On this page you will find our science-for-policy outputs: accessible resources for oil palm stakeholders to aid decision-making


preliminaryPreliminary study on carbon stocks of forest patches in oil palm plantations 
Released October 2016

We conducted a preliminary study to understand the capacity of carbon storage in forest patches embedded within oil palm plantations. We measured aboveground carbon stocks of living and dead trees, lianas and leaf litter in 13 forest sites of varying sizes and disturbances. We found that forest size was the key factor that affects carbon storage capacity, and that large forest patches of a few hundred hectares or higher can store substantial amounts of carbon. Some very small and degraded forest patches of less than 100ha stored similar carbon stocks to oil palm plantations, and may have limited benefits for carbon storage. Additional management prescriptions such as enrichment planting and climber cutting might be an effective measure for boosting carbon stocks within these small and degraded forest patches.


implementationImplementation of FPIC: does this reduce conflict? 
Released October 2016

We reviewed the evidence of the effect of the implementation of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) on social conflict and equity in the context of oil palm plantation development. We found there is a lack of independent empirical studies investigating FPIC processes and the use of RSPO principles, criteria and guidelines in oil palm plantation expansions, and their effect on the occurrence of conflict and social equity. Conflicts between oil palm companies who are RSPO members or subsidiaries of RSPO members and local communities persist, despite RSPO regulations prescribing FPIC. Non-compliance with FPIC-related principles, criteria and guidelines seems one of the major causes of these conflicts. While implementation of FPIC increases interaction between communities and oil palm companies, there is no conclusive evidence that implementation of FPIC reduces conflict and enhances social equity. We indicate characteristics of private voluntary regulations that hamper the effectiveness of FPIC, and explain how contextual factors in oil palm producing countries limit what can be expected of FPIC as a tool to reduce social conflict and enhance more equitable outcomes.


barriers-to-smallholderBarriers to smallholder RSPO certification 
Released October 2016

We investigated barriers to smallholder RSPO certification by means of a literature review, an analysis of audit reports and expert interviews. We found that lack of smallholder organization is major barrier to certification of independent smallholders. Furthermore, specific principles and criteria that caused most compliance challenges are discussed, including compliance with applicable laws and regulations (principle 2), use of appropriate best practices (principle 4) and environmental responsibility and conservation of natural resources and biodiversity (principle 5). Finally, causes that underlie compliance challenges with RSPOs organizational and technical demands are explored. These include smallholders’ lack of knowledge of RSPO regulations and the need for support. Costs involved in certification of smallholders, in combination with low demand for certified palm oil, lead to limited financial incentives for smallholder certification.


rapid-forest-integrity-assessment-tool-august-16Assessing forest Integrity: a preliminary test of a new, easy-to- use field methodology
Released September 2016

We field tested the Forest Integrity Assessment for SE Asia, developed by the HCV resource network in collaboration with SEARRP to determine its effectiveness for discriminating between forest of different quality and disturbance.

We engaged 62 volunteer assessors to test the survey across a set of 16 forest sites with different levels of disturbance.

We found that the results of the survey were strongly related to independent detailed scientific measurements of vegetation structural quality, and so it was good for ranking a series of sites.

However, there was a lot of variation in the scores of individual assessors for the same site, and so the tool is not effective for determining the quality a site based on the score of a single assessor.


rspo-ghg-calculator-august-16Greenhouse gas emissions from oil palm and a review of the RSPO’s greenhouse gas calculator
Released September 2016

We critically assessed the RSPO’s Greenhouse Gas Calculator consulting the latest scientific research to determine how effective the tool is for assessing greenhouse gas emissions from oil palm plantation operations. We found that the tool is effective overall, however there are a number of factors where there are still high levels of uncertainty including the impact of fertiliser application, the impact of landuse change and the methane lost from mill effluent treatment.

We present a table of all the inputs to the tool, highlighting the level of confidence in the underlying default values used to calculate emissions.


ghg-voc-emissions-from-oil-palm-plantationsGreenhouse gas and volatile organic compound emissions from oil palm
Released September 2016

We synthesise the scientific evidence on gas emissions from oil palm plantations focusing on the less often considered gases: methane, nitrous oxide and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). After carbon emissions from landuse change, methane from mill effluent and nitrous oxide from fertiliser application are the largest sources of greenhouse gases.

VOC emissions from oil palm are significantly higher than from primary rainforest which could have a significant impact on air quality, but more research is necessary to understand the potential effects of elevated VOC emissions from plantations.


