Maintaining High Conservation Values in Oil Palm Plantations

The Internal Control System (ICS) team raises awareness of High Conservation Values (HCVs)by promoting HCVs directly and improving signage for smallholders.

Nyoto Setiawan is a Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certified smallholder in Sukorejo Village, Seruyan, Central Kalimantan. In his farmer group, Nyoto is a member of the Internal Control System (ICS) who makes sure that all members of the farmer group maintain High Conservation Values in their oil palm plantations.

Nyoto has a responsibility to accompany and supervise at least 170 smallholders. These farmers learned about natural habitats with inherent and outstanding conservation values and the endangered animals in their region, such as root tigers, pythons, and owls. Hunting or killing these animals is banned.

“If they see these animals in their plantation, I ask them to contact me immediately so that our team can take action,” Nyoto explained. The ICS team will later contact the authorized officer from the local government to deal with this problem.

Earlier on, the farmers have had a discussion together to identify the endangered species. In the process of identifying, several things need to be considered: Can this species can be found in oil palm plantations? Will this species be negatively affected by smallholder activities? Can farmers recognize and identify this species on the field easily?

Focal species include mammals, birds, and reptiles that live and travel across the oil palm plantations. Focal species can also be fish or aquatic fauna in rivers or lakes, whose lives are threatened if water availability declines and if the water is polluted with pesticides.

The identification stage will be useful to minimize or even avoid these threats altogether.

Moreover, the ICS team always strives to raise awareness of HCVs by promoting HCVs directly and improving signage for smallholders.

Farmers are also advised not to use chemicals on trees located near water sources, such as rivers, streams, and wells. For supervision, the ICS team sometimes visits the plantation for direct inspection. However, because the plantation area is very large, each head of the farmer group helps the monitoring process. “Because they usually know which areas are near the water sources,” said Nyoto.

Monitoring how well smallholders adopt the HCV approach is not a simple matter. Among the causes is the vast size of oil palm plantations located in remote villages in Kalimantan. That’s why smallholders must join the Indonesia Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO) and RSPO certification programs, aiming to raise awareness of the importance of HCV. The farmers learn how to protect the endangered animals and plants as well as how to protect water sources, such as rivers and wells, within oil palm plantations.

Because HCV areas are not evenly distributed over the plantations, some members of a farmer group may bear more management costs than other members. The group manager and farmer group members then need to discuss and make an agreement on how to share the operational and monitoring costs fairly.

In determining the scope and identifying HCVs that could potentially be impacted by oil palm plantations, smallholders need to have discussions and meetings, which will cover three steps, namely scope determination, dialogue, and verification.

In determining the scope, the Group Manager and smallholders will identify the HCV category by gathering information. The Group Manager needs to identify the focal species, the ones with a functional role in the ecological system, and possible threats to these species in the plantations.

Then at the dialogue stage, the Group Manager will hold meetings with farmer groups to announce the results of HCV identification and explore what practices should be applied to maintain the HCVs. This meeting is also an opportunity for farmers to share the environmental services and focal species they have found on the field. The goal is to find a common ground so that all members of the farmer group can agree on the instruments designed to maintain HCVs.

The signage for smallholders, informing the endangered species in the oil palm plantations.

The last one is verification. The Group Manager and members of the farmer group will implement an internal control system to verify and monitor the compliance of the members.

Farmers who have participated in training sessions are encouraged to maintain vegetation cover by planting trees near rivers and on steep slopes.

“These steps aim to prevent erosion,” said Nyoto. “The planting of tree seedlings was carried out in 2018, and all smallholders joined. We had asked the farmer groups to mobilize their members for this activity.”

Farmers are also taught not to litter, especially when it comes to sacks and plastic from fertilizers. Moreover, farmers should always be careful with the toxic waste from spraying pesticides.

“The RSPO criteria require us to grow oil palm trees socially and environmentally friendly,” said Nyoto. “This oil palm plantation is not only for ourselves but also for our children and grandchildren in the future.”