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By Carolyn Lim

As the year winds up, we reflected on the year behind us and most importantly, make plans for the year ahead of us.

In the course of implementing our NDPE (No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation) policy and assessing the external priorities based on internal capabilities, the real questions for us have always been: How can we be systematic in identifying focal points for our efforts? How can we maximise our impact based on our strength and our resources? How can we optimise our policy implementation towards 2020?

Traceability is a means to an end

In 2015, we started our policy implementation by focusing on traceability back to the Plantation . However, we learned along the way that traceability was only a tool to identify the ownership profiles. The real work starts after the traceability exercise.

Today, we have gained a better understanding of our supply base. It is made up of supplier groups with their networks of plantations and mills that are in our supply base, as well as independent Smallholders that supply to these groups. Out of the 500 odd third-party mills that supply to us, roughly 200 supplier groups own these mills.

Supplier engagement is not just about the grievance

We have also put considerable efforts into addressing the grievance cases related to the group suppliers. But we found ourselves having to “chase our tail,” and having limited good suppliers to showcase the impact of our efforts. Some of the supplier groups were difficult to engage, as we have no leverage for negotiation because these groups can always find an outlet for their products in the non-NDPE compliant markets.

Over time, we learned to value proactive and systematic engagement with the group suppliers that are strategic to us, both in terms of the willingness to embark on a sustainability journey and the volumes that they provide to our refineries.

Successful collaborations take time

Finally, we learned that no man is an island; many problems were too complex for any company to solve alone. We learned to seek out innovative partnerships and active coalitions that will enable us to tackle systemic sustainability challenges.

But with a new partnership or coalition often comes with trepidation, as different partners or organisations work together for the first time. It takes time to build trust and goodwill among the different organisations to have long-term success. The real work in relationship building starts after the honeymoon phase.

What we are looking towards in 2019

We want to focus resources on where we can get the biggest “bang for our buck”, i.e. building a team of smallholder and supplier engagement professionals who will actively engage the supplier groups and the accompanying independent Smallholders .

We also want to prioritise ‘sensitive areas’ to guide where we can put the most effort into tracing back to individual Smallholders , and continuously engaging these Smallholders in our Extension Service Programme (ESP).

For Musim Mas, 2018 has been a remarkable year. We worked hard to optimise our NDPE implementation and continue laying a strong foundation for the coming years.