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By: Chermaine Yap

As the world races towards a net-zero future, navigating the labyrinth of carbon footprints and emission jargon can feel like deciphering a cryptic language. Terms like “Scopes 1, 2, and 3 emissions” can leave one feeling adrift. In this blog, we aim to demystify Scopes 1, 2, and 3 emissions, particularly in the context of the palm oil industry, offering some insights into some of the initiatives to reduce emissions in the palm oil sector.

The Origins of Emissions Scoping

The concept of emission scopes originated from the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol, a widely accepted international standard for measuring and managing greenhouse gas emissions. The purpose of categorizing emissions into scopes is to provide a standardized framework for organizations to identify and account for different sources of greenhouse gas emissions and drive emissions reduction actions across supply chains.

Definition of Scopes 1, 2, and 3 Emissions

In a nutshell, Scopes 1, 2, and 3 represent distinct categories of emissions based on their source and control. Scope 1 covers direct emissions from owned or controlled sources; Scope 2 pertains to indirect emissions from purchased energy, and Scope 3 encompasses indirect emissions from the entire value chain.

We Cannot Manage What We Do Not Measure

Just as we meticulously plan our financial goals, the initial step involves evaluating our expenditures to pinpoint areas of high spending. Setting specific targets based on our financial aspirations, we strategically budget and work towards reducing expenses in those identified high-impact areas.

In a similar fashion, approaching the measurement, reporting, and reduction of carbon footprints requires a relatable, meticulous process. Understanding one’s Scopes 1, 2, and 3 emissions is the cornerstone, much like analyzing our spending habits, forming the basis for targeted initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and minimize environmental impact. Having established the crucial foundation of understanding Scopes 1, 2, and 3 emissions, let’s now delve into the specific context of the palm oil industry.

Scope 1 Emissions: Taking Responsibility for Direct Emissions

Scope 1 emissions encompass direct emissions from sources within a company’s control (e.g., combustion in owned or controlled boilers and furnaces). In the palm oil industry, these can arise from various sources, such as plantation soil management, combustion of biomass for electricity and heat in processing facilities, fuel combustion of vehicles and equipment across plantations or ships owned by the company, and processing of harvested palm fruits.

Scope 2 Emissions: Accounting for Indirect Emissions

Moving to Scope 2, these are indirect emissions resulting from purchased energy, such as the electricity received from the grid and heat or steam received from a third party.

Scope 3 Emissions: Considering the Full Lifecycle Impact

Scope 3 emissions encompass all other indirect emissions that result from a company’s activities across the value chain (e.g., production of purchased materials, transportation of products by a third party, and even the use of sold products). Scope 3 emissions, or Corporate Value Chain1 emissions, go beyond an organization’s direct emissions – Scope 1, and indirect energy purchases (Scope 2). It often presents most of an organization’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The GHG Protocol categorizes Scope 3 emissions into 15 categories, where categories are intended to be mutually exclusive to prevent double counting of emissions between categories.2

In the palm oil industry context, Scope 3 emissions may include (but are not limited to):

Reducing Emissions Within the Palm Oil Industry

Recently, Musim Mas announced its commitment to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, aligning with climate science as per the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi). Over the years, we have worked to reduce deforestation and carbon emissions across our operations and supply chain. Since the publication of our No Deforestation, No Peat, and No Exploitation (NDPE) Policy in 2014, Musim Mas’ own operations have been monitored and remain 100% free from deforestation and ecosystem conversion. Musim Mas was the first major group in the palm oil industry to commit to extending methane capture facilities to all its mills. In 2022, we commissioned our 17TH methane capture facility and avoided a combined 619,749 MT CO2e into the atmosphere, with the captured methane converted into electricity that powers our mill and estate facilities and the workers’ housing and social facilities.

