Panel 16. Governing palm oil by the SDGs

There is wide consensus that food and agriculture systems in both the North and the South need to be changed to face global challenges of feeding 10 billion people, eliminating poverty in the world, supporting energy transitions, and developing environmentally sustainable systems. Transformation of food and agriculture systems is key to realizing the SDGs. Governing such change requires changing governance of food and agriculture systems in the North and the South, and global value chains that connect them.

Given the high potential of food and agriculture systems to contribute to many SDGs, a fragmented or silo-ed approach that focuses on one policy domain or SDG, is not very helpful. However, this is exactly characterizing much of the governance and policies on palm oil: palm oil is being discussed by many different ministries and departments in both Indonesia and Europe, each often approaching palm oil in a fragmented or silo-ed way. For instance, quite some EU agencies and governments have qualified all palm oil as a contributor to deforestation, such to legitimize the stop on import of palm oil to make biofuels and to favor use of domestically grown vegetable oils for this purpose. This silo-ed approach has not only created blind spots for the different and effective measures taken by the Indonesian government to curb deforestation but also turned attention away from the contribution of palm oil to various SDGs. Comparative studies of palm oil and other vegetable oil crops have been done, but were often focused on one domain or SDGs. This has resulted in biased views and easy disqualification of palm oil vis-a-vis other vegetable oil crops. As a result, the versatile crop of palm oil has been scapegoated, not giving room to holistic, comparative analysis of palm oil and other vegetable oil crops.

This panel calls for papers of academics, policymakers and practitioners, that explore how and why the sustainability of palm oil can be governed by the SDGs, and what this would entail for changing governance and developing partnerships at different levels and in different arenas. Some more specific questions are:

  • What indicators can be used to assess the contribution of palm oil to the SDGs, and what are the underlying assumptions?

  • How useful and telling can a comparison be between palm oil and vegetable oil crops in terms of their contribution to the SDGs?

  • What does governing of sustainable palm oil by the SDGs imply for 'internal' coordination between different ministries of Indonesia and other palm oil producing countries, and between different ministries of palm oil importing countries?

  • What kind of new, international governance arrangements can be designed to foster Government-to-Government dialogue and Science-to-Science dialogue on the contribution of palm oil to the SDGs?