At least half of the packaged items on supermarket shelves—from baby food and chocolate to shampoo and detergent—contain palm oil, a product that is also widely used as a biofuel and cooking oil by people across Africa and Asia. Given the huge demand for this resource, it’s no wonder that plantations filled with oil palm trees cover more than 15 million hectares (almost 40 million acres) of tropical landscapes.
But while this crop provides livelihood opportunities to thousands of smallholder farmers across Africa, Asia, and Latin America, the rapid expansion of oil palm plantations has also fueled deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, and the displacement of indigenous forest communities. In 2008, the Rainforest Alliance started working with farmers and businesses, helping producers transition to sustainable growing and processing methods by applying the criteria in the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) standard to the crop. In 2013, a group of 600 farmers in Honduras became the first palm oil cooperative to achieve Rainforest Alliance certification. Since then, farmers in Asia, Central and South America, and Africa have benefited from Rainforest Alliance training and educational workshops in palm production that conserves forests and supports the well-being of forest communities.
About 6.5 million farmers—including more than three million smallholders—rely on oil palm cultivation for their livelihoods. The Rainforest Alliance has begun to transform industry practices in Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea.
Supporting Farmers and Communities
The Rainforest Alliance works with oil palm farmers to improve their livelihoods and the health and well-being of their communities and ecosystems. To earn the Rainforest Alliance Certified™ seal, farms are audited annually against the SAN standard for the crop’s production. The standard’s rigorous and detailed environmental, social and economic criteria are designed to prevent deforestation, protect biodiversity and natural resources, deliver financial benefits to farmers, and support the well-being and rights of workers and local communities.
Protecting Forests and Wildlife
On Rainforest Alliance Certified™ farms, agriculture exists in harmony with nature: soils are healthy, waterways are protected, waste is reduced or recycled, wildlife thrives, and sensitive habitats are protected. Most importantly, farm communities learn the importance of protecting their natural resources, and they acquire the tools and resources to do so. For example, the clearing of natural forests is forbidden on Rainforest Alliance Certified oil palm plantations, which helps to protect the habitat of endangered wildlife such as orangutans. And farmers we work with who once relied on harmful pesticides and chemicals are now reducing or eliminating these harmful substances and replacing them with ecologically sound alternatives.
Smallholder oil palm farmers often use inefficient production practices, resulting in lower yields, and many have resorted to agrochemicals that not only harm the environment but also increase production costs—all of which challenges their ability to earn a sustainable livelihood. Rainforest Alliance certification can help farmers to reduce expenses and increase yields through more efficient farm management, which can make their farms more profitable.
Toward a More Sustainable Industry
To help make sustainable palm oil the norm and support those palm oil traders, manufacturers, and retailers who adopt sustainable practices, the Rainforest Alliance collaborates with international organizations such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020, and The Consumer Goods Forum. The SAN standard for Rainforest Alliance Certified palm oil has been endorsed by the The Consumer Goods Forum and the French Alliance for Sustainable Palm Oil. We also strive to raise industry awareness by publishing research and position papers on deforestation in the palm oil sector, and we will continue to engage with industry, civil society organizations, and consumer groups to multiply the impacts of our work. If you are a business and would like to work with us please click here.