As at the beginning of 2014, the Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil Commission noted only 40 oil palm plantation companies have secured the government-issued ISPO certification.
Plantation companies must obtain their ISPO certification by end of this year, following a 3-year application period from the beginning of 2012.
The ISPO certification is an acknowledgement that the plantation group has complied with Indonesia's laws and regulations on sustainable agriculture development that balances the needs of People, Planet and Profits.
“As of January 2014, only 40 of the roughly 2,500 plantations had received certification and another 153 had applied for it,” said Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil Commission executive director Rosediana Suharto.
“Plantations have to independently apply for the certification, or face the penalties, such as a plantation-class downgrade,” she reportedly said.
Legal issues, according to Rosediana, is among the reasons for lack of willingness among most plantations to apply for the ISPO certification. “A lot of plantations do not have all their permits, such as land-user certification, in place and therefore, are unwilling to apply,” she said.
When comparing ISPO with the voluntary Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certification, Rosediana acknowledged that “some principles between the two programmes might be needed to work on”.
Among them include land optimisation. While the ISPO wants plantation companies to fully optimise usage of their landbank on a balanced development approach, the RSPO unnecessarily pressures companies to leave big portions of their land idle, supposedly for conservation. She commented that unlike the government-sanctioned ISPO, the voluntary RSPO certification is said to promote environmental sustainability, when in reality it aims to curb economic growth.
Indonesian Palm Oil Producers Association (Gapki) chairman Fadhil Hasan urged the government to revise the ISPO certification deadline, given that the vast bulk of plantations were poised to miss it.
“If most of the plantations have not obtained the ISPO certification by the end of 2014, the government has to be realistic and postpone the deadline,” he said. He also questioned the capacity of the commission to accelerate the ISPO certification process due to a lack of reviewers.
“We as producers are prepared to get certified but there should be preparedness as well among those handing out the certification,” he said, adding that ISPO’s intent is good but the procedural deadline “is too ambitious”.
Indonesia is the world’s largest palm oil producer, churning out more than 26 million tonnes of crude palm oil in a year. In 2013, Trade Ministry data showed palm oil exports contributed US$19.35 billion to the Indonesian economy.