Including AWS Water Stewardship in Sustainable Palm oil Production

14 November 2022

Palm oil is used in a wide range of products, from food ingredients, soaps and cosmetics to fuel for cars and power plants. Oil palm trees grow in tropical regions, with Malaysia and Indonesia being the largest producers, accounting for 85 per cent of global production. They are grown on both large-scale plantations and small-scale farms, with smallholders accounting for around 40 per cent of global palm oil production. As demand for palm oil grows, so does the awareness about the need to act upon its environmental, social and economic impacts.

Palm oil is a water intensive crop. The productivity of oil palm trees is also highly sensitive to water. Prolonged inundation due to flooding, for example, will affect the quality and quantity of the harvest and can lead to root rot. Water-related risks, such as forest and peatland fires due to slash and burn activities (especially in drier seasons or years), can lead to loss of plantation and other production facilities, while the depletion and pollution of water used at processing plants and refineries can impact production and future growth. At the same time, use of pesticides and fertilisers leads to seepage into ground water aquifers or pollute nearby rivers and streams. Palm oil processing and refining requires large amounts of water and generates waste that could put water resources and the environment at risk if not treated properly.

Sustainable production of palm oil, including water stewardship practices, are already being recognised and implemented via the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). The RSPO aims to transform markets to make sustainable palm oil the norm through a set of environmental and social criteria which companies must comply with to produce Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO). To ensure the credibility of sustainability claims, all RSPO members that take legal ownership in, produce or handle oil palm products need to be RSPO certified. Improved performance on good water stewardship, as defined by the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS), by the palm sector will support sustainable production, increase the sector’s resilience to water-related risks and increase the sector’s role as a good water steward at the catchment or landscape level.

AWS and RSPO collaborated in a two year project of ‘Boosting sustainability practice and performance at the landscape level through good water stewardship’ developing a strategic document called Pathways towards strengthening good water stewardship in sustainable palm oil production.  The document aims to inform RSPO members on how to strengthen water stewardship practices as part of RSPO Principles and Criteria (RSPO P&C) 2018 and to achieve good water stewardship through the implementation of the International Water Stewardship Standard V2.0, or the AWS Standard. 

As part of the development process, a crosswalk was done between RSPO P&C 2018 and AWS Standard V2.0, which found a total of 48% overlap between RSPO P&C indicators with all AWS Standard indicators. Significant alignments were found with indicators focusing on legal compliance on water, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) provision for on-site workers and best practice related to sustainable management and protection of peatlands and other High Conservation Value (HCV) areas which is related to the AWS-defined Important Water Related Areas (IWRAs). The majority of gaps found from this crosswalk are related to the AWS Standard requirements at catchment level and to best practices contributing to the 5 AWS outcomes. These overlaps and gaps indicate that the actions on water of RSPO P&C implementers could already put them on a pathway to adopting and implementing good water stewardship via the AWS Standard.

Ultimately, the report provides suggestions on how to drive the integration of good water stewardship into sustainable oil palm production at landscape level. This is done through the adoption of the physical scope concept as defined in the AWS Standard to move sustainable action on water to scale. This would inform understanding of the influence and dependence on other water users in the catchment, and support the identification and prioritisation of water risks, shared challenges, and opportunities at and beyond the RSPO certification unit. This can support more informed decision-making in addressing water risks, and support shared value creation in the larger catchment and landscape.

This document was prepared through consultative processes with the RSPO Secretariat. To be able to gain full understanding of good water stewardship, the AWS Standard and the intention and requirements of its indicators, download AWS Standard and Guidance at: https://a4ws.org/the-aws-standard-2-0/ 

Download the summary document and please contact AWS to get access to the full report  

Contact (Mr) Fany Wedahuditama: Fany@a4ws.org for more information and further collaboration.

This Pathway report is part of a set of reports resulting from the “Boosting Sustainability Practice and Performance at Landscape Level through good water stewardship” project. This report was developed by Yayasan Aliansi Wali Sumber Daya Indonesia (Yayasan AWS Indonesia) and the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS), in collaboration with the RSPO Secretariat. This project was possible thanks to a grant from the ISEAL Innovations Fund which is supported by the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs SECO.

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