Now only certified sustainable palm oil in Germany

Only sustainably produced palm oil to be used in Germany by 2020. This is the express aim of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL). On 18 October 2018, on the occasion of the annual General Assembly of the Forum for Sustainable Palm Oil (FONAP), the BMEL commended the forum's successful work.

Despite the current number of 54 members, the former Parliamentary State Secretary Michael Stübgen said: “In order to be able to achieve the FONAP's objectives even more quickly and effectively, and to make the German palm oil market more sustainable, FONAP needs to carry on growing. We need more members!”

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 branches. Palm oil plays a key role for the economy of the producer countries, especially for the rural regions.

Around 45% of the 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 with a global production share of 55% and 35%, respectively

Unsustainable production of palm oil has severe local and global repercussions.

The BMEL had therefore for several years called for “only certified sustainable palm oil to be used in Germany”. It is expected that all sectors take their responsibility seriously for the environment and human rights and convent to using certified palm oil.

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

A recent Meo Carbon Solutions study on German palm oil consumption in 2017 showed that all sectors and many companies in Germany had increased the use of certified palm oil between 2015 and 2017:

  • According to the findings of the study, 55 percent of palm oil used in Germany in the non-energy sectors came from certified sustainable cultivation in 2017.
  • If the energy sector were included - where the use of certified palm oil is regulated by law - the share of certified palm oil would amount to 76%.
  • The sector that uses the most sustainable palm oil is the food industry, where certified sustainable palm oil makes up 85 percent according to the study.
  • The study puts the figure for the animal feed industry at just 26 percent. The share has, however, significantly increased from just 15% in 2015. 
  • According to the study findings, 58 percent 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 co-financed by the BMEL via FONAP and the figures show “that we must step up our efforts to convince all industries that use palm oil to convert to using certified sustainable palm oil and thereby to contribute to improving the situation in producer countries."

Can palm oil be replaced by other oils?

There are frequent calls for palm oil to be substituted with other 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 challenges, since the problems would simply be shifted or could even worsen depending on the production standards. The oil palm is the oleaginous fruit with the highest yields, at around 3.5 to 4 t of oil per ton, 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 FONAP palm oil forum 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 and the BMEL that aims to devise sustainable solutions for improving practices in the palm oil sector. The Forum currently has 54 members.

FONAP’s objective is to raise the share of certified palm oil as fast as possible and to arrive at 100% certified palm oil by the end of 2020 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+), Rain Forest Alliance 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.

The BMEL was a founding member of FONAP and tasked the Agency for Renewable Resources (FNR) to provide financial and political support to the initiative right from the beginning. In August 2018, the BMEL approved a third funding period for FONAP, lasting until February 2021 and providing around EUR 1.5 million. To co-finance the association, FONAP members will contribute another EUR 500,000 in member fees. Its secretariat is hosted by GIZ, the German Development Agency.

The FONAP served as a beacon and remained the initiative with one of the most ambitious voluntary commitments in the agricultural sector.

When becoming a member, companies must already meet the requirement of “exclusive use of sustainably certified palm oil” stated in the voluntary commitment.

Other BMEL activities that promote sustainability in oil palm cultivation

  • In December 2015, former Federal Minister Schmidt and Federal Minister Müller (Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, BMZ), together with Denmark, the UK and the Netherlands, signed the Amsterdam Declaration in Support of a Fully Sustainable Palm Oil Supply Chain by 2020 and the Amsterdam Declaration Towards Eliminating Deforestation from Agricultural Commodity Chains. Norway, France and Italy have also joined the signatory states.
  • In a follow-up process, the signatory states agreed to cooperate across different raw materials within an informal setting - the so-called Amsterdam Group - and to jointly identify starting points to implement the goals of the declaration, including in the areas of the EU climate, forest and trade policies
  • One key call the group has made to the EU Commission is for the Commission to present an EU Action Plan to tackle deforestation.
  • Currently the group intends to launch a dialogue with Indonesia on sustainable palm oil.

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