Certified sustainable palm oil in Germany – Forum for Sustainable Palm Oil

The aim is for all palm oil used in Germany to be from sustainable production. This is the express aim of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL). The successful work carried out by the Forum for Sustainable Palm Oil (FONAP), which is supported by the BMEL, was commended at the forum's annual general meeting on 27 April 2023. Parliamentary State Secretary Ms Müller emphasised in her speech to the AGM what challenges the EU Regulation on deforestation-free products holds and how important the role of FONAP is for its implementation.

While significant headway has already been made in food production, there continues to be considerable potential for improvement and hence an urgent need for action regarding the production of cosmetics and hygiene products as well as in the chemicals industry, but also in the area of animal feed. Therefore, the BMEL is also engaging in discussions with stakeholders in the feed industry. The dialogue aims for all palm oil used in animal nutrition to be certified as sustainable.

Challenges on the palm oil market

Palm oil as an agricultural raw material is of key significance for producer and consumer countries: palm oil is a sensitive raw material, as it has many properties that make it a vital part of important processing operations and is therefore regarded as indispensable in some sectors. Palm oil is of great economic significance for the producer countries, especially for the rural regions. Oil palm cultivation is often the sole basis of livelihood for a large number of smallholder farmers.

Around 45% of oil palms in South-East Asia are cultivated by family farmers; in Africa this figure is around 80%. Indonesia and Malaysia are the main cultivating countries. They produce around 62.8 million tons of palm oil, which accounts for approximately 84% of palm oil produced throughout the world. Other countries cultivating oil palms are located in Africa and South America.

The BMEL calls for the exclusive use of certified sustainable palm oil in Germany and requires that no natural forest areas be cleared for its cultivation. All sectors of the economy should take their responsibility for the environment and for human rights seriously and therefore switch to certified palm oil.

Good news: the use of certified sustainable palm oil has increased in Germany

A Meo Carbon Solutions study on German palm oil consumption in 2019 showed that all sectors and many companies in Germany had increased the use of certified palm oil between 2013 and 2019:

  • Almost 60% of the palm oil used in non-energy sectors in Germany comes from certified sustainable cultivation.
  • If the energy sector were included – where the exclusive use of certified palm oil is prescribed by law – the share of certified palm oil would amount to 83%.
  • The frontrunner in the use of sustainable palm oil is the food industry, where certified sustainable palm oil makes up 90% according to the study.
  • The study puts the figure for the animal feed industry at just 25%. The share has, however, significantly increased from just 13% in 2013. But between 2017 and 2019, the share stagnated.
  • According to the study’s findings, an average of 63% of palm oil in household, washing, care and cleaning products is certified.
  • In other words, sectors that are less consumer-focused make less use of certified palm oil than sectors where consumers buy off the shelf.

The study was supported by the BMEL. The figures demonstrate that it would be necessary to shift all industries that use palm oil to certified sustainable palm in order to contribute to improving conditions in producer countries.

Can palm oil be replaced by other oils?

There are frequent calls for replacing palm oil with other (vegetable) oils. The BMEL is convinced that substituting palm oil with other vegetable oils and fats such as coconut or soy products is not an adequate response to the present challenges, since the problems would simply be shifted or could even be exacerbated depending on the production standards. The oil palm is the oleaginous fruit with the highest yields, at around 3.5 to 4 tons of oil per hectare, which also makes it the crop that uses the least amount of space. Rapeseed, coco, sunflower or soy have on average lower oil yields per hectare. The existing world market demand for vegetable oils can therefore be satisfied using oil palms with relatively little land utilisation.

The Forum for Sustainable Palm Oil (FONAP) is an exemplary multi-stakeholder initiative

The Forum for Sustainable Palm Oil (FONAP) is a network with members from the palm oil processing industry, associations, non-governmental organisations as well as the BMEL and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) that aims to jointly devise sustainable solutions for improving practices in the palm oil sector in Germany and along the supply chain. The Forum currently has around 50 members.

FONAP’s objective is to raise the share of certified palm oil across all sectors in Germany to 100% as fast as possible while improving existing standards and certifications. FONAP recognises four global private certification systems as being adequate in relation to sustainability: Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), International Sustainability Carbon Certification (ISCC+), Rainforest Alliance (RA), and Round Table of Sustainable Biomass (RSB).

FONAP was founded in 2013 and has been a registered association since 2015. With the foundation of the association, the members of the initiative established an institutional basis and gave their voluntary commitment to exclusively use certified palm oil a binding legal frame. When becoming a member, companies must already meet the requirement of “exclusive use of sustainably certified palm oil” stated in the voluntary commitment. FONAP, an industry initiative with one of the most ambitious voluntary commitments, is a beacon in the agricultural sector. 

The BMEL was a founding member of FONAP and has supported the initiative from the outset. The BMEL initially commissioned the Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) to host the forum’s secretariat. Since June 2021, the association has been self-financing thanks to membership contributions. The BMEL continues to be a member and is also represented in the Steering Committee together with the BMZ. Against the backdrop of aiming for deforestation-free supply chains, the role of sustainable palm oil and FONAP is and will continue to be of utmost importance. FONAP has established itself and  has gained success and a great deal of credibility due to its rigorous voluntary commitment. Thus, FONAP contributes to the fulfilment of all 17 global sustainability goals contained in the United Nations 2030 Agenda.

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