker collects oil palm fruit. Photo by I. Cooke Vieira/CIFOR
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A worker collects oil palm fruit. Photo by I. Cooke Vieira/CIFOR

Finding a way forward for profits, people and the planet.

The polemic around the expansion of oil palm plantations in the tropics continues, and increasingly involves consumers concerned with sustainability. At the core of the debate is the matter of hard trade-offs between conservation and development. Reconciling such trade-offs is still the major challenge facing governments and companies.

Available evidence suggests that palm oil production has contradictory impacts. It has positive impacts on both local and national economic growth, and in alleviating rural poverty. Yet plantations also drive social conflict in their development, and bring detriment to forests and peatlands as they expand, leading to negative impacts due to biodiversity loss and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The palm oil sector suffers from three performance issues, namely: land conflicts between local villagers and companies as well as immigrants, differences in yields between independent smallholders and industrial plantations, and a large carbon debt resulting from oil palm expansion into forestlands and peatlands. The challenge now is to find a way to ensure sustainable palm oil supply chains, in order to sustain economic gains while supporting conservation and climate action.

Employees drive to work on a plantation. Photo by I. Cooke Vieira/CIFOR

AIMING FOR CHANGE

Efforts are being made by governments, companies and civil society organizations on different fronts and at different levels to enhance the palm oil sector’s performance. Commitments to sustainability made by major palm oil companies have been accompanied by a more aggressive sustainability discourse by governments, and many civil society organizations have begun to play a new role as facilitators in the implementation of standards by companies, or as intermediaries between private and public actors.

In Indonesia, the previous government made important efforts to respond to the global climate change agenda, resulting in a moratorium on new licenses to develop primary forest or peatlands, which unfortunately in practice had limited impacts on reducing deforestation. The major corporate groups, through the Indonesian Palm Oil Pledge (IPOP) brought some new perspectives to halting deforestation through supply chain interventions, yet interestingly that triggered a strong political response from the government on the primacy of state regulations.

Two new fronts have since emerged. On one front, efforts are being made to enhance mandatory standards for sustainability by strengthening Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO) certification, accompanied by regulations on peatland intervention and restoration. On another front are efforts to safeguard the economic performance of the palm oil sector by expanding the domestic biodiesel market and applying subsidies to incentivize less competitive biodiesel production. In spite of strong arguments being made in favor of a social agenda, investments to support smallholders remain minimal.

An interesting turn of events has been the approval of an EU resolution suggesting that stronger constraints should apply to palm oil imports. This is not necessarily an opinion shared by some actors in Indonesia, who emphasize the importance of relying on national regulations. Signals have emerged that the government will be making the necessary steps to more fully embrace a sustainability framework. So far, the instrument for that seems to be a strengthened ISPO, with independent oversight. However, questions remain over the likely implementation costs, and institutional readiness at the local level.

Read also: Sustainable Palm Oil Production project synthesis: Understanding and anticipating global challenges

A young woman carries a bucket of harvested oil palm fruit. Photo by I. Cooke Vieira/CIFOR

WHOSE SUSTAINABILITY?

The dispute over which rules to follow, whether it be international private sustainability standards and/or methods toward zero deforestation, or mandatory national standards has brought to light competing notions of sustainability, how to achieve progress, and who should be taking the lead.

A policy network analysis of the palm oil sector in Indonesia suggests that standards and initiatives for sustainability have contrasting visibility and impact among stakeholders, for example among governments, the corporate sector and NGOs. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), stands as a reference, while efforts by the Indonesian government to promote its own standard with ISPO have yet to gain traction. Hopes remain that it could benefit from an emerging multi-stakeholder group.

Overall, the lack of progress in the uptake of sustainable palm oil practices on the ground, in the view of different stakeholders, appears to be caused more by political and legal barriers than by technical challenges or concerns for economic losses. The fact is that the palm oil sector, particularly in relation to land allocation and regulatory controls, is dominated by a complex and ambiguous layer of regulations. When we add vested local interests in profiting from plantation expansion, we are left with a difficult puzzle indeed.

The situation also calls for increased efforts to enforce regional initiatives on High Conservation Value (HCV) assessments to guide decisions on land-use planning, as well as efforts to support smallholders within wider landscapes. This is all the more important when considering proposals for limiting the expansion of concessions across the country without addressing existing concessions (‘land banks’) that are partially covered by standing natural forests, and placing little regulatory control on the additional pressures of smallholders on forest conversion.