Palm oil producers must work closely with suppliers, engage in sustainable farming and production practices, and advocate for responsible land use to mitigate Scope 3 emissions. Musim Mas actively engages our suppliers on our NDPE policy obligations and requires them to attend workshops and submit their NDPE commitments. We also ask suppliers to complete the Musim Mas Self-Assessment Tool (SAT) on sustainability commitments and performance. Their answers help us identify improvement areas and develop custom roadmaps with time-bound plans to help them meet our policy commitments.

In addition to individual company efforts, there is a need for collective action. To address emissions in the palm oil industry, it is crucial to implement sustainable practices and collaborate with stakeholders throughout the supply chain. To that end, Musim Mas and 13 other Agri-commodities companies committed to the Agriculture Sector Roadmap to 1.5 Degrees, facilitated by the Tropical Forest Alliance 12. This initiative is designed to halt commodity-linked deforestation, aligning with the 1.5-degree pathway.

Producers are not all large plantation companies. Actually, 40% of the palm areas in Indonesia are controlled by smallholder farmers. Since 2015, Musim Mas has continuously adapted and expanded its independent smallholders programs to better integrate them into our palm oil supply chains. We engage with smallholders and assist them in reaching efficient farming standards by providing training modules covering good agricultural practices (GAP) and NDPE commitments. Our programs utilize a landscape-level approach, establishing and running initiatives with local governments and stakeholders. We have found this to be the most effective approach for addressing smallholder barriers and ensuring long-lasting impacts.

Navigating the Challenges Ahead

While there undoubtedly remain challenges on our journey to achieving net-zero emissions, it is evident that we are on the right path. Although this may seem daunting, a defined objective and a means of attaining it are imperative. Our long-standing commitment to sustainable practices, enshrined in our No Deforestation, No Peat, and No Exploitation (NDPE) Policy, as well as our “continuous improvement” company culture, positions us to navigate the rough seas of sustainability favorably. To achieve reduced emissions, active involvement from our suppliers, their vendors, and the smallholders in our supply chain is also essential on this collective journey. As we embark on this impactful path, we remain steadfast in our commitment to fostering a sustainable future for all, continually innovating to diminish our environmental footprint.

1 and 2: Corporate Value Chain (Scope 3) Accounting and Reporting Standard: https://ghgprotocol.org/sites/default/files/standards/Corporate-Value-Chain-Accounting-Reporing-Standard_041613_2.pdf

By: Yeo Yu Teng

Navigating New Horizons

In the heart of Pelalawan in Riau Province, a city-dweller ventured into the green expanse. Meet Teguh, a dedicated Survey Officer at one of Musim Mas’ plantations. He shares insights into his role as a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) expert and unravels the extraordinary journey from the urban jungle to the vibrant greenery that now defines his workplace.

Musim Mas staff walking among the greenery in Sorek plantation and navigating using GPS.Teguh walking among the greenery.

Unveiling the Unseen

Teguh’s main role involves a harmonious blend of technology and hands-on fieldwork. He and his team monitor, map, and analyze geographic data within the plantation and beyond. His team plays a crucial role in Musim Mas’ comprehensive strategy to proactively combat the persistent threat of fires in both oil palm plantations and conservation zones.

The heightened risk of forest fires, particularly during the dry season from August to October, underscores the urgency of Teguh’s daily tasks. Each morning, he and his team liaise with the Sustainability team, diligently checking for any detected hotspots within the plantation or its neighboring areas.

Musim Mas GIS team working with sustainability team to check for hotspots.Working closely with the Sustainability team.

Analyzing satellite data.

When potential hotspots are detected, Teguh and his team spring into action as hotspots do not necessarily correspond to a land fire – they could be pockets of hot air. This is where on-site investigations are needed. Teguh and his team hop onto their motorcycles, navigate using GPS devices, and journey into the depths to verify satellite data and assess the true magnitude of any identified hotspots.

Musim Mas GIS team riding a motorcycle in the plantation to investigate potential hotspot.Traveling to the location of the hotspot or its vicinity.

Musim Mas GIS team navigating their way to the hotpot using a GPS.Using a GPS device to navigate their way.

