Driven by the ever-increasing global demand for edible oils especially palm oil, the past few decades have seen a rapid expansion of the production of palm oil in the tropics including Cameroon. Palm oil is one of the commodities envisaged to leverage Cameroon’s economic ambition of becoming an emerging economy by 2035. With annual production estimated at about 300,000 tons, the Government’s ambition is to increase production by 450,000 tons by 2020 in an effort to offset its current annual structural deficit estimated at 130,000 tons and to become a net palm oil exporter.
The development of the palm oil sector in Cameroon remains largely regulated within the confines of the national laws and in the absence or weak application of any sustainability standard. The absence of a sustainability standard may impact the country’s ambition considering the increasing global pressure to ensure that palm oil production is sustainable i.e. meets social, environmental and economic standards of sustainable development. In 2013, Cameroon embarked on elaborating a national sustainable palm oil strategy but this strategy finalized as far back as December 2014 and updated in May 2016 is still pending official endorsement from Government. At the same time, the Government has signed onto initiatives like the African Palm Oil Initiative with the development of National Guiding Principles. While these initiatives aimed at enriching the policy landscape, there is a need to move beyond policies creating the enabling environment to standards that puts Cameroon’s palm oils sector at the global platform of sustainability. This is also motivated as the country’s major palm oil producing companies i.e. SOCAPALM and SAFACAM are gearing towards becoming RSPO certified between 2020 and 2021.
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was set up in 2004 as a global, multi-stakeholder initiative on certified sustainable oil palm products thus becoming the first industry-wide acceptable standard. Its membership is quite wide including plantation companies, manufacturers and retailers, environmental and social NGOs, and from many countries that produce or use oil palm products and aimed “to promote the growth and use of sustainable palm oil through cooperation within the supply chain and open dialogue between its stakeholders”.
The first set of Principles & Criteria, Indicators and Guidance (RSPO P&C 2007) have been applied since November 2007. These had been subject to trial implementation from November 2005 to November 2007 and, in a number of countries, to a subsequent process of National Interpretation (NI). After five years of application by RSPO members, RSPO P&C 2007 were reviewed in 2012–2013, leading to the RSPO P&C 2013, which were reviewed and new RSPO P&C adopted in 2018.
While these principles and criteria are generic, RSPO allows countries to contextualize these through a process it refers to as National Interpretation. Considering that countries differ in their laws, policies regulations and practices for the same criteria, such as minimum wages for workers for example, cultural, and other differences, the RSPO Principles & Criteria (P&C) are further adapted for use by each country through National Interpretations (NI). In Africa, all major palm oil producing countries including Gabon have gone through the National Interpretation. Gabon has even homologated the RSPO as a national norm in 2019 through its National Norms and Standards Agency (AGANOR). Through its engagement in TFA2020APOI, Cameroon also expressed the need of RSPO P&C 2018 national interpretation in the APOI national action plan.
The NI process therefore will provide an opportunity for Cameroon and especially its major palm oil producing companies like SOCAPALM and SAFACAM and the state owned companies i.e. CDC and PAMOL to begin mainstreaming sustainability practices into their operations.
In September 2019 in a meeting in Douala, different stakeholders drawn from the palm oil value chain in Cameroon agreed to initiate the RSPO National Interpretation process. The RSPO NI process will provide the opportunity for Cameroon to translate the RSPO 2018 generic principles and indicators into its local context considering its laws, policies and practices. This process shall no doubt provide an opportunity for Cameroon to have its first certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) into the market by 2021 with SOCAPALM and SAFACAM engaged in the process.
Following the Douala kick-off meeting and letter to request approval to initiate the RSPO NI process in Cameroon, the RSPO General Secretariat approved Cameroon’s request to commence the NI Process. WWF Cameroon and the SOCFIN Group through its subsidiaries in Cameroon will lead the process, as well as the different RSPO partners with actions in Cameroon like ZSL, Proforest and Rainforest Alliance.
With the approval to commence the RSPO NI process in Cameroon, it is therefore urgent to get an independent facilitator that will lead the roll out of the NI process in Cameroon.
Facilitate the RSPO NI development process for Cameroon and to ensure that it is in line with RSPO participation, process and content requirements as outlined in section 9 of the RSPO Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for Standard Setting (2017), in close collaboration with WWF Cameroon.
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