Universiti Malaya roundtable. Fire-haze-smoke a new dimension to sustainability - is Sabah the first jurisdictional mover?

Editor's note: I attended a useful roundtable session hosted by Universiti Malaya yesterday. Thanks to Dr Helena Varkkey as convenor and the various institutes at UM who organized this.

The concern of "haze free"* appeared among KL discussants. Sustainability certification promoters note that large companies have made good pledges not to source from those with peat development. There was some questions about the limited reach of certification, and suggestions to look at better disclosure from palm oil refineries in the supply chain. The issue of smallholder incomes in the peat haze zones was also discussed, alongside frank view on what Malaysia and Asean might or might not be able to do. Economic solutions were mooted. Also, black-listing or boycotts that damage peat zone smallholder incomes (already they cannot afford more costly no-fire methods) was a concern. El Nino is considered not to be a controlling factor in the fire-haze-smoke situation anymore (it being an annual affair now). The profit motivation to develop on peat was discussed in much detail - peat zones being relatively uninhabited zones and not having native land rights claimants are prime zones for large-scale development as the land frontier closes. The need to re-wet these zones and proposals to seek alternative crops (it was highlighted that palm oil is one of the few crops that can thrive in the acidic wet conditions) for these regions was called on. Sabah's 10 year time frame to go wholly sustainable on palm oil was also noted. For Indonesia, the question of power and the decentralization of power between province and Jakarta was noted as a challenge to regulatory implementation.

* "Haze free" is also prominent with Singapore-based activists and Singapore media

Editor's notes on sustainability implications:
  • From a sustainability viewpoint, we should expect that different regions will consider differentiating themselves on the fire-haze-smoke criterion (you only need to look at the online maps offered by the likes of WRI - Global Forest Watch and ASMC to see the geographic concentration of the problem). In this regard, the Sabah move (see newslink below) could be the first of other such jurisdictional programmes. Naturally, this may challenge the idea of national and multi-national combinations to market palm oil (and even the corporate group as the basis of 100% certification, already challenged by the traceability alternatives in the processing value-chain) - but is a prime example of market forces coming into play.
  • Fire-haze-smoke (territorial basis) could be a new dimension to  sustainability that currently doesn't exist. The current pledges by refineries and PK crushers for "no peat" sourcing (basis is companies not developing on peat) is uncertain since corporate disaggregation can obfuscate the very good aim of this policy (the issue of ownership-control is far from transparent). Also, third-party sourcing of oil palm FFB remains a challenging one for certifiers and sustainability at large.
  • A jurisdictional - territorial basis is more transparent and more decisive - especially when mapped against hot-spot (haze-smoke) generating peat areas. It is an apparently logical conclusion, that palm oil mill district location will emerge as an element in decision-making. Sabah is decisively kick-starting this process.
  • Peat experts (at the UM roundtable) noted that palm oil zones north of the equator (looking good so far on the fire-haze-smoke dimension versus their south-of-the-equator counterparts) should not be complacent. So far (2H2015), they have had good rainfall (indeed, I've heard some tell of "perfect rainfall conditions"), and they need to be ready to tackle fire risks in their upcoming 2Q2016 dry season. Technical NGOs have provided the industry and buyers with rather high transparency via remote sensing data overlaid on concession maps. While these need to be properly gound-truthed, the work onus falls on the supply-chains players in the fire-haze-smoke districts.


Sabah to get CPO certified as sustainable palm oil November 5, 2015; The State Government of Sabah has decided to launch a 10-year jurisdictional program to have all crude palm oil (CPO) produced from Sabah to be certified as sustainable palm oil or CSPO.... This was decided at a cabinet meeting on October 21, this year, after taking account of all factors and oil palm being a crucial crop for Sabah’s wellbeing, Sabah Forestry Department director Datuk Sam Mannan disclosed in a statement yesterday... He said a committee would be established to implement the programme, to be headed by the Secretary of Natural Resources, with the Forestry Department providing interim secretarial support. “RSPO and Forever Sabah, an NGO, will provide technical advice, and relevant parties including NGOs, government departments, scientific organisations, etc, shall be co-opted into the committee. “It is anticipated that funding to implement the program on a step by step strategy, will come from many sources, including the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), corporate donors, the oil palm sector itself, etc. The Forestry Department shall support the endeavour in kind,” said Mannan.
Read more: http://www.theborneopost.com/2015/11/05/sabah-to-get-cpo-certified-as-sustainable-palm-oil/#ixzz3qffHcZnx