Yet, these terrains are no walk in the park — thick vegetation, bumpy grounds, and remote locations make it challenging for the team to access potential hotspots. Here is where drones change the game. Quadcopters and fixed-wing drones become the eyes of the sky, providing a quick, safe, and effective means of observation in tricky terrains. They unveil the mysteries hidden beneath the thick canopies or far-away lands and assist in verifying the accuracy of satellite data.

Musim-Mas-GIS-setting-up-the-quadcopter-drone-scaledSetting up the quadcopter drone.

Musim Mas GIS team holding on to a drone and preparing for takeoffPreparing for the flight.

Musim Mas drone in the sky to assess hotspots in remote areas.Flying the drone to remote areas.

Musim Mas GIS staff looking at his handheld device to control the drone and assess the hotspot.Watching the screen to assess the hotspot while controlling the drone.

Once the data is verified and confirmed, Teguh reports back to the Sustainability team, triggering follow-up actions. In cases where fires are detected, an alert is sent to the fire-fighting team, ensuring swift investigation and extinguishment.

Beyond his GIS and survey work, Teguh also takes on the role of a supervisor for construction projects related to plantation infrastructure. His responsibilities showcase the diverse and impactful nature of his position, proving that Teguh is more than just a specialist in his field.

Adapting and Overcoming Challenges

The move from the city to the plantation was no simple transition. Teguh faced challenges that tested his adaptability. Limited access to city facilities, difficult terrains, and a lifestyle overhaul became his new norm. Yet, amidst the challenges, Teguh discovered the joys of plantation life – the crisp, clean air, a calmer pace, and meaningful connections with fellow workers and the community.

Cultivating Discipline and Responsibility

Initially overwhelmed and confused, Teguh’s perseverance led to a seamless integration into his new environment. He found more than just a job; he unearthed a profound sense of discipline and responsibility, bringing about a feeling of accomplishment and belonging.

In the eyes of Teguh, this journey was more than just a relocation; it was an opportunity for personal and professional growth. His motivation to work in the GIS & Survey team on the plantation stems from a belief in supporting sustainable practices.

Thriving in a Supportive Environment

Teguh recalls that Musim Mas played a pivotal role in smoothing his transition. Continuous training opportunities for him and his team advanced their GIS knowledge, ensuring they stayed at the forefront of their field. Teguh emphasizes the importance of having a competent and committed team, saying, “It’s important to have a team capable of facing every challenge that arises and completing the work well.”

In Teguh’s own words, “Moving from the city to a plantation can bring a variety of emotions, situations, insights, experiences, challenges, and achievements. By working in the plantation sector, I have the opportunity to advance my career and earn a better income compared to working in the city.”

Teguh’s story is an inspiration for those contemplating similar transitions. It speaks of embracing change, coupling it with passion and expertise, and reaping the rewards of a fulfilling and purposeful career.

Musim Mas GIS staff looking at his handheld device to control the drone and assess the hotspot.

By Devane Sharma and Yeo Yu Teng

In a world where environmental concerns are at the forefront, businesses face an ever-evolving regulatory landscape that demands their attention, such as the recent European Union Deforestation-free Regulation (EUDR).

At Musim Mas’ May 2023 Sustainability Townhall, the company’s management highlighted their priorities for the future. Let’s delve into the key takeaways from this event and explore how businesses can navigate the world of regulatory changes to foster sustainability and positive impact.

#1 The regulatory landscape is changing – collaboration is a must

Following the Rio Convention of 1992, and especially after the 2015 Paris Agreement at COP21, governments worldwide are accelerating climate change commitments and regulations.

The EU Parliament has adopted the EUDR, and we expect it’ll be published by the commission shortly. It’s a “due diligence” act, in essence, one that assesses risk. Similarly, the USA FOREST Act of 2021, subsequently the New York State Deforestation-Free Procurement Act, and UK Schedule 17 of the Environment Act of 2021 are regulations that prohibit deforestation-linked commodities.

