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DSDS will look at 'farm to fork' sustainability of palm oil industry: Darrel Webber, RSPO

Jan 29, 2013

Darrel Webber, Secretary General, Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), talks about the importance the edible oil industry is putting on sustainable supply chains that do not damage the environment. Ahead of the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit 2013 where global trends in the industry will be discussed, Webber talks about how organisations globally are helping the industry get over its challenges.

OneWorld South Asia: What are the major challenges that need to be addressed to bring about sustainability in the supply chain of production and consumption of edible oils?

Darrel Webber: The demand for edible oils globally has increased rapidly in the past decade, catapulted by a combination of factors. The main driver for expansion is still the growing demand of edible oils for the food market, although an important part of this demand comes from the biodiesel sector. The recent trend has witnessed a huge demand for some newer categories of oil segments like palm oil, followed by soya bean oil and mustard oil. Palm oil is the world’s highest yielding crop with an output, and given its versatile application in a wide variety of products, palm oil is gaining widespread adoption in favour of other crops. But, future growth of this commodity will not be without challenges like deforestation, the loss of biodiversity, and social conflicts – such as disagreements between plantation owners, local communities and indigenous peoples. The goal of RSPO and its partners is to help make sustainable palm oil the edible oil of choice, thereby transforming the market into a sustainable one, and meet growing demand without further destroying biodiversity. But there are a few other challenges that confront the edible oil market, for example low awareness in key markets like India and China on the impacts of increasing demand for palm oil

OWSA: Among these challenges, the destruction of tropical rain forests and drainage of peat areas are some of the major challenges right from Brazil to South East Asia. How are these challenges being met?

DB: Deforestation and drainage of peat land as we all know removes ‘carbon sinks’, leading to increased greenhouse gas emissions. In South East Asia, an important source of deforestation has been the clearing of forests to create land to grow palm oil. RSPO has set guidelines which ensure that tropical rain forests are no longer destroyed to meet the growing demands of palm oil. It has set strict standards for responsible oil palm plantations, coupled with an independent system for auditing plantations, mills and the supply chain right up to the end users. Apart from that, WWF-India, one of the founding members of RSPO, has been also consistently promoting environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable practices in the Indian palm oil industry. It works by spreading awareness about the environmental and social problems associated with unsustainable palm oil and more importantly, influencing Indian companies to commit to purchasing certified sustainable palm oil. Another partner in this change is the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) that helps drive and communicate sustainability improvements throughout the value chain of the consumer goods industry.

OWSA: In the global context, what is your perspective about the edible oil scenario in India?

DB: Edible oils constitute an important part of food expenditure in the Indian household; the demand for edible oils in India has shown a compounded growth of 4.5 per cent over the last 10 years. India plays an important role in the global edible oil market. The recent trend has witnessed a huge demand for palm oil which accounts for 46 per cent share of total oil consumption in the country, followed by soya bean oil and mustard oil occupying 16 per cent and 14 per cent share of the total oil consumption respectively. Beginning 2007-08, the Government of India has been reducing import duties on edible oils, both refined and crude in the face of the low productivity in India, and demand consistently outstripping domestic production. It is estimated that India’s imports of edible oil during 2012-13 will be in the region of 10.31 million tonnes compared to 9.78 million tonnes in 2011-12. Government initiatives to promote palm oil plantations via Oil Palm Area Expansion Programme (OPAE under RKVY and ISOPOM programme), interest by MNC’s to adopt palm oil plantations, and the utility of palm plantations towards various industrial application especially as a bio fuel help in the growth of this sector.

OWSA: You are participating in the discussion on 'Global Trends in Sustainable Production, Procurement and Sourcing of Edible Oils' at the DSDS 2013. What will be the highlights of the session?

DB: The session will focus on the major issues concerning the industry so as to seek  sustainability along the entire supply chain “from farm to fork” which can be achieved by  way of creating sustainable and strong alliances of farmers with the processors, conserving the respective oil belts diversity, developing standards of sustainability in collaboration with sustainable agriculture networks, increasing the stakeholders as a probable solution for checking the price volatility existent in the market, and opting for responsible procurement strategies. The focal points for the session would range from discussing emerging oil segments, discuss emerging markets, the major challenges and the way to go to create sustainable supply mechanisms.

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