Screen Shot 2016-07-14 at 5.42.39 PMCosts and benefits of RSPO certification for independent smallholders.
Released July 2016

We synthesise the available evidence of monetary costs and benefits of RSPO certification for independent smallholders, by reviewing the literature and using secondary data from a PhD-study and NGOs. This information gives insight in the investments needed to certify smallholders, as well as the potential impact of RSPO certification on smallholders’ livelihoods.

We show that independent smallholders need support from third parties in order to meet RSPO requirements, which is costly: upfront costs were 191, 402 and 751 EUR farmer-1 for three groups of independent smallholders in Indonesia and Malaysia. Recurrent costs include costs for surveillance and certification audits and RSPO membership (estimated between 21 and 65 EUR farmer-1 year-1) and costs of changes infarm management (found to increase up to 127 EUR ha-1). RSPO certification potentially has economic benefits for independent smallholders, including increased yield, improved market relations and access to inputs, training and finance and price premiums through the sales of GreenPalm certificates. Yet, there is little conclusive evidence for these benefits. This is partly due to lack of data. Improving the uptake of good agricultural practices seems to be the most promising area for increasing the impact of RSPO certification on smallholders’ livelihoods.


Preliminary assessment of RSPO’s recommendations for soil erosion control measures
Released July 2016

SEnSOR critically assess the RSPO’s Principles and Criteria on soil erosion incorporating the latest scientific evidence to determine their likely effectiveness in achieving sustainable soil erosion management. We highlight areas where the P&C is sufficiently detailed to minimise soil erosion and where further development is needed.

The report findings indicate that more guidelines are needed to identify slopes in need of protection, for road and drainage maintenance, especially where roads meet waterways, and better definitions of “fragile soils” among others. Much of the scientific evidence to date is drawn from other habitats and crop systems, and more research is needed to understand soil erosion in oil palm landscapes.


The Potential for Oil palm Landscapes to Support At Risk Species
Released May 2016

We synthesise the available scientific data for biodiversity in land-cover types across Malaysia and Indonesia to provide estimates of how many at risk species can persist. This information can be used to understand the level of threat posed by oil palm expansion, to develop land cover proxies for measuring the ability of a landscape to support these species and therefore measure the impact the RSPO is having on biodiversity conservation, and to inform decision making to improve the persistence of at risk species in oil palm landscapes. We use species that occur in primary forests and IUCN red listed species as metrics for at risk species, so we can improve on biodiversity estimates that measure the total number of species by excluding those open habitat and disturbance adapted species that move into an area when the land cover is modified or converted.

We show that large tracts of forest are the most important for supporting at risk species, and so oil palm expansion should avoid converting and fragmenting these areas. But larger forest patches, connecting habitat and even complex agroforestry systems could improve the persistence of at risk species in oil palm dominated landscapes. To be successful in avoiding biodiversity losses RSPO plantations need to demonstrate avoided deforestation, and reduced fragmentation with higher forest cover and connectivity within their concession areas.


Co-benefits for biodiversity and carbon in land planning decisions within oil palm landscapes
Released September 2015

We synthesise the available scientific data for biodiversity and carbon stocks in land-cover types across Malaysia and Indonesia to determine whether land-cover types that are important for biodiversity are also important for Carbon storage. This information can be used to inform policy on the development of High Carbon Stock set asides and how to incorporate them with existing approaches for biodiversity set asides.

We show that there is high agreement between the responses of biodiversity and Above Ground Carbon to different land-cover types meaning that land-use decisions that benefit one are highly likely to benefit the other. Primary forests contain the highest levels of biodiversity and carbon, but large tracts of logged and degraded forest are also extremely valuable. Once forest is fragmented levels of biodiversity decrease, and carbon is also expected to decline but larger forest patches could have important conservation co-benefits. Open habitats such as scrub and grassland contain lower carbon and biodiversity than oil palm plantations. Conserving large areas of unfragmented forest, even if it is quite degraded, should be a priority that will benefit both carbon and biodiversity conservation agendas.


Change in carbon stocks arising from land-use conversion to oil palm plantationsChange in carbon stocks arising from land-use conversion to oil palm plantations
Released May 2014

We synthesise the available scientific evidence for above ground carbon stocks in land-cover types across Malaysia and Indonesia to determine the change in carbon storage caused by conversion to oil palm.

We show that undisturbed tropical forest contains high carbon stocks and conversion to oil palm will result in high carbon loss, forest on peat soils will release even more carbon due to oxidation of the drained peat soil. Degraded forest contains less carbon than primary forest but conversion is likely to result in substantial carbon loss even if the forest is relatively degraded. By comparison, rubber and other tree monocrop plantations contain similar or slightly higher carbon levels than oil palm plantations, and conversion is likely to incur a small carbon loss. The best areas for conversion to oil palm are grass and scrub lands because this will result in no carbon loss or a small carbon gain.