Musim Mas is firmly committed to No Deforestation and welcomes these regulations. However, with 90% of the palm oil we process coming from third-party suppliers, we recognize the need for a framework to assess and monitor deforestation risks. It cannot be done alone. We engage our suppliers in several ways, covering both primary and secondary suppliers.

European lawmakers vote on climate change issues at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, Tuesday, September 13, 2022. Source: Human Rights Watch

#2 EUDR and other regulatory frameworks must include smallholders

The upcoming EUDR regulation risks excluding smallholders from the supply chain, who comprise 41% of oil palm planted areas in Indonesia. This could have disastrous consequences for millions of smallholder livelihoods who lack the resources to comply. There’s also a risk of rising palm oil prices, which might increase food prices.

Musim Mas acknowledges this concern and emphasizes their commitment to inclusivity. Although smallholders don’t directly supply Musim Mas, the company runs Indonesia’s largest independent smallholder training program, benefiting over 41,000 farmers across 85,000 hectares.

Musim Mas has also established Smallholder Hubs, where we train Village Extension Officers on a train-the-trainer basis. These hubs also serve as multi-stakeholder hubs where local governments and other palm oil players can pool resources to benefit smallholder farmers. Musim Mas will continue to engage smallholders as they’re essential stakeholders in advancing sustainability in the palm oil industry.

Independent Smallholders undergoing Musim Mas’ training program

#3 Deforestation-free commitments aren’t sufficient – verification and reporting are a must

Simply making deforestation-free commitments isn’t enough. Since 2021, Musim Mas has implemented a deforestation-free Risk Management Framework (RMF) that overlays our supply base against our Traceability-To-Plantation Areas to assess risk. This is in addition to tools such as the High Carbon Stock Approach (HCSA) to guide our conservation efforts.

We then worked with the Palm Oil Innovation Group (POIG) to develop a more comprehensive toolkit, the Integrated Reporting Framework, which is independently verified. We’ll continue ramping up our verification efforts for a deforestation-free supply chain.

#4 Accounting for Scope 3 carbon emissions is a must – it’s essential to work across the supply chain

While Musim Mas has already reported its Scope 1 and 2 emissions, accounting for Scope 3 emissions poses a challenge. The palm oil value chain is a lengthy one that runs long before the commodity reaches large-scale plantations like Musim Mas, which demands collaboration with suppliers and other stakeholders to assess these emissions accurately.

Musim Mas is working with the South Pole consultancy to account for its Scope 3 emissions in alignment with the Greenhouse Gas Protocol. This collaborative effort will also help set high-level reduction targets beyond carbon accounting, making progress toward a more sustainable supply chain.

#5 Working with your suppliers and customers in a single landscape is the way forward

Palm oil isn’t the only commodity grown in our operation areas. We recognize the need for an integrated framework to truly bring about meaningful changes to the forests, biodiversity, and local livelihoods, for which we need to work with other actors in the landscape. This includes national and local governments, civil society, suppliers, and even our competitors.

An example is Musim Mas’ Aceh Landscape Strategy, where we have a five-year strategy to achieve our No Deforestation, No Peat, and No Exploitation (NDPE) policy by working across the landscape. Aceh is home to 87% of the Leuser Ecosystem, one of the world’s most biologically diverse and threatened tropical forest landscapes.

By Devane Sharma

Musim Mas engaged experts of ecology and biodiversity conservation from the South East Asia Rainforest Research Partnership (SEARRP), and scientists at the University of Oxford. This was to analyze the health of our forests and conservation areas, based on 12 years of biodiversity datasets collected by Musim Mas conservation team. While we’ve shared the findings of the report, this time, we checked in with the researchers themselves, to understand what got them interested in working in ecology, and to hear their most memorable experiences at work.

The Researchers

Dr Jennifer Lucey,
Knowledge Exchange and Research Fellow,
University of Oxford;
Senior Research Associate,
SEARRP
Dr Sarah Scriven,
Post-Doctoral Research Associate,
University of York (previously Oxford)
Dr Jennifer Lucey is a Research and Knowledge Exchange Fellow, and Impact & Innovation Lead for the Department of Biology at the University of Oxford. She is also a Senior Research Associate for SEARRP. She completed her PhD at the University of York during which she studied the effects of forest fragmentation on insect biodiversity in oil palm landscapes in Sabah, Malaysia.

