Collective action needed to increase the market for sustainable palm oil in Thailand

Writer: Agriculture and Food Cluster Team

Engaging oil palm smallholders in the supply chain could be key to transforming the palm oil industry
From left to right: Dr. Bernd Christiansen, Counselor for Agriculture and Food, The Embassy of Germany, Mr. Prakarn Verakul, Advisor of the National Bureau of Agricultural Commodity and Food Standards, Dr. Kanokwan Saswattecha, SCPOPP Project Manager, GIZ Thailand, Radda Larpnun, RSPO Technical Manager, Mr. Sanin Triyanon, Chairman of Thai Biodiesel Producer Association and Managing Director of PatumVegetable Oil Company Limited, and Dr. Matthias Bickel, Director of Agriculture and Food, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, Thailand
Bangkok, 3 December, 2020Thai policymakers, business actors, and consumers have a key role to play in supporting sustainable palm oil by demanding it from their favourite brands and encouraging Thai smallholders to gain improved access to international markets through the global certification standard.
These topics were heavily discussed during a business forum “Road to Transforming the Sustainable Palm Oil Market in Thailand” held at the Hotel Nikko Bangkok and co-hosted by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, through their Sustainable and Climate-friendly Palm Oil Production Project (SCPOPP).
Dr. Matthias Bickel, Director of Agriculture and Food, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, Thailand, gave an opening speech
Speaking at the event, Dr. Matthias Bickel, GIZ Director of Agriculture and Food Cluster, said “Mobilising investments in knowledge and micro-finance capacity for oil palm smallholders and local communities to shift toward sustainable palm oil production is essential for improving local livelihoods and the global food supply while reducing the climate and environmental impact.”
GIZ works with both public and private partners to promote sustainable palm oil production in Thailand, following the RSPO standards and have organised a series of ongoing training sessions to enhance smallholders’ capacity of sustainable agricultural practices to achieve RSPO certification, and gain improved access to international markets.
The RSPO Business Forum also features a panel discussion on the topic: Challenges and Opportunities for Sustainable Palm Oil Uptake in Thailand.
“Through the SCPOPP, we aim to train over 3,000 oil palm smallholders on sustainable practices, as well as reduce 9,600 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions from oil palm cultivation and production costs by 20%, within 2022,”  Dr. Bickel said.
Beverley Postma, RSPO’s Chief Executive Officer-Designate, said “Ensuring greater inclusion of smallholders in sustainable solutions that positively impact their livelihoods has long been a goal of the RSPO Secretariat and our members. We recognise the important role smallholders play in market transformation and we see this as a shared Responsibility that all players in the palm oil supply chain must commit to supporting.”
Oil palm smallholders account for the majority of oil palm production in Thailand, yet they lack opportunities to access microfinance programmes, skills and knowledge about sustainable farming, and certification standards which would enable them to access global markets.

Beverley added, “Last year, our membership adopted the RSPO Independent Smallholder (ISH) Standard, which aims to help more smallholders achieve certification through a stepwise mechanism, while adhering to the key sustainability requirements. Although 2020 has been a challenging year for all with the global pandemic, we are seeing positive progress towards ISH certification and we hope to see Thai smallholders attain this in the near future.”

At present, RSPO certified palm oil represents 19% (17.11 million tonnes) of the total global palm oil supply and in Thailand, RSPO certified sustainable palm oil accounts for just 2.8% of the country’s total palm oil supply.
Sanin Triyanon , Chairman of the Thai Biodiesel Producer Association and Managing Director of Patum Vegetable Oil Company Limited, said, “There is room to grow for the sustainable palm oil market in Thailand as more consumers in major consuming countries are demanding sustainable palm oil products that support communities and safeguard the environment.”

Sanin added that unlike neighbouring oil palm producing countries in Southeast Asia, Thailand’s palm oil industry does not face the same international pressure on environmental concerns. It is still vital that medium and large-scale oil palm growers work with oil palm smallholders to enhance their productivity and improve livelihoods. Raising public awareness on palm oil consumption is also essential for market competitiveness at both the domestic and international level.

“Collaboration with not only policymakers in setting direction and implementation guidelines, but also the private sector in working directly with the smallscale oil palm growers and consumers are key steps to transforming Thailand’s palm oil production to meeting the international standard,” he said.

Pathum Vegetable Oil has become the first Thai company certified by RSPO for responsible oil palm plantation management in 2012. The certification, awarded by the RSPO accredited certification body, endorses the company’s business has complied with global demand for sustainable palm oil production.
Ms. Salinla Seehaphan, Director of Corporate Affairs, Tesco Lotus
Mr. Prakarn Verakul, Advisor of the National Bureau of Agricultural Commodity and Food Standards
Dr. Bernd Christiansen, Counselor for Agriculture and Food, The Embassy of Germany in Bangkok, gave the opening remarks.
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