A young man uses a contraption to harvest fruit from the oil palms. Photo by I. Cooke Vieira/CIFOR

Clearly, improvements are needed in communication and transparency among stakeholders, not only to raise the bar of sustainability beyond existing ISPO requirements and to provide a more conducive environment for corporate commitments, but also to enhance the rule of law and improve governance. Legality and law enforcement are absolute prerequisites for cleaning the sector of its worst players and practices.

THE COMPLEXITIES OF PALM OIL GOVERNANCE

Governance of the palm oil sector is becoming more complex over time. In addition to national regulations, it involves a transnational regime in the form of RSPO standards, which are widely accepted by the private sector as the benchmark criteria for sustainability, at least by players downstream the supply chain. Different initiatives by financial institutions and governments in consumer countries, grouped under the Amsterdam Declaration, as well the industry-led European Sustainable Palm Oil initiative (ESPO), are endorsing RSPO as a way to ensure uptake of sustainable practices.

Major corporate groups have also adopted individual and collective commitments to sustainability. Some of these commitments rely on RSPO as the privileged system to demonstrate achievements. Commitments to zero deforestation tend to make explicit their own criteria, targets and timeframes, which in some cases are rather ambiguous. In the palm oil sector, they often make use of High Carbon Stocks (HCS) as the approach to identifying forests to be protected.

As mentioned, the Indonesian government has embarked on a mission of strengthening ISPO, which originally emerged as a bundle of existing public regulations on palm oil production grouped under one instrument. However, doubts over ISPO’s effectiveness and slow implementation have forced the government to put in place a process to improve the scheme’s legitimacy, such as by drawing on a multi-stakeholder group, and conducting an ongoing consultation process to overcome the main design shortcomings. Much of the credibility of ISPO will nonetheless rely on how far it manages to closes the gaps with RSPO, particularly with regards to HCV and FPIC (Free, Prior and Informed Consent).

Due to the growing complexity of palm oil governance, what we have now are three simultaneous processes for moving toward sustainable palm oil that intersect, but in different ways. One is interested in “sustainable supply”, triggered by RSPO, another is interested in “clean supply”, motivated by private commitments to zero deforestation, and the third aims to achieve “legal supply”, supported by government through a strengthened ISPO. This creates some confusion, and it is not clear what the implications are of each on the move toward sustainability.

Read also: What will it take to make sustainable palm oil the norm?

Bunches of oil palm fruit await transportation in a wheelbarrow. Photo by I. Cooke Vieira/CIFOR

THE CHALLENGE OF INCLUDING SMALLHOLDERS

In this order of things, many independent oil palm smallholders are threatened with becoming alienated from formal markets because they lack the technical capacity and/or resources to comply with public and private sustainability standards. Thus, a major challenge is to find ways to improve conditions for smallholders in accessing finance and technical services.

Since resolving compliance barriers will require targeted interventions, it is becoming increasingly important to better understand the types of barriers faced by different types of smallholders. Research conducted in Riau, and in Central and West Kalimantan, highlights the sustainability, legality and productivity challenges arising from independent smallholder oil palm expansion. Gendered impacts of oil palm development also deserve special consideration, given the additional burden on women.

Understanding who smallholders are is important, since it has become the case that frontier expansion is often driven by larger, out-of-province and absentee farmers who engage in oil palm for investment purposes, rather than by smaller farmers (for example, with plots less than three hectares in area) who are dependent primarily on household labor. Some of this expansion is associated with land speculation, as a way to appropriate economic rents under the expectation of a future increase in the commercial value of cleared lands.

Tenure legality issues – faced especially by smallholders whose oil palm operations more closely resemble that of businesses – constitute the most significant compliance challenge. There is an ongoing debate over how to deal with illegality and to channel financial resources and technical support, not only to regulate oil palm expansion, but to enhance the performance of smallholders.

ADDRESSING CRITICAL CHALLENGES

Different and complementary initiatives are emerging to address performance issues in the sector. These embrace three broad objectives, namely: to implement traceability systems while overcoming challenges to involve smallholders; to refine and harmonize sustainability standards and tools; and to reconcile supply chain and landscape management approaches.

