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Olam first in Africa to achieve RSPO certification for oil palm plantation

Singapore-headed global agri-business major Olam International (Olam) has announced that had crossed a "significant milestone" after its first oil palm plantation in Gabon went from being the first in Africa to receive the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) New Planting Procedure verification to becoming the first-ever new development in Africa to have its working plantation and mill, RSPO certified. As a result, Africa-based RSPO certified plantation area has increased by 30 percent.

According to a statement, the Awala plantation in Gabon was Olam’s first venture into upstream palm plantations in a 60-40 joint-venture (JV) with the Republic of Gabon. Development began in 2011 as one of two major projects for the Olam Palm Gabon (OPG) in the country.

The plantation of 6 700 hectares (ha) lies within a 20 000 ha lease, the remainder of which the company says is actively managed by OPG for biodiversity conservation, forest carbon, and protection of water catchments, in fulfilment of RSPO requirements. The certification has single-handedly boosted Africa’s RSPO certified production hectares by 30 percent from 21 666 ha.

Africa is the home of oil palm and many think it does not have the necessary infrastructure or governance to support high international standards. This certification shows what can be achieved for any new or old palm plantation development on the continent, said Ranveer Chauhan, Managing Director and CEO of Palm Oil and Natural Rubber at Olam.

The Awala plantation employs some 1 200 staff, more than 90 percent of whom are Gabonese nationals. The land for the plantation ventures in Gabon was acquired from the government on leasehold and the Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) process was “diligently” followed.

The social management plan was developed through active consultations and as per these plans, OPG has also supplied infrastructure and amenities to surrounding communities such as roads, lighting, water pumps and schools, as well as providing medical facilities.

Our teams have worked hard to ensure that the development has brought social and economic benefits. With our partner, the Republic of Gabon, we are conscious of the environmental responsibility that we carry which is why across our palm plantations we have set aside a total of 61 000 ha for biodiversity. We were also the first to publish a fully independent High Carbon Stock analysis of our plantation footprint. We recognise that plantations can only remain sustainable if we maintain those high levels of commitment every day, said Gagan Gupta, Country Head of Gabon at Olam.

Mouila next for certification

The other major development for OPG is the Mouila plantation which lies to the south of Awala. In Mouila, OPG has already planted 31 000 ha in full compliance with RSPO guidelines and is progressing towards certification of that area in 2017 as planned. As in Awala, Mouila will also have a very significant area set aside for conservation requirements as per the RSPO guidelines.

Of all vegetable oils, palm oil produces the highest yields per hectare. Currently, about 17 percent of the world’s supply of palm oil is certified as sustainable. However, customer demand for sustainable palm oil is rapidly increasing and RSPO is targeting 100 percent uptake of certified oil in Europe alone by 2020. Ensuring we are certified is therefore not just the right thing to do but makes sound business sense, said Chauhan.

Upon reaching full production capacity by 2023, the two plantations will deliver up to 22 tonnes of fresh fruit bunches (FFB) and 5.2 tonnes of oil per hectare, significantly complementing the existing stock of sustainable palm production in Africa.

We commend Olam for embedding sustainability at the very start of their operations, it’s a good step to avoid any negative impacts on people, planet and profit. It is critical for all companies, especially those operating in a new frontier like Gabon, to plan and account for sustainability practices in land development processes from the start. We rely on all of our members in Africa to be outstanding ambassadors for sustainability, hopefully as models for sustainable transformation in Africa, said Datuk Darrel Webber, CEO of RSPO.

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