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GAR in 2017: making sustainable palm oil a reality on the ground

Posted: Jan 12, 2017 4 minute read Lim Shu Ling 0 Likes

As we kick off 2017 it is traditional to predict likely trends, make commitments and set some goals for the new year. 2017 promises to be an interesting year on the global political stage.  At GAR, it is likely to be a year of consolidation. The last two years saw tremendous change and challenge. We launched the GAR Social and Environmental Policy (GSEP); our sustainability team was significantly increased; we launched new programmes to help tackle fires before they start; to work with communities to conserve forests and to help bring our suppliers along our sustainability journey.

In 2017 we want to ensure the foundations established in the last 18-24 months are built on as we continue our own sustainability transformation and contribute to the needed changes across the sector.

Working with communities on practical conservation

We have identified an area the size of Singapore to be set aside for conservation across our concessions. Now we have to find practical ways of carrying out the conservation. Often in a discussion about no deforestation or zero deforestation, the different and conflicting needs of local communities who have to make a living or grow food in the same area are not taken fully into account. This is something that GAR cannot afford to do.

As the largest palm oil grower in Indonesia, our licence to operate is dependent on securing community support for all our programmes including conservation. We’ve been working hard at this through our Participatory Mapping (PM) exercises and our Participatory Conservation Planning (PCP) with local communities. This requires intense engagement and discussion with communities. We’ve had some early success in 2016 with four communities signing up to conserve over 5,600 hectares of forest, and we will continue to build on this with plans to roll out the initiative to 25 more villages. We see this inclusive, consultative work as a very promising solution for practicable conservation on the ground. It goes to the heart of how we intend to carry out our conservation commitments – through taking into account of and achieving a balance between community needs, economic growth and environmental protection.

Fortunately, we did not see a return of the devastating haze of 2015 last year. Yet forest fires are an annual and persistent concern and finding ways to curb burning on the ground remains a thorny problem requiring the collaboration of many stakeholders.

GAR - Desa Siaga ApiOur Desa Siaga Api programme was launched nearly a year ago and we have just finished evaluating the villages participating in the project. Results will be announced soon and villages will be eligible for support for a range of community infrastructure projects based on how well they controlled fire incidents in their area last year. It takes intense, collaborative effort on the ground to tackle this long-running issue and we will use the lessons learned to build stronger programmes.

We also launched a Peat Ecosystem Rehabilitation Project in West Kalimantan. This is where we have had to devise practical protection-production partnerships in order to ensure the project’s success. We are testing out Alternative Livelihood programmes here, working with the community to offer them other ways of earning an income and ensuring food security without encroaching into or disturbing sensitive ecosystems like peat lands. Initial projects include helping communities set up organic vegetable gardens, which can be done sustainably and helps boosts incomes when farmers sell the surplus.

working with communities

Creating a responsible and sustainable supply chain

The debate concerning engagement versus exclusion when it comes to cleaning up the supply chain shows no sign of abating. We will continue to follow our philosophy that engagement in the first instance is more likely to trigger changes we want to see, with disengagement as an avenue of last resort.

Our Traceability to the Plantation (TTP) exercise is well underway – in 2016 we achieved 85 percent TTP for GAR-owned mills and expect to complete mapping the supply chain back to the origin for GAR mills by the end of this year. This is important in terms of transparency and providing information to customers who want to know where the product comes from. But more crucially this has allowed us to deepen our engagement with our suppliers and we will continue to reach out to more of them in 2017 including smallholders.

Traceability to plantation

In 2016 we conducted 26 field visits to supplier mills and we plan to visit 17 more in 2017 to see for ourselves how our suppliers operate. We’ll be using the data collected on these visits to help come up with action plans for supplier improvement. This will be carried out through training and more SMART Seed Workshops in the coming months.

Partnerships to improve the sector

This year, we will move ahead with partnerships within the industry and with our customers to focus on the people who work in the industry. We will be homing in on key areas such as helping smallholders achieve certification for sustainable palm oil – this opens up new markets for them while improving their agricultural practices.  We provide jobs for over 170,000 people in Indonesia and through a partnership with our industry peers, we will be looking at how to ensure we are complying with our commitments to fair labour practices under the GAR Social and Environmental Policy (GSEP).

2017 promises to be a full and busy year – expect more updates on this blog.

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