Enhancing traceability and smallholder inclusion

Major corporate groups in the palm oil sector are developing traceability systems to monitor and verify their performance with respect to their commitments to zero deforestation. Given the challenges to smallholder inclusion in this context, a number of companies and NGOs are collaborating to develop new business models and value chain strategies to support the inclusion of smallholders and enhance their compliance capacity. This is a work in progress.

Refining and harmonizing sustainability standards and tools

The most relevant process in this regard has been the HCS Convergence Agreement, which harmonizes methodologies to estimate high carbon stocks, and complements HCV with HCS. Other ongoing initiatives include RSPO Next, which is a set of advanced, add-on criteria for palm-oil growers seeking to comply with the aims of “no deforestation, no fire, no planting on peat, reduction of GHGs, and respect for human rights and transparency”, as well as efforts to strengthen ISPO. A major issue is how to implement on-the-ground standards that are increasingly demanding technically, and for which there are no institutional conditions, such as legality.

Reconciling supply chain interventions and landscape management

The private sector and NGOs are increasingly acknowledging that progress will only be piecemeal if underlying structural issues affecting the palm oil sector are not comprehensively addressed. Supporting efforts in specific jurisdictions to identify and register smallholder lands, and to promote district-level monitoring, reporting and verification of land-use change, are being undertaken as part of wider jurisdictional-based initiatives, emerging as a way to scale up innovations and solutions. These approaches may have potential, but have yet to prove their effectiveness.

Watch: Sustainable development of Cameroon’s palm oil

Workers take before fertilizing the next line of trees. Photo by I. Cooke Vieira/CIFOR

LIKELY FUTURES OF OIL PALM EXPANSION

Different futures are possible for oil palm expansion, with diverse consequences for development and conservation and their trade-offs. All depends on how far the government and the private sector will go in embracing their sustainability policies, and how effectively they are implemented and monitored.

The most likely scenarios are: 1) a business-as-usual scenario, in which oil palm plantations continue to expand at the current rate; 2) a moratorium scenario, in which the government applies increasing constraints to development on primary and secondary forests and peatlands; 3) a zero-deforestation scenario, in which deforestation is completely stopped in oil palm concessions; and 4) a sustainable intensification scenario, in which expansion continues on suitable lands, with greater social inclusion.

Emerging findings from scenario analysis in Central Kalimantan, when looking at the impacts of oil palm expansion on ecosystem services (comprising carbon stock and storage, habitat quality, water yield and palm oil production), suggest that the zero-deforestation scenario is the most desirable option. This scenario, however, requires a review of the forest moratorium that should encompass all forest types, as well as a clear land-use policy, strategy and detailed land-use plan involving all jurisdictions and stakeholders. The next most desirable scenario is sustainable intensification that would avoid the release of carbon, while continuing to contribute to increased palm oil supply resulting from enhanced yields.

When looking at Indonesia as a whole, scenario research suggests that zero-deforestation commitments and the moratorium on large-scale oil palm plantation expansion could reduce deforestation by 25% and 28%, respectively. These measures could also cut GHG emissions from land-use change by 13% and 16%, respectively, over the period 2010–2030. Even under the zero-deforestation and moratorium scenarios, Indonesia is projected to increase palm oil supply between 97% to 124% over 2010–2030, partly due to higher production originating from smallholders. Both measures – zero-deforestation commitments and a moratorium on large-scale expansion – would limit future deforestation in Indonesia, while maintaining the country’s leading role in the global palm oil market.

Foresight analysis is key in the debate on sustainable palm oil development. It can provide data and information to allow for evidence-based policy making. Public and private decision-makers, and multi-stakeholder initiatives should pay more attention to likely futures analysis to guide their decisions on action to reduce deforestation and GHG emissions, while finding options to improve productivity, legality and inclusion in the palm oil sector, with solutions that are acceptable to all stakeholders, and the wider society.

By Pablo Pacheco, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

For more information on this topic, please contact Pablo Pacheco at [email protected].


This research is supported by USAID funding for CIFOR’s Governing Oil Palm Landscapes for Sustainability (GOLS) project, and this work is partly funded by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development KNOWFOR Program Grant to CIFOR.

This research is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA), which is funded by CGIAR Fund Donors.

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