Adaption strategies of oil palm smallholders towards certification schemes – A micro scale approach from Jambi, Sumatra

Qualitative analysis of action based motive and scopes of action of small farmers in Jambi due to the ISPO certification


Previous discussions about climate change, energy transition, losses of biodiversity and last but not least food security takes place on a global scale. This leads to the decentralization of government structures and to open questions about responsibilities. This issue becomes even more severe if environmental problems are discussed in the context of development in countries of the global south (Freytag et al. 2015: 20 - 27).

An agriculture product that is highly criticized within this context is palm oil. On the one hand palm oil is a unique product in terms of properties as well as efficiency. On the other hand palm oil is produced in the tropical forest region, one of the world´s most valuable ecosystems. 85 % of the palm oil is produced in Malaysia and Indonesia (WWF 2016).

Because of the rainforest´s decrease and the growing attention on environmental topics the Indonesian government is forced to control the palm oil production. One way of doing this is by certifications. At the moment there are two big certification programs, trying to reach sustainability in Indonesian: One is the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which is organized by a NGO together with companies along the whole supply chain. The other certificate is called the Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO). The thesis will focus on the ISPO certification scheme out of two reasons. First, the aim of the ISPO certification was to finish the first audits by the end of 2014. Second, it is an obligatory certificate for every farmer in Indonesia (Dera 2009:15).

Among other things, technical infrastructure and access to certified mills are necessary in order to accomplish certification, which puts a large palm oil farm at an advantage compared to one of the small farms in Indonesia. But due to the fact that 40 % of the palm oil output is still produced by small farmers the ISPO certification should not concentrate just on big scale farms. For example, by asking 194 small farmers Brandi et al. (2015) found out that within one of the pilot project areas of the RSPO certification 74 % of the farmers never heard about RSPO certification at all.

This master thesis will focus on the questions of how the ISPO certification is used by different stakeholders to influence small farmer´s actions and how this plays out in reality by conducting qualitative interviews in Jambi. The aim of the thesis is to find out why small holders choose to take part in certification schemes and which consequences they might face in the future if they choose to not take part in the ISPO certification by identifying potential or already existing conflicts in this context.

The Thesis will be conducted in close contact with C04 and C06.

World Wildlife Fund (WWF) (2016): What is palm oil?
am 04.03.2016.

FREYTAG, T./ GEBHARDT, H./ GERHARD, U./ DORIS, WASTL-Walter (2015): Humangeographie kompakt. Springer: Heidelberg.

DERA, P. (2009): "Biodiesel" - Wachstumsmarkt mit Nachhaltigkeitsgarantie? - Sozioökonomische Dimensionen der Palmölproduktion in Indonesien. Regiosprectra: Berlin.

BRANDI, CLARA/ CABANI, TOBIA/ HOSANG, CHRISTOPH/ SCHIRMBECK, SONJA/ WESTERMANN, LOTTE/ WIESE, HANNAH (2015): Sustainability Standards for Palm Oil: Challenges for Smallholder Certification Under the RSPO. In: Journal of Environment & Development 0(0), 1 - 23.