The oil palm industry poses one of the biggest threats to the rainforests of SE Asia, but plantations create huge economic benefits at all scales from governments down to smallholders. Finding a way to balance these competing issues is vital and SEARRP science is at the forefront of finding solutions to this complex problem.
We set up the Social and Environmental Oil Palm Research (SEnSOR) programme to test whether the major environmental and social certification standard for palm oil (the RSPO) is delivering sustainability. The SEnSOR programme is a collaborative, multi-disciplinary consortium of world leading scientists in the fields of biodiversity, soils and hydrology, greenhouse gases, and social sciences. We are using state-of-the-art scientific techniques to answer key questions such as- Is RSPO certification halting deforestation and biodiversity losses, reducing GHG emissions and improving livelihoods?
SEnSOR has been designed from the outset to contribute to the development of policy and best practice. We work directly with key stakeholders, including the RSPO (who co-funds the project), major oil palm growers, influential Non-Governmental Organisations and other important players in the supply chain. By listening to their perspectives, we ensure our research is aligned with their needs and that it arrives in a timely way and in clear, understandable language. We communicate our findings in a wide range of ways, including talking at industry conferences, running workshops, writing science-for-policy papers, utilising social media and sitting on policy working groups and scientific advisory panels.
SEnSOR research is not only answering the key question that NGOs, companies and consumers are asking, i.e. “is RSPO palm oil really sustainable?” but also contributing to the complex issues of how to make conservation set-asides more effective and how to raise living standards further. SEnSOR research brings scientific integrity to the sustainability agenda by rigorously and independently testing the sustainability standards.
Ultimately, the aim of SEnSOR is to provide the knowledge necessary to create change in the practices of the oil palm industry that will result in halting deforestation and associated biodiversity loss and carbon emissions, improving the rights and livelihoods of people working in or affected by the industry and conserving our vital soil and water resources.