Olam, US green group agree to collaborate on forest conservation and sustainable agriculture

Singapore-listed global commodities trader Olam International, which is controlled by Temasek Holdings, will suspend further land clearing of forest in the West African country of Gabon for palm and rubber plantations for a year. PHOTO: OLAM INTERNATIONAL

SINGAPORE - Singapore-listed global commodities trader Olam International and US-based environmental lobby group Mighty Earth have agreed to collaborate on forest conservation and sustainable agriculture.

Olam, majority owned by Temasek Holdings, will suspend further land clearing of forest in the West African country of Gabon for palm and rubber plantations for a year, a period that can be extended, the company announced in a press release on Wednesday (Feb 22).

Mighty Earth, whose chairman is former Congressman Henry Waxmann, will suspend its current campaign targeting Olam's oil palm and rubber operations for a year, including its complaint to the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a period that can also be extended.

During that year, Mighty Earth and Olam will support a multi-stakeholder process to develop further specific criteria for responsible agricultural development in countries that have most of their land covered by forests.

The agreement comes after the two sides met to discuss the impact of the palm oil and rubber plantations developed by Olam with its joint venture partner, the Republic of Gabon, as well as Olam's third party palm oil sourcing in Southeast Asia.

Mighty Earth had accused Olam of deforestation practices in Gabon and of buying unsustainably produced palm oil from third-party suppliers.

As part of the agreement, Olam also committed to:

· Continue to implement its time-bound plans to map and disclose more information about its third-party palm oil supply chains in Asia and require its third party suppliers to adhere to the high carbon stock approach as per its updated palm oil policy.

· Publish its procedures to address supply chain risks, including independent verification of compliance of high-risk sources.

· Issue a revised grievance procedure that includes Olam's third-party palm oil suppliers and protects the anonymity of those providing input. Olam will continue to routinely investigate and work to remediate any complaints received from indigenous or local communities.

· Supplement its current sustainability policies with explicit references to protecting peat and ensuring no exploitation of workers or local communities.

Olam's co-founder and group CEO, Sunny Verghese, said "we hope these actions can help sovereign countries like Gabon set their own pathways to sustainable development."

The US-based World Resources Institute helped the two sides to reach this agreement.

Said its president and CEO Andrew Steer: "Balancing forest protection and new agricultural projects can be very challenging, and it is vital for countries, companies and civil society to work together and find common ground.

"This agreement is a good example of how organisations can come together to agree on a sustainable and prosperous path forward."

Olam had entered into a joint venture with the Gabon government in 2011 to set up a 300,000 hectare palm oil and rubber plantation, with a 60 per cent share of the venture.

In 2015, Olam secured a second joint venture with the government to develop and manage 70,000 ha of smallholder plantations. It held 49 per cent of that venture.

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