Since then, she has conducted research into tree regeneration and viable forest set-aside size and manages the SEnSOR program, which investigates the impacts of RSPO certification on biodiversity and livelihoods. She has a special interest in translating science to policy and practice, aiming to improve biodiversity outcomes.

Dr Sarah Scriven is a Post-Doctoral Research Associate at the University of York. Throughout her PhD and subsequent research projects at the Universities of York and Oxford, she has specialized in tropical ecology and conservation. Her research focuses on finding ways to promote biodiversity and rainforest connectivity in tropical agricultural landscapes. She combines analyses of biodiversity datasets from oil palm plantation landscapes in Southeast Asia and connectivity modeling techniques to test the environmental impacts of sustainable palm oil certification.

She also works closely with stakeholders, including oil palm growers, to help inform management and monitoring practices of conservation set-asides and improve biodiversity and connectivity in oil palm landscapes.

What made you decide to go into ecology-related work?

Jen – I’ve been fascinated by wildlife and the natural world since I was very young, and being a rainforest explorer was my childhood dream. While studying ecology in university, I became interested in how we can balance our resource needs with looking after the planet. I decided to pursue a scientific career to help solve this complex question.

Sarah – I’ve always loved spending time outdoors whenever I can, and I enjoy being surrounded by nature. I was also interested in science from a young age, and when I initially went to university, I wanted to be a secondary school science teacher. After having lectures on ecology, animal behavior and global change, I became very interested in applied conservation. I decided to pursue a career in ecology instead to better understand how different species respond to human threats and find ways to create a more sustainable future that benefits both people and nature.

What are some of the most exciting projects you have worked on?

Jen – My PhD fieldwork allowed me to spend many months researching insects in Bornean rainforests, and I was overwhelmed by the diversity of wildlife I found there. Since then, one of the most challenging and rewarding projects I’ve been working on is in developing a tool which makes monitoring all that natural diversity and complexity as simple as possible, so that oil palm companies and a wide range of other forest stewards can effectively monitor and manage conservation areas. We’re now in the final stages of developing a smartphone application.

Sarah – I’ve been lucky enough to have worked on some diverse and exciting projects at the University of York (where I am currently based). I worked on a project examining how northern butterflies responded to climate change in the UK. This involved several months of fieldwork in the Scottish Highlands, an incredible landscape. I’ve also worked on the SEnSOR program for several years, which tests the impacts of Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certification for biodiversity conservation. This has involved fieldwork in Borneo examining bird diversity within High Conservation Value (HCV) areas.

How were you involved with the Musim Mas biodiversity assessment report?

Jen – I worked with Musim Mas and SEARRP to develop the project concept and design, and as principal investigator, I led the scientific direction of the work. Putting together and delivering the end-of-project workshop in which we could share our findings with the Musim Mas team was especially enjoyable.

Sarah – I worked with Musim Mas and SEARRP to put together the biodiversity assessment report, and I was specifically responsible for the technical side of things, including cleaning, sorting and analyzing the biodiversity data. At the end of the project workshop, I also led the data management activities, working with the team to organize and use their data more effectively. I enjoyed helping the staff create graphs showing bird richness trends over time from their biodiversity datasets. Everyone was interested and engaged in learning about the project’s results.

Dr Jennifer Lucey and Dr Sarah Scriven with Musim Mas Sustainability Team staff at a workshop in 2022

On the Musim Mas report or the subsequent field visit, did you encounter anything that surprised or interested you?

Jen – The data analysis revealed some interesting and unexpected patterns showing that the location and landscape context is essential for understanding and interpreting biodiversity trends. Discussing the results with the Musim Mas field teams and seeing some of the field conditions was valuable for gaining a deeper understanding of real-world considerations and how to set realistic and practical management goals.

