More Than a Social License: Taking the Lead in Sustainable Palm Practices
By Dr Christopher Stewart, Head of Environment and Sustainability, Olam Gabon
Olam Palm Gabon (OPG) is ensuring that our social and environmental programmes will have a genuine and lasting positive impact for the communities and environment where we operate in Gabon. We see it as one of the most crucial factors of our long-term success in the country.
Our programmes are tailored to meet the needs of local communities while adhering to the broader principles of consultation and community involvement. These elements underwrite a strong social licence for us to complete the development of plantations and palm oil production facilities.
We started with a comprehensive social participatory mapping to determine areas used for subsistence agriculture, collection of non-timber forest products (NTFP) and sites of cultural significance. The results of these studies along with an Environmental Impact Assessment were shared with communities so that they could make informed decisions about their future.
If a proposed development is initially accepted, community representatives and Olam adopt procedures for consultation and identifying individuals or groups entitled to compensation, and eventually both parties agree to terms and conditions of development, which are signed and witnessed by all parties in our Social Contracts.
Across our palm plantations in Gabon (and also for rubber), Olam now has social contracts with 46 villages which include commitments to improve the lives of local people, based on their choices.
Aside from giving priority to local employment, our engagement and management plans cover health, education, lighting, transport and village farming. For example, since 2012 we have built or refurbished 14 schools and handed out 5,000 school kits; set up worker health centres and organised HIV awareness training at all our sites; drilled 60 village wells; and installed over 2,200 solar lamps for streets and homes. We have built two village cassava mills and trained small farmers to produce better yields with improved planting stock of banana, cassava and palm.
We are clearly seeing our projects changing the face of the communities – quality of housing material, new residential construction, new shops and markets, better clothes and a disciplined and well-engaged community are clear data points of change coming from the new income the community has earned.
We are very conscious that we have a unique opportunity to be the front-runner in establishing sustainable palm plantations in Africa. We are using the Roundtable Sustainable Palm Oil Principles and Criteria (RSPO P&C) as a baseline for our sustainability framework. These have been bolstered with additional environmental and social measures, including a commitment to no deforestation or conservation of high conservation value (HCV) forests and ecosystems and high carbon stock (HCS) forests and peatlands. (Read our Plantations Code and Palm Policy which are in line with those of IFC and RSPO).
The debate on sustainability has reached a mature pitch in the sector. We are at the forefront of sustainability by applying Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), Environmental & Social Impact Assessments (ESIA) and RSPO P&C to our palm plantation investments. We also want to take the lead on the conservation of HCS forests.
There is still debate on the definition of HCS forests and we continue to work with industry and scientific community partners to shape and track the development of accepted definitions. In the meantime there are several key HCS initiatives in development that will guide us on undertaking the HCS+ process in our plantation.
Gabon is the first country in Africa to have committed to reducing its Greenhouse Gas emissions by 2025 relative to its 2000 baseline under its 2015 Climate Action Plan for the UNFCCC, which includes protection of HCS and HCV forests in its land-use plan and sets out how it will deliver on its UNFCCC commitment.
The international High Carbon Stock Study Group published its Science Study Report in December 2015, in which the Technical Committee presented Olam’s Mouila landscape as a case study to guide an HCS+ process suitable for forest-rich nations. Considering all our palm plantations in Mouila, the HCS Study Group concluded that our palm project will be at least climate neutral and carbon positive (i.e. net fixation or removal of 4.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere) over the first 25 years of the project.