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Track Down the Harmony of Sustainable Palm Oil and Regenerative Agriculture

Foto by Aceng Sofian/sawitfest 2021
Track Down the Harmony of Sustainable Palm Oil and Regenerative Agriculture

InfoSAWIT, KUALA LUMPUR – For more than a century, palm oil has been planted as monoculture with many kinds of economic and management practices to optimally develop and get production. In the past two decades, palm oil plantation cultivation developed and covered environmental and social aspects, confirmed its sustainable production, and positively delivered impacts for man and planet.

Many sustainability standards have been adopted, for instance, RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil), MSPO (Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil), ISCC (International Sustainability and Carbon Certification), and ISPO (Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil) to realize the goals.

Teoh Cheng Hai, the first General Secretary of RSPO and senior advisor of Solifromdad Network Asia thought, the subjective assessment about the best management practices (BMP) showed the strong harmony with regenerative agricultural principles that would focus on the health of soil, water, natural diversity, and climate mitigation.

BMP that positively delivered impacts, covered the ban to plant in forest regions, the ban to plant in peat in any depth, the good care in high conservation values (HCV) and high carbon stock (HCS).

“The practices are in harmony with no deforestation, no peat and no exploitation (NDPE) that are regulated in RSPO Principles and Criteria 2018 and MSPO 2022. NDPE is widely implemented by every sustainable palm oil chain supply, such as, smallholders until the financial institutions,” Teoh Cheng Hai said, as InfoSAWIT quoted from The Edge Malaysia- Week, April 2024 edition.

Teoh Cheng Hai continued, even though BMP to get sustainable palm oil production, is overlapping with regenerative agriculture, there are difference in results from the two approaches. RSPO focuses on three main pillars, such as, man, earth, and prosperity while regenerative agriculture emphasized the health of soil, natural diversity, and the change from monocultural (system).

It is very crucial to maintain the health of soil for palm oil plantations that would economically have life cycle for about 25 years. Cultivating land, such as, the planting of land cover, the use of empty bunches as organic mulch, would play significant roles to maintain the soil fertility. The planting of land cover, such as, beans, for instance, would return the organic materials and escalate the soil fertility through nitrogen fixation in the soil.

“But the challenges are ahead namely about the availability of empty bunches that are often used as the materials for renewable energy. Empty bunches used as mulch would be useful as a long term – economic circular more than it as material for renewable energy,” Teoh Cheng Hai noted.

There is a perspective saying that regenerative agriculture could be the alternative system that would change monocultural (system). The article in China and Mongabay Dialogue supported palm oil intercrops and other plants to escalate the health of soil, absorb carbon, and escalate the smallholders’ income. Even though the smallholders planted intercrops as long as palm oil plantations were immature, it would be very challenging.

From many experiences to develop sustainable palm oil supply chain, the consumers would need verification from the third parties that their commodity (products) had been produced in regenerative agricultural principles.

Knowing that BMP to produce sustainable palm oil and regenerative agriculture are overlapping, RSPO, MSPO, and other certification system should adjust and reinforce their standards to qualify every term and condition in regenerative agriculture.

But if the consumers required the raw materials should get certification, based on certain regenerative agricultural standards, there had been available certification schemes and did not need to develop specific standards in palm oil.

The significant sample is the regeneration standards that Solifromdad/Control Union pioneered that has certified 1.013.455 hectares of plantations and annual plantation, such as, palm oil and coffee that more than 90.000 hectares plantations have produced. The regeneration standards are the international scale – regenerative agricultural program to maintain the health of soil and people’s welfare where they live on around (the plantations). (T2)