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Palm oil buyers hold off mending ties with Malaysia plantation giant

  • On September 25, 2016

Palm oil buyers hold off mending ties with Malaysia plantation giant
by Reuters
Monday, 15 August 2016 04:15 GMT
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Palm oil has become one of the world’s fastest expanding crops, but industry has been facing intense over deforestation and methods used to clear land

* Malaysia watchdog has reinstated IOI’s green certification

* But firms such as Nestle, Kellogg say holding off on buying

* IOI says working to “re-engage” customers

By Emily Chow

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 15 (Reuters) – Leading global buyers of palm oil are holding off on mending business ties with Malaysian plantation giant IOI Group despite an industry watchdog’s decision to reinstate the producer’s green certification.

The Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in April withdrew IOI’s ‘sustainability certification’ after allegations the company had illegally chopped down rainforests in Indonesia and planted palm crops on peatland.

But earlier this month, it said IOI, one of the world’s leading palm producers and traders, had satisfied conditions for the suspension to be lifted, a move that has sparked sharp criticism from environmental groups.

Palm oil, used in everything from chocolate to cosmetics, has become one of the world’s fastest expanding crops, but the industry has been facing intense pressure over deforestation and methods used to clear land. That has driven many buyers to demand certification of environmentally sound behaviour.

Food companies Nestle, Kellogg, Mars Inc and Hersheys, along with healthcare product makers Johnson & Johnson and Reckitt Benckiser told Reuters they had no immediate plans to return to business with IOI despite the latest step by RSPO.

Procter and Gamble told Reuters it had ended its relationship with IOI, while Unilever said it was looking into the watchdog’s decision.

“(We will not change our approach until) we see IOI’s upgraded policies enacted, with improvements verified on the ground by an independent group of experts,” Nestle said in an emailed statement.

IOI officials in Kuala Lumpur said the company remained committed to “engagement with all its stakeholders” and would be “working hard to re-engage with them in the coming weeks and months”.

“Our focus will now be on the implementation of our commitments, and progress reports detailing delivery against them will be made public on a quarterly basis,” said Surina Ismail, its group head of sustainability.

Meanwhile, major palm oil trader Cargill Ltd said it was sticking to its decision to suspend business with IOI. Rita Aspen, regional director of corporate affairs for Asia Pacific, said the company would “review IOI’s sustainability policy … before taking further action”.

Environmental groups such as Greenpeace called RSPO’s decision to lift IOI’s suspension premature and counter-productive, and urged companies to put on hold buying from IOI.

RSPO, a body of consumers, green groups and plantation firms, said its decision to lift the suspension was recommended by its independent complaints panel, and that it stood by “the integrity of the panel” and its conclusions.

IOI is one of the RSPO’s founding members.

“It sends the message that the RSPO is more concerned about helping a founding member regain its customers than ensuring its standards are upheld,” said Greenpeace Indonesia forest campaigner Annisa Rahmawati.

Around 90 percent of the world’s palm oil crop grows in Malaysia and Indonesia.

RSPO previously said the suspension would be reinstated if IOI fails to follow through on an action plan to correct environmental shortfalls.

(Reporting by Emily Chow; Editing by Joseph Radford)
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INTERVIEW – “We don’t need to grow more food to cut hunger in Africa” – activist
by Alex Whiting | https://twitter.com/Alexwhi | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 23 September 2016 15:49 GMT
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We explore the challenges of ending hunger and malnutrition as food production adjusts to a warming world
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Slow Food International, a grassroots movement of farmers, chefs, activists and academics, is campaigning to improve the quality of food and lives of producers

By Alex Whiting

TURIN, Italy, Sept 23 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – As a young university student of agriculture, Edie Mukiibi believed the latest hybrid seeds which promised bumper crops were the answer to improving the lot of maize farmers in his part of Uganda.

He persuaded many to buy the seeds, while working part-time promoting them in Kiboga district in central Uganda.

But the consequences were “terrible”, he said. It was 2007, a year of drought, and the new seeds turned out to be less resilient than traditional varieties.

“The farmers lost almost everything – every bit of maize crop they had. When I went back to talk with the farmers I could feel their pain,” Mukiibi said.

Even worse, the new crops could not be grown with any other crops, so the farmers were left with nothing to fall back on except the bills they had run up for the pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers the maize required, he said.

“This is when I started working with farmers … to diversify (their) farming,” said Mukiibi, now vice president of Slow Food International, a grassroots movement of farmers, chefs, activists and academics campaigning to improve the quality of food and the lives of producers.

He said he wanted to help farmers use “local seeds, local knowledge, and traditional ways of managing resources”.

CAUSE OF MALNUTRITION

Large companies are increasingly taking charge of food production in Africa and pushing for greater quantities of food – but these are not the answer to cutting hunger in Africa, he said on the sidelines of Slow Food’s annual festival in the Italian city of Turin which opened on Thursday.

“We need to think more about the real causes of malnutrition in developing countries, and we need to realise the problem is not production, the problem is how do we keep the food we have in circulation,” Mukiibi told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

In Africa, food lost during or after harvest could feed 300 million people, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

Mukiibi, who is based in Mukono district just east of the Ugandan capital Kampala, said people can go hungry in one part of Uganda while bananas are rotting in the fields and in stores in another part.

“We need to encourage small-scale producers that they are still important in the world of food,” he said, adding that thousands in Uganda have lost access to land bought by foreign companies producing food for export.

Many are given jobs on the newly created industrial-sized farms.

Traditionally, Ugandan farms grow different crops on the same piece of land. Five acres may be planted with coffee and in between the coffee plants, bananas and cocoa are grown, as well as yams and beans for the family to eat, he said.

The crops support each other – in times of drought coffee plants extend their roots to banana plants which naturally hold more water, he added.

“This is a … very, very productive farming system in Africa.”

(Reporting by Alex Whiting, Editing by Katie Nguyen.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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