Oil Palm Cultivation: Smallholder Farmers Have The Potential To Grow In A Sustainable Way

India’s edible oil sector is strategically important. Because of the highest consumption and affordability due to the highest oil yield production per acre, palm oil and its derivatives become the most important. Palm oil alone accounts for more than 37% of India’s edible oil needs and 60% of its import basket.

Land-owning farmers brought over 4 lakh hectares of land under oil palm cultivation until the fiscal year 2020-21, with Andhra Pradesh & Telangana bringing more than 2 lakh hectares of land under oil palm cultivation through farmers.

Following a thorough review of the many issues encountered by farmers, the Government of India launched a sustainable mission-NMEO-OP in August 2021 to improve its growth towards big scale plantation to the extent of an additional 6.5 lakh hectares by 2025-26 through smallholders. Smallholder (SH) farmers and processors helped the governments of Telangana & Andhra Pradesh make oil palm production successful and sustainable over time.

Encouraging Report

A company (a leading manufacturer of specialty oils and fats that achieved global leadership by offering sustainable growth through expertise in diverse business areas) is committed to responsible palm oil sourcing worldwide, including from SH farmers, and they hired a third party to conduct field tests in 2017 in Andhra Pradesh & Telangana under Godrej Agrovet Limited (GAVL) factory zone, along with geospatial data.

More than 29,000 farmers across 28,000 hectares are covered by these two mills, which are sourced from farmers in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. They provide raw materials for the production of crude palm oil. The test report was very encouraging indeed against following the Code of Practices (COP).

In Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, many oil palm developers and processors established COP for smallholders. This COP acts as a benchmark for determining if smallholder practices are compliant with a number of key problems related to sustainable palm production and the support they require to achieve their needs. This COP covers and affirms items such as established land rights and regulations, no deforestation, and no conversion of forests with high conservation values (HCV) and high carbon stocks (HCS).

During this field survey, it was also discovered that there is little evidence of farmers burning during the planting and replanting stages, that large areas of the landscape are dominated by agricultural land, and that forests, such as eucalyptus plantations, are scattered throughout the landscape in small fragments, and that some areas remain forested where there is elevation.

There was no child labor used, and the farmers’ identities are easily traced. This study looked at labor rights and working conditions, as well as what smallholders want and need for their livelihood. Oil palm has been proven to provide smallholders with a reliable and long-term source of income throughout the year.

In India, the government, in collaboration with oil palm processors, plays a key role in the palm oil sector by developing and implementing certain frameworks within which the various stakeholders operate, such as pricing of Fresh Fruit Bunches (FFB), subsidy, training and capacity building, farmers registration, active agronomic support, opening of bank accounts, financial assistance through banks, regulation of FFB supply, and farmers yield improvement, among other things.

Improving Standards of Living

Farmers have reaped significant benefits from oil palm production, as indicated by an increase in profits (which they receive every 15 days) when compared to a decade ago. This has surely enhanced the level of life of smallholders and farm laborer’s, who are now able to make successful future plans, such as saving for their children’s education, investing in house construction, and purchasing two-wheelers by farm laborer’s and smallholders, respectively.

Of course, meeting sustainable policy and responsible sourcing requirements poses certain obstacles for SH producers. The following are some of the areas where there is room for improvement:

  • In terms of labor rights, minimum wages should be paid in accordance with the National Standard or an industry benchmark, whichever is greater and should be sufficient to meet basic necessities.
  • A first-aid kit, drinking water, and bathrooms, among other things, should be present in the cultivation area, as well as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for workers.
  • Workers should be given safety training on a regular basis.

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