Independent oil palm smallholder management practices and yields : Can RSPO certification make a difference?

Vos, Rosanne E. De; Suwarno, Aritta; Slingerland, Maja; Meer, Peter J. Van Der; Lucey, Jennifer M.


Smallholders are a substantial part of the oil palm sector and thus are key to achieving more sustainable production. However, so far their yields remain below potential. The Roundtable on Sustainable Oil Palm (RSPO) aims to include smallholders in sustainability certification to strengthen rural livelihoods and reduce negative environmental impacts. This study aims to determine if and how certified smallholders perform differently from their non-certified counterparts in terms of management practices and yields, and to what extent this is related to RSPO certification. Certified smallholders had significantly better management practices in terms of planting material (tenera) and fertiliser use (16.8 vs 4.8 bags ha-1 yr-1) and had significantly higher yields (22.5 vs 14.5 ton fresh fruit bunches ha-11 yr-11, corrected for palm age). Planting material and harvesting frequency significantly explained higher yields. These differences could not be attributed to certification per se but were probably due to pre-certification conditions, including strong group organisation. It remains a question as to how sustainability certification can be a driver of change by including smallholders who have relatively larger yield gaps, and who lag behind in eligibility criteria for certification.