Editorial: Time for new strategies?

There’s a pricey proposal from the RSPO and increased supply-chain pressure. Key markets cool while producer biodiesel efforts slowly get into gear. Add on Indonesia’s shift to implement a landholding ceiling and Malaysia’s policy adjustments for sustainability. Top this all off with no clarity on a trajectory for haze smog alleviation. Overall, the palm oil sector faces unprecedented cost parameter and growth model challenges. Time to restrategize?

First, reconsider the role of palm oil in local energy use. Malaysia’s biogas directive is a good starting point. Set for 2014 launch, it requires every mill to set up a biogas facility for methane capture; presumably to improve the greenhouse gas (GHG) profile for Malaysian palm oil. Aside from implementation and technological risks, there are obvious suggestions to improve Malaysia’s feed-in tariff for biogas power and allow easier grid connection. Khor Reports suggests a feasibility study on microgrids for remote areas. In the semi-urban zone this might challenge an incumbent power utility and it would work less well in countries with subsidized power. However, could this help firmly establish the localized use of palm biogas, biomass and biodiesel? Many developing countries sorely need power in certain rural areas. They could encourage mills siting next to a mining facility or another energy hungry user. Economists might plan for processing clusters that could aid rural development.

How about on sustainability? Redd+ efforts are of interest to policy makers, despite Ecuador’s Yasuni alternative funding model finding insufficient takers. The opportunity cost may have long pointed to oil palm development instead of conservation. How can this be improved for viability? Peat lands are probably the prime areas for such efforts and new proposals at the RSPO could tilt the financial calculus. What about the RSPO? It has helped some large plantations maintain market access to the large global brands. Khor Reports has long been of the view that its exclusive / non-inclusive strategy has obvious limits. Its planners poorly recognize the fact that small farmers in developing countries just aren’t like those back home in Europe. How will even more exclusivity via the Palm Oil Innovation Group become of general relevance? Notably, the RSPO’s gold standard approach already has limited if no hope of addressing key problems, including the annual peat smog. Thus, we challenge sustainability experts to this task: get rid of the peat smog problem within three years. NGOs and corporate players from various sectors (not just palm oil) need to get “down and dirty” to effect change at the local and provincial levels. Help small growers and farmers. Do something about raising the water tables in fire prone areas? Governments could facilitate. The current voluntary, top-down (so called market-led) efforts, hardly seem fit for such purpose. What can sustainability do for the peat smog that hits annually? We need a new bottoms-up approach.

In this issue, we feature Asian palm oil and consumer good companies eyeing West Africa’s market prospects, with instant noodles as a key product. I eat more than the average 14 packs per year, helping global consumption exceed 100 billion packets in 2012. Some academics reckon it has helped alleviate global hunger. While interest of the EU and US in biofuels dips, Neste Oil’s renewable fuel business boosts its prospects. In sustainability, certification is expanding and NGO campaigning in the US is in the limelight. What are hot topics for the upcoming RSPO Roundtable? Its proposed Compensation Procedure bares its financial teeth, with retroactive charges and fees on non-RSPO. Khor Reports conservatively estimates an initial USD 500 mill paid by growers, most likely into NGO hands for conservation.

Source: Khor Report's Palm Oil Nov/Dec 2013, Issue 5 (released)