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ESOPP Prioritises Sustainability in Propelling Edo as Leading Hub of Responsible Oil Palm Production

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For ESOPP, it was not just enough to develop and produce oil palm, but to do it in a way that encourages ecological responsibility and promotes environmental stewardship.
By Ogbebor Tony Ikponmwosa
Oil palm is one of the fastest-growing industries in the world. Oil palm is a popular crop grown in tropical regions of the world, particularly in Southeast Asia, Africa and South America. The oil palm industry has experienced significant growth in recent years, driven by increasing demand for palm oil and other palm-based products. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, global production of palm oil has increased by more than 400% over the past two decades, reaching over 77 million tonnes in 2020.

However, the growth of the oil palm industry has also been accompanied by controversy, particularly with regard to environmental and social impacts. The expansion of oil palm plantations has been linked to deforestation and habitat destruction as well as social conflicts with local communities and human rights abuses. When the Edo State Oil Palm Programme (ESOPP) was established on 18th December, 2019, the objectives were simple and direct, “repositioning Edo State as the hub of oil palm production in Nigeria, while adhering to sustainable practices that will guarantee the protection of the socio-economic values and livelihood of the people and project communities.”

For ESOPP, it was not just enough to develop and produce oil palm, but to do it in a way that encourages ecological responsibility and promotes environmental stewardship. It will suffice to say that ESOPP has not failed in its obligation in upholding the above objectives as the programme has been packed with laudable initiatives and developments targeted at promoting sustainability in oil palm production and development in the State.

One of the ways ESOPP has guaranteed sustainability in its dealings is through its various partnerships with international bodies that promote sustainable oil palm development such as the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), Africa Palm Oil Initiative (APOI) now called Africa Sustainable Commodity Initiative (ASCI), among others. These organizations work towards ensuring that the cultivation and production of oil palm are environmentally sustainable, socially responsible, and economically viable.

RSPO is a global organization that promotes the growth and use of sustainable palm oil. It was formed in 2004 by a group of stakeholders from the palm oil industry, NGOs and other organizations. The RSPO has developed a set of sustainability standards for palm oil production that covers the environmental, social, and economic aspects of the industry. Producers that meet these standards can receive RSPO certification, which indicates that their palm oil is sustainably produced, while the ASCI uses a multi-stakeholder approach that involves engaging with stakeholders at all levels of the commodity value chain. The programme provides technical assistance and capacity-building support to help stakeholders adopt sustainable practices and standards, and it also works to promote policy reforms that support sustainable commodity production and trade.

In a major development, RSPO in partnership with Foremost Developmental Services (FDS) and Edo State Government launched a community outreach programme and commits $300,000 to boost sustainable palm oil production in the State.

Another way ESOPP has carried out its sustainability practices in oil palm production is through establishing partnership with project communities in the State. What this implies is that all the project communities are carried along in all the processes of oil palm development. At this juncture, it is important to note that no community land was given out to investors, but only Government owned degraded forest areas. While numerous community engagements are carried out, the communities are also very involved in the Participatory Boundary Establishments (PBE) exercise and the Participatory Rural Assessments (PRA) exercise, after which documents are signed to show that the communities take part in the above activities.

Prior to the development of oil palm in the State, Proforest was engaged by the State Government to carry out a land use analysis to assess the degraded part of the forest areas to be allocated to investors. Proforest is a unique, non-profit group. They support companies, governments, civil society, and other organizations to work towards the responsible production and sourcing of agricultural and forest commodities. Proforest has also conducted environmental impact assessments for some ESOPP investors.

While taking cognizance of the fact that oil palm is one of the major indicators of deforestation, all the ESOPP investors are mandated to reforest and preserve 10 percent of their cultivable areas. Furthermore, the socio-economic and cultural values of all project communities are preserved through the High Conservative Value (HCV) and High Carbon Stock (HCS) assessments. Through these assessment areas of cultural, social and economic importance, our lands are protected.
It’s is very commendable that Edo State through ESOPP is leaving no stone unturned in Encouraging and ensuring adherence and compliance to sustainable practices in oil palm development and production, sustainability however is of utmost importance because it is crucial to preserving our planet’s resources and ensuring a better future for generations to come. Sustainability is the practice of meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It involves making responsible choices that balance economic, social and environmental concerns.

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