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Sustainability makes the world a better place [07-11-2012]  
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FOR 10 years, palm oil industry players joined hands with the civil society and worked on a vision - to make the planet a better place for our children, providing not only food security but also an environment rich with the flora and fauna.

The vision by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil has taken shape, but is going to be fine-tuned for the first time and it looks like it will not be the last.

Their counterparts from other crops such as soya and sugar cane as well as those involved in activities in the forests and the seas have watched the visionaries intently as they crafted a model which appeared simply clear on paper but still rather complex in practice.

At the 10th Annual Roundtable Meeting on Sustainable Palm Oil (RT10) in Singapore last Thursday, they shared their "outsiders" views of what they thought about the whole certification process which tracks and traces the product from the kind of soil it is planted in till fruit is harvested and processed right to the point when it reaches the customer in one form or another - oil or its derivatives.

They had praises for the democratic nature of the body but one view came clear. Nobody dared to say they wished for a similar one for their industry!

Like oil palm, the Marine Stewardship Council's fishery certification programme also recognises that a sustainable fishery should be based upon healthy populations of targeted species.

Marine habitat is also major ecological concern when production comes into play especially with the equipment involves trawls, drift nets or long lines

Ours is more B-to-B (business to business), says the Round Table on Responsible Soy Association, the industry which is considered palm oil's closest rival.

The equation for crops like soya is entirely different in that growers have a freer option to choose their buyers based on the returns and their crop ends up as a drink or tau foo.

Which is the reason why it preferred to use the term responsible than sustainable.

"Sustainability is a moving target you will never achieve. It is a trap you get into and then you try to chase the goals and then check the performance all over again."

The best is to remain responsible towards the crop even though it is subject to evolution.

To Bonsucro, also a global multi-stakeholder industry initiative dedicated to reducing the environmental and social impacts of sugar cane production, the biggest challenge is to reach out to the millions of farmers globally who are "not organised".

To the discussion panel, any two-tier type of certification is debatable.

One view is that it would be horribly wrong to mislead the consumer into thinking that he or she had purchased the right product while having other levels would also help to benchmark the players at different levels.

By the end of the day, palm oil stood to be the strongest in comparison to the others, although it is a crop fairly younger than the rest.

The current estimated annual production capacity of RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil of 7.2 million tonnes, approximately 14 per cent of global palm oil production, places it higher than the others.

In the case of marine fisheries, for instance, there is a 9 per cent commitment to Europe and the US while two per cent of the sugar cane industry is certified crop and certified soya is also gaining commitment from several European countries.

The nuances in the lengthy and laborious certification process is understood by all but together every crop or food industry can realise this vision of making the world a better place to live in.

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