Non-state Certification of Sustainable Palm Oil for Smallholders in Sumatra, Indonesia

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Indonesia’s continued deforestation over the past 50 years is of global concern in terms of both biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation. Indonesia is the largest producer of palm oil in the world, where agricultural expansion is one of the leading causes of deforestation. On the island of Sumatra, oil palm plantations are the primary driver of forest conversion. Non-state certification programs, such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), have recently been promoted as providing financial incentives for palm oil producers to use sustainable business practices. However, there have been limited empirical studies on how this certification scheme is perceived by small-scale farmers. We surveyed 181 certified independent smallholders in two sites in Jambi, Sumatra, to understand: (1) the challenges and benefits of participating in the certification program; (2) the willingness of independent smallholders to continue their participation; and 3) the factors affecting their willingness. We compare the results from two sites and also examine intra-site differences between those who manage the farmers’ group (governing members) and those who do not (regular members). Governing members are on average middle-aged, more educated, own older plantations, and have higher income levels than regular members in both sites. Governing members are also more knowledgeable than regular members about the costs and benefits of certification. Regular members are in general not very well aware of the challenges of maintaining certification. Both governing and regular members are aware of the need for organizational support, especially in the early stages of certification. Most of the respondents recognize the benefits of certification, including both nonfinancial (e.g. knowledge, market access, and social recognition) and financial benefits (e.g. sales from RSPO credits). While smallholders’ willingness to maintain the certification depends largely on their socioeconomic characteristics and perceived benefits of the certification, the influencing factors vary across the two sites. Although direct financial benefits may be small in total, they can be a strong motivator for farmers to continue the certification and for others to consider joining the groups when disbursed equitably in nonmonetary and communal form, such as shared food. Smallholders recognize that improved production and access to training from the certification process lead to higher yields of oil palm and are seen as indirect financial benefits of RSPO. However, they are not enough to motivate them to continue the certification and pay the costs. In the group with a longer history of certification, their willingness to maintain the certification depends on physical capital (assets, and age of plantation), financial benefit (sales from RSPO credits), and nonfinancial benefit (recognition). However, in the recently certified group, smallholders’ willingness to maintain the certification mostly depends on the socioeconomic characteristics of individual farmers (status in farmers’ group, farmers age, and land size). The socioeconomic variables collected in this study provide important insights about the characteristics of the leaders (governing members). The information can be used to target early adopters in communities to initiate the RSPO process in farmers’ groups. Our results show that perceived benefits of the certification significantly influence independent smallholders’ willingness to continue in the group, but only among those with a longer history of certification. Knowing this can help us develop different facilitation strategies at each stage of the certification development for independent smallholders.

    Northern Arizona University

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    Apriani, E.




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