Achieving sustainability in the agricultural sector is one of the most complex challenges of modern times. The sector’s multiple interactions with diverse development priorities raise discomfort and anxiety among traditional stakeholders. The same questions are raised again and again and echo across the globe: “Are sustainable markets paying off?” “Is the government helping?” “Where is our gain?” “Do we need to comply with yet another stringent environmental law?”
However, the reason why the agricultural sector should bet on a full conversion to sustainable practices goes beyond environmental self-consciousness. This conversion has several motivating factors and does not follow an already established pattern. It is the result of a combination of factors among which economic feasibility, social relevance, and environmental awareness, are just a few. Chief among these is the increasing impact of environmental policies and international market preferences, where concern for conserving biodiversity and reducing carbon emissions is increasing steadily.
“Motivation and readiness converged during the recent creation of the Inter-institutional Committee on Sustainable Oil Palm (CIPS, by its Spanish acronym) which will be in charge of implementing the Sustainable Oil Palm Production Initiative.”
The path to sustainability is unique from case to case. Even within the same country, what works for one sector may not be applicable to another. At the end, sustainability involves a permanent exercise of multi-scale and multi-factor analysis that relies on a continuous strategy of persuasion. In the case of Ecuador, changing scenarios, such as severe macroeconomic conditions in a dollarised economy, or the fall of the international price of palm oil, make these decisions more difficult, as it is the case currently. However, the challenge has been accepted by the palm oil sector.
As illustrated above, the motivation for the palm oil sector to rebrand, rethink, and reinvent itself is the result of many factors and the readiness of the sector to assume larger commitments. Motivation and readiness converged during the recent creation of the Inter-institutional Committee on Sustainable Oil Palm (CIPS, by its Spanish acronym) which will be in charge of implementing the Sustainable Oil Palm Production Initiative in Ecuador, lead jointly by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Environment.
The Sustainable Oil Palm Production Initiative started with the implementation of the REDD+ Sustainable Oil Palm Action Plan for the Amazon Basin, as part of REDD+ National Action Plan – “Forests for Good Living, 2016-2025”. This is an initiative led by the Ecuadorian Ministries of Environment and Agriculture and supported by the UN-REDD Programme, which engaged the oil palm sector to commence a comprehensive discussion on how to implement sustainable practices for oil palm to decrease and hopefully cease deforestation in the Amazon provinces. One result of these discussions was the CIPS platform. This platform would serve as a forum for discussion and decision making towards the implementation of the sustainable oil palm plans resulting from the REDD+ Action Plan.
“The Sustainable Oil Palm Production Initiative started with the implementation of the REDD+ Sustainable Oil Palm Action Plan for the Amazon Basin, as part of REDD+ National Action Plan.”
CIPS was formed last year by the Ministry of Agriculture, along with the private sector, and NGOs such as Conservation International, World Wildlife Foundation and the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) that support the initiative. At its first meeting, representatives of sectors such as the Ministries of Foreign Commerce and Industry and Productivity, local governments and representatives of the different sectors of the palm oil supply chain were nominated. Last month, the Ministry of Environment joined the committee, adding its capacity to implement new environmental and sustainability policies to the platform’s overall potential.
The first duty of the CIPS is to incorporate civil society organisations, small producers, and academia as part of it. To do so, the Ministry of Agriculture is conducting a process to involve them based on an open call and on principles of objectivity, transparency and non-discrimination.
The CIPS will focus on issues related to high conservation values and the reduction of deforestation, among others, which are supported by an initiative funded by the Global Environmental Facility and the Green Climate Fund implemented for the Amazon Basin, called Programa Integral Amazónico de Conservación de Bosques y Producción Sostenible “PROAmazonía”, as well as by the Ministry of Environment of Italy and soon Italian private companies, too. This work will initially focus on the Amazon Provinces and advance later to the rest of the country.
The CIPS is seeking to advance a new environmental governance model that will be essential as more Ecuadorian companies undergo the RSPO certification process, and many are close to finalising it. The Committee will also be a central space for dialogue and coordination as many markets, especially the EU, are discussing trade-related environmental sanctions on palm oil biofuels and are debating more stringent certification schemes for palm oil production. The Committee will provide important guidance when Ecuadorian authorities and the different stakeholders involved in the Committee come to an agreement on how to move forward in relation to the sustainability of oil palm production.
“The shift towards sustainable palm oil production is fundamentally about people, human rights and development."
For the Ecuadorian government as well as for the Ecuadorian private sector, the transition towards sustainable oil palm production is not solely about forest conservation, or carbon stocks or watershed management. Nor it is just about capturing a greater share of trade in a premium market. The shift towards sustainable oil palm production is fundamentally about people, human rights, and development. In a country where 90 percent of oil palm producers are small farmers, the ability to produce sustainably and access the international market for sustainable palm oil is paramount.
CIPS has taken on a complex task. There are many challenges for small producers and communities which will have to be discussed and solved creatively, in order to advance on the path to sustainability in the oil palm sector.
The bet is on.
The information and views set out in this guest blog post are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the UN-REDD Programme.