Sarah – I greatly enjoyed the Musim Mas field visit with the plantation staff. It was the first time I ever visited Kerangas forest and it’s such an interesting habitat. I loved learning about the ecology of this forest type and some of the species found there – the Musim Mas field team kindly pointed out some great pitcher plants! I also really enjoyed the discussions I had with the field team about the conservation work they are doing across Musim Mas concessions and some of the challenges they face while working out in the field.

The SEARRP team at a Musim Mas conservation forest in Kalimantan

In terms of conservation efforts, what would you like to see in the oil palm landscape?

Jen – RSPO members have set aside many vital areas for biodiversity and carbon storage, and there’s now a valuable network of conservation areas within the plantation landscape. However, these areas are often isolated or degraded, perhaps by historic logging or fire. There’s huge potential not only to conserve but also to enhance these areas, for example, by enrichment planting with native trees. A greater focus here would move the sustainability agenda forward from just avoiding further damage towards actively restoring habitat and taking the lead in meeting global targets for reversing biodiversity losses. It was great to see some of the restoration activities taking place on one of the Musim Mas estates we visited.

Sarah – I’d like to see more connected landscapes, whereby areas of remaining forest within oil palm plantations (e.g., HCV and High Carbon Stock areas) are connected to larger areas of forest in the broader landscape (e.g., protected areas) or to other HCV-HCS sites in neighboring oil palm concessions. This could be done by retaining and/or restoring smaller forest patches (i.e., ‘stepping stones’) or forest corridors to allow the movement of forest species. In my opinion, jurisdictional approaches to oil palm certification that designate HCV-HCS areas across districts or states would enhance forest connectivity and species persistence over much larger areas than at present.

By Devane Sharma

How oil palm yields have been improving while being non-GMO

Leading oil palm manufacturers have been researching ways to improve the productivity and yields of the crop over the years. Musim Mas believes that the growth in oil palm production should be fueled by better-yielding seeds, not land expansion. Yet, the group has not been using genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to better yields. How has the group gone about this?

How is this different from genetic modification?

Oil palm yield improvements at Musim Mas rely on selective breeding from two parental palms. This is unlike the approach taken by most corn, soya and canola producers, where genetic modification is the preferred method for improving yields and desirable characteristics. Essentially, the approach taken in the oil palm industry is artificial selection instead of using genetic engineering or genetic modification.

Methods used in the industry can range from simple tools, such as selecting specific palms or more complex methods to accelerate the process of artificial selection, also known as selective breeding. Such methods include studying molecular markers to identify a particular aspect of a genotype to single out offspring with improved yield components or desired growth characteristics. This is the mating of seeds with the best characteristics, such as high oil yields and high fertility, to produce offspring that possess these qualities and is the approach taken at Musim Mas.

To illustrate how selective breeding is used in palm breeding, the traditional Dura palm variety’s fruitlets have a thick kernel shell but high yields. In contrast, another variety, the Pisifera palm fruitlets, has no kernel shell but poor yields. Crossing the two types produces the Tenera variety, which on average, produces 30% more oil per unit of land than Dura palms. This results in tremendous benefits for sustainability as oil palm growers using such varieties can produce more oil with less land.

Investing in research and development

With the projected increase in the world demand for edible oils and the effects of climate change against demands for land use, there is a need to continuously advance research into improving yields.

Musim Mas runs a leading agronomic research and development (R&D) lab dedicated to studying such matters. The group’s dedicated specialists look into breeding palms with desirable traits. Beyond oil yields, other desirable characteristics include shorter and more compact palms and increased disease resistance. As a result, Musim Mas yields are consistently above the industry average. In 2021, Musim Mas’ crude palm oil (CPO) yields stood at 5.7 tonnes per hectare, 1.75 times higher than the industry average.

Located in Riau, Indonesia, Musim Mas’ R&D labs span 246 ha, including a seed garden, laboratories and staff housing. The labs also study conditions in different parts of Indonesia to tailor the planting materials best suited to each.

