The Netherlands Signs First Bilateral Agreement on Sustainable Palm Oil from Colombia

Solidaridad, the Netherlands’ Oils and Fats Industry (MVO), the Colombian National Federation of Oil Palm Growers (Fedepalma), and the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH) have signed a joint declaration to increase the production and trade of sustainable palm oil between Colombia and the Netherlands.

The agreement was signed at a roundtable meeting held 28 November in Bogotá under the supervision of the Minister of Agriculture of The Netherlands, Carola Schouten.

The parties involved intend to strengthen bilateral cooperation towards increasing exports of sustainable palm oil in line with the European ambition to embrace 100% sustainable palm oil by 2020. It will also support the Colombian Zero Deforestation Agreement that Solidaridad signed last year.

The agreement will support:

  • the promotion of good labour practices, social inclusion and protection of high conservation value areas (biological, ecological, social or cultural) through responsible supply chain management

  • further development a circular economy approach in palm oil production.

Colombia is the fourth biggest producer of palm oil in the world and the first in the Americas. The Netherlands is the largest palm oil importer in Europe; the destination of around 70% of the Colombian palm oil exports. Dutch imports of Colombian palm oil increased from 2% in 2012 to 11% in 2017, and this figure is set to continue to grow.

An opportunity for palm oil without deforestation

“Palm oil is often linked to deforestation,” explains Minister Schouten, “but here in Colombia we show that it is possible that palm oil provides a decent living income for the producers, while making sure that there won’t be deforestation. It is important that the testimonies of these small producers are heard in Europe.”

Colombia is the only country that has committed to zero-deforestation palm oil production This makes it a ‘safe bet’ for processing companies looking for sources that allow them to meet 2020 EU restrictions for sustainable palm oil.

Here in Colombia we show that it is possible that palm oil provides a decent living income for the producers, while making sure that there won’t be deforestation. – Carola Schouten, Minister of Agriculture – the Netherlands

According to Frans Claassen from MVO, what differentiates sustainable palm oil in Colombia is: “its commitment to economic, environmental and social sustainability. Oil palm is a ‘peace’ crop and I believe the country has potential to become a leading exporter of sustainable palm oil to Europe.”

People usually overlook the role of palm oil in bringing thousands of people out of poverty in emerging countries – Jens Mesa, Executive Director of Fedepalma.

“The oil palm agroindustry in Colombia makes significant contributions to overcoming rural poverty, replacing illegal crops and activities, and generating a stable income for people who have been greatly affected by conflict”, says Jens Mesa, Executive Director of Fedepalma, alluding to the thousands of farmers displaced due to armed conflict with guerrillas.

Two palm oil growers were invited to the meeting to share their experiences. One of them, Nelida, a single mother who lost family and her husband in the armed conflict, told the audience that deforestation in her hometown is usually linked to illicit crops like coca. She spoke about how palm oil has provided an escape from the violence of armed groups in Colombia. “While cattle is prone to be robbed, there is no chance palm trees can get stolen”, she said.

The next steps

“This agreement reinforces the commitment between the Dutch and Colombian industries and sees Solidaridad as a third party to ensure its implementation”, explains Joel Brounen, Solidaridad country manager in Colombia.

Progress towards sustainable palm oil production and trade between the two countries will be monitored annually through the Sustainable Trade Platform, facilitated by Solidaridad.

To support the implementation of this agreement, Solidaridad aims to provide a package of digital solutions, such as Farming Solution and Agrolearning, to support small producers to comply with the standards the market requires.

Read more about Solidaridads work in palm oil here.