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Henkel and Solidaridad launch digital platform for Colombian palm oil farmers

Germany-headed Henkel AG & Co. KGaA, a global manufacturer of adhesives, cosmetics, laundry- and consumer care products has announced that it is partnering with the international development organisation Solidaridad to promote sustainable palm oil and support smallholder farmers in Colombia. One of seven projects that Henkel is currently engaged in with Solidaridad around the world it has one important difference: leveraging digital technology to support and empower smallholders.

The project in Colombia is the seventh initiative of its type that Henkel and Solidaridad are currently engaging in together, and will provide independent farmers with training in efficient and sustainable farming methods (photo courtesy Fedepalma).

The project in Colombia supports farmers through an innovative new platform called Farming Solution. It was developed by Solidaridad to strengthen collaboration throughout the palm oil supply chain and empower smallholders to increase productivity, reduce environmental impacts and take important steps toward having their crops certified as sustainable. By doing this, it opens up new markets for small farmers and provides increased job stability for the local workforce.

This new project shows the massive potential for digital technology to drive progress toward sustainability. It represents another step forward with our commitment to going beyond buying certified palm oil and directly supporting the farmers who grow the oil palm fruit on small farms. We’re proud to be supporting this approach together with Solidaridad, said Professor Dr Thomas Müller-Kirschbaum, Head of Global Research and Development in Henkel’s Laundry & Home Care business unit.

A pioneering difference to farmers’ lives

Palm oil is an increasingly important commodity in South America. According to Henkel, the crop represented 3.3 percent of Colombia’s agricultural GDP in 2016, with 1.1 million tons of crude palm oil (CPO)  produced across 476 782 hectares (ha) of land.

Around half of this is produced by more than 5 000 Colombian smallholders – and these independent farmers face some challenges. For example, productivity on independent farms is estimated to be 40 percent lower than it is on the average large farm.

As many of the largest buyers of palm-related materials have made commitments to ensure that the oil and derivatives that they purchase are certified as sustainable, some smallholders may face a decrease in market access if their crops are not produced in line with criteria such as those from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

Digital tool empowering smallholders

This is what projects like this latest partnership between Henkel and Solidaridad seek to address and make a pioneering difference to farmers’ lives, by accelerating the adoption of sustainable practices.

Smallholders complete a self-assessment questionnaire to evaluate the challenges facing their specific farm. Based on this input, the tool develops a tailored set of recommendations for how to improve their agricultural practices using knowledge gathered from farmers’ associations and expert groups around the world.

We are delighted to have Henkel as a partner for this project in Colombia. The only way to create a truly sustainable supply chain is for companies to support progress on the ground, and include smallholders and workers in this process. Henkel has shown that it understands this and that the company is committed to building inclusive and sustainable supply chains, said Heske Verburg, Managing Director at Solidaridad.

Farmers then begin executing their unique action plan, with the help of supporting materials including an online library of manuals and tutorial videos. The platform allows farmers to monitor development and compare progress against peer group benchmarking data – so they can continually improve their practices and achieve sustainability certification for their crops.

This partnership in Colombia will improve the livelihoods of hundreds of independent oil palm farmers and thousands of workers in some of the poorest regions of Colombia by leveraging a new digital platform, and we’re looking forward to making a significant impact with this innovative tool, said Verburg.

Supporting sustainable practices along the entire palm oil value chain

This latest project in Colombia is the seventh initiative for palm oil smallholders that Henkel is currently supporting around the world, alongside others in Ghana, Honduras, Indonesia, Mexico, Nicaragua and Nigeria. The projects provide training in efficient and sustainable farming methods, which enables small farmers to increase productivity, certify their crops as sustainable, and improve their livelihoods.

Henkel’s commitment to supporting sustainable practices along the entire palm oil value chain is built around a set of specific targets that focus its efforts on key challenges. By 2020, the company aims to ensure that all palm and palm kernel oil (PKO) used in its products is cultivated sustainably in line with the RSPO Mass Balance model and to increase the supply of sustainable oil available on the market by a volume equal to Henkel’s demand in 2020.

PKO forms the basis of the surfactants that the company uses in its detergent and cosmetic products.

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