Speech by Senior Manager of Corporate Communications, Carolyn Lim, at NUS Global Asia Institute’s Wee Cho Yaw Business Forum 2023.

In the thick of the haze that engulfed Southeast Asia in 2015, I received a random call on my landline who said, “Why are you working for an evil palm oil company?

The stigma for the palm oil industry is bad enough that it’s seen as “a sin industry” alongside gambling and tobacco.

However, people who work in evil industries are often in a position to do valuable things. Swapping from cigarettes to less risky products is a net gain for health. Changing from chopping down trees to developing zero deforestation strategy is a net gain for climate action.

Today I want to clarify three misconceptions about palm oil.

1. We need to feed the world with a productive crop for global food security

Oil palm is a uniquely productive crop. On a per hectare basis, oil palms are 6-10 times more efficient at producing oil than temperate oilseeds such as rapeseed and sunflower.

If oilseeds were to replace palm, it would require at least 50 million additional hectares of prime farmland to produce the same amount of edible oil.

Ensuring everyone has access to an affordable diet sustainably is one of the most significant challenges that humankind faces today.

The question is not to ban palm but to ask ourselves: How do you grow oil palm sustainably?

2. We’re committed to zero deforestation in our operations and beyond

Over the years, we’ve worked with our suppliers, peers, civil society groups, and local governments to reduce deforestation and tighten the standards.

Indonesia supplies about half of the world’s palm oil. These days, 80% of the country’s refining capacity is run by companies that have pledged “No deforestation, no peat, and no exploitation”, or NDPE for short.

Although Indonesia’s forests are shrinking, the pace has slowed sharply in recent years compared to other tropical countries. In 2021 it fell for a fifth straight year, down by a quarter compared with 2020, according to the NGO World Resources Institute (WRI).

Strikingly, and for the first time, rises in the price of palm oil since 2020 do not appear to have caused more deforestation in Indonesia.

3.  We’re not “a big business” crop

Another misconception is that palm oil is overwhelmingly a “big business” crop. There are about 4 million smallholder growers, nearly all of whom farm individual plots.

In Indonesia, the largest palm oil-producing country, smallholders account for 40% of the total planted area.

We have the most extensive independent smallholders program in Indonesia, working in areas outside our operations to train smallholders.

The fruits of our labor were made possible today because we’ve worked very hard in the past. We had only 10 on the team when I joined the group in 2012. Over the last decade, we’ve grown more than 10 times to about 150 full-time staff working on the Musim Mas sustainability team.

To all the critics of palm oil, if you want to change the world, join an evil palm oil company first.

Edited by Chermaine Yap

While Valentine’s Day may be over, flowers are still “in season” across Musim Mas’ plantations because of their beneficial value to combat pests within oil palm plantations. Specks of yellow-orange flowers dot shrubs lining the roadside, forming a sea of yellow spots throughout Musim Mas’ estates.

These flowers are known as Cassia cobanensis. “It may seem like these pretty blooms were planted for aesthetic reasons, but they do much more than that,” said Ooi Ling Hoak, Head of Research and Development (R&D) at Musim Mas’ Estates Division. This article helps explain why flowers are a sustainable method to manage pest populations and reduce the need for chemical pesticides.

An agronomist by training, Ooi and his team of research personnel support the plantations by providing specialist knowledge to resolve agronomic issues.

How do pests affect oil palms?

Plantations are often plagued by pests, which can cause significant damage to the oil palm leaves. Oil palm trees use chlorophyll in leaves to create energy through photosynthesis. Fewer leaves mean less energy for the trees, which leads to reduced growth and subsequent reduction in oil yield.

These pests can be difficult to control using traditional methods such as pesticides, as they can quickly develop resistance and harm non-target organisms. Thus, using natural predators is becoming an increasingly popular and sustainable approach to managing oil palm pests.

