A policy network analysis of the palm oil sector in Indonesia: What sustainability to expect?

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The palm oil sector has been targeted by NGOs for its alleged negative environmental and social impacts. In this regard Indonesia represents a major challenge because it is home to some of the largest tropical forests in the world. A recent wave of corporate sustainability commitments peaked with the New York Declaration on Forests in September 2014, which emerged amidst the development of other standards and initiatives toward sustainable palm oil production. This process has made this field very complex, especially in Indonesia. The present study aims at clarifying the positions taken by the various stakeholders and assesses the level of political support and the functioning of policy networks.
Results from our Policy Network Analysis based on the survey of 59 institutions representing all types of stakeholders (e.g. government, corporate, NGO) at all levels (international, Indonesian and local) show that standards and initiatives for sustainability have contrasting visibility and impact among stakeholders. In this context, RSPO stands as a reference, with the efforts by the Government of Indonesia to promote its own standard with ISPO yet to gain traction. While IPOP was a well-appreciated initiative and a symbol of zero-deforestation commitments, opposition to it by the government and conflicting interests have resulted in its disbandment. Overall, the lack of progress for sustainable palm oil practices on the ground, in the view of respondents, seems to be caused by political and legal barriers rather than technical challenges or economic losses at a country level.

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