“These flowers give us a biological way to combat leaf-eating pests in oil palm plantations,” explained Ooi. Cassia cobanensis provides nectar as food for parasitoids associated with the nettle caterpillar and bagworm, the common leaf-eating pests in oil palm plantations.

Parasitoids are typically insects that lay their eggs on or inside another organism and whose larvae develop by feeding on the host’s body tissues. It ultimately kills and prevents its host’s reproduction. This is the parasitic cycle which regulates the pest population in a plantation.

Besides Cassia cobanensis, other flowering shrubs in the estates include Euphorbia heterophylla, Turnera subulata and Antigonon leptopus. These flowering shrubs host a range of predators of leaf-eating pests and hence are also helpful in pest control.

Beneficial plants are one of the methods in Integrated Pest Management

This biological method of pest control combining with minimal chemicals, also known as Integrated Pest Management (IPM), forms a vital part of the environmentally-conscious agricultural practices in Musim Mas. IPM aims to reduce the use of pesticides and herbicides and their associated environmental and health risks.

In addition to planting resistant varieties of crops, Musim Mas uses barn owls as part of our IPM program. Musim Mas has installed owl boxes in its plantations to attract barn owls, natural predators of rodents. Rodents can cause damage to crops and spread diseases, but the presence of barn owls helps to control their populations, reducing the need for chemical pesticides.

By Matthias Diemer

Matthias Diemer is a sustainability consultant at Switzerland-based consulting firm Diemer Sustainability Consulting and senior strategic advisor to Musim Mas. Matthias has held various positions in the past within the WWF network.

When asked, European consumers apparently prefer products that are not linked to deforestation. At least this is what WWF claims, after obtaining support by 1.2 million citizens in favor of the new EU Deforestation Regulation, that was passed in December 2022. It will require palm oil products (and other commodities such as soy, beef or cocoa) placed on the European market to be free of deforestation per 31 December 2020.

How relevant is this regulation actually for the palm oil sector?

Both major processors/traders and consumer goods companies already have no deforestation commitments in place – in many cases with cutoff dates going back to 31 December 2015, five years earlier than the EU now requires. While it has been possible for large integrated palm oil companies to comply with these targets, and in the case of Musim Mas have them independently verified through standards like the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) or the Palm oil Innovation Group (POIG), the crux lies in the hundreds of smaller palm oil mills that supply their refineries, and the tens of thousands of independent smallholders which supply these mills. Most of them are not RSPO members or have not been even certified through national labels, such as ISPO or MSPO[1].

Traceability has been an important element of no-deforestation assurance

Initially traceability has been established to the mills supplying refineries, as exemplified by the mill lists available on the websites of major processors and consumer goods companies. This has been superseded by traceability to the place of production (TTP), which is much more complicated, involving tens of thousands of smallholders that deliver their crop to mills through cooperatives or agents and subagents.

While some service providers have systems in place to map elements of TTP, most of the TTP data has been confidential, as mills are unwilling to disclose their supply sheds to potential competitors.

Consumer brands have been asking for independent verification of TTP data, to ensure that TTP data is correct and that the locations where crop is grown were not deforested after the cutoff date. The latter is usually done by overlaying TTP data with satellite imagery before the cutoff date. The output of such analyses – “verified deforestation-free” (VDF) – is rapidly gaining buzzword status.

Emerging information about VDF

Recently several consultancies have announced VDF schemes, and some are carrying out pilot trials. What is emerging is the following:

Is VDF the solution to deforestation?

While VDF is hailed by some as the solution to deforestation, it will likely address only parts of the problem. This brings us back to the EU Deforestation regulation mentioned at the outset. Here as well, geolocation requirements tracing crop back to the smallholder plot might become prohibitive for some, leading to smallholder exclusion. Considering that independent smallholders comprise more than 40% of Indonesian palm oil production – expected to rise to 60% by 2030 – excluding them from any market, and in particular lucrative Western markets should be in nobody’s interest, both from a livelihood and equitability perspective.

[1] Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO) and Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) are mandatory national labels, that provide assurance for legal compliance and some additional sustainability requirements.