Increasing production while protecting the environment

Our Palm Oil program supports the production of traceable and sustainable palm oil at scale. We do this through partnerships with local and international companies and governments in Indonesia and Malaysia, and by working on the demand side in Europe.

The Palm Oil program focuses on scalable interventions in supply sheds: geographic areas where mills and refineries draw their supply. The interventions should create sufficient volume to allow mills and refineries in supply sheds to process 100% traceable, sustainable palm oil, improving cost efficiency and the potential for mainstreaming.

The program builds coalitions to solve key challenges such as traceability, smallholder productivity, access to finance, and sustainability monitoring. This is expected to improve the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of smallholders, and reduce pressure to expand palm oil plantations into tropical forests.

Our focus remains on avoiding deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions due to expansion of palm oil, while also improving the productivity and sustainability practices of smallholders.

Watch this video to learn how innovative supply chain trainings increase the productivity of smallholder farmers working on a total of 20’000 ha.

Relevant SDGs

  • Gender equality
  • Decent work and economic growth
  • Responsible consumption and production
  • Partnerships for the goals

Market demand

The market in Europe, as the second largest global importer of palm oil has an important role to play by ensuring 100 per cent of the palm oil in the products manufactured, and used is certified sustainable.

To this end, IDH and MVO (The Netherlands Oils and Fats Industry) established the European Sustainable Palm Oil (ESPO) project in 2015. Unifying supply chain actors across Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom and working with governments and trade bodies to develop specific action plans to achieve 100 per cent certified sustainable palm oil in Europe by 2020.

Three years in, and two years from our goal, how are we faring? Watch this video and read our latest progress report ‘Choosing sustainable palm oil‘.

National palm oil initiatives 

An example of a National Initiative is the Dutch Taskforce Sustainable Palm Oil, of which IDH has been a founding partner. In May 2016, the Dutch Taskforce Sustainable Palm Oil announced the results of the sustainable use of palm oil in the Dutch food & feed industry. The taskforce members, eight food and feed industry associations, all achieved the ambition they set in 2011: ‘100% sustainable palm oil for the Dutch market by the end of 2015’.

The success of the Dutch Taskforce has also led to the establishment of various national Palm Oil initiatives in many European countries.

Commitment to Support 

With the support of the national initiatives, ESPO instigated in December 2015 a ‘Commitment to Support 100% Sustainable Palm Oil in Europe by 2020’. Eleven organizations signed and supported this commitment. In response, the governments of five key European Union countries declared their support towards the project by signing the Amsterdam Palm Oil Declaration during the EU and Global Value Chains’ high-level conference on 7th December 2015. This was the first time that Europe spoke with one voice with regards to sustainable palm oil. In June 2016, Norway declared governmental support to the Commitment to Support 100% Sustainable Palm Oil in Europe.


Production & Supply

To accommodate the growing demand for palm oil, production needs to increase crucially without harming the environment. Several of the world’s largest palm oil users and producers have committed to using only deforestation-free, traceable, sustainable palm oil.

IDH builds coalitions within the industry to transform these aspirations into workable solutions, supported by a sound business case. IDH’s Palm Oil Program supports improvements in palm oil sustainability through several workstreams implemented at scale.

IDH convenes the industry in the Traceability Working Group (TWG). The TWG will find a common definition for traceability and develop a roadmap for the steps needed to increase understanding on the flow of palm oil products on existing land and transparently link to supply sheds. This will allow companies to ensure that they are sourcing responsibly (for example that their supply chain is deforestation-free), and to identify areas where improvement and support is needed, such as increasing the productivity and sustainability practices of farmers.

IDH contributes in developments and support investments in smallholder inclusion in targeted supply sheds. This will help smallholders to become organized, increase their productivity, use better production practices, access working capital and investment finance, and improve their livelihoods. This should expand market access, reduce pressure to expand into forests and allow smallholders to become compliant with the responsible sourcing policies of buyers (through robust monitoring).

Through partnerships with manufacturers and refiners, IDH is also working to support improved sustainability amongst third-party suppliers such as small and medium-size oil palm growers and millers. This includes work to support improved productivity and efficiency in return for on- and off-plantation forest conservation, restoration and management, community development and engagement and peatland best practice.

As part of its work to drive sector-level change IDH also supports industry level initiatives and best practice that can be applied across multiple landscapes. For example, IDH supported the high carbon stock (HCS) study; HCS Study-HCS Approach convergence work; palm oil risk assessment tools and peatland management best practice for smallholders and other relevant industry level studies and initiatives.


As a certification-neutral organisation, IDH is not an RSPO member but works closely with the RSPO in several projects. For example, IDH has a partnership with a number of companies to support the certification of smallholders to RSPO standards in Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra and North Sumatra. In addition, IDH has supported the development of a simplified approach to HCV management for smallholders. We are also working on innovations with the RSPO, including an innovative approach to smaller certification which integrates traders (collectors) with Unilever and PTPN3 in North Sumatra; and a pilot of the forthcoming RSPO jurisdictional certification approach in South Sumatra. 

Supply shed integrated approach

Supply Shed and tracebility

As part of the supply shed integrated approach, we will identify go/no-go areas in context of spatial plan and risk/priority level. We will clarify resources and responsibilities in conservation, enforcement, etc., and addresses provincial level issues such as legality. The supply shed integrated approach is led by local government through multi-stakeholder platforms. 

Green growth plans

Growth planning is essential to effective landscape and supply ship management. Green growth plans provide a roadmap to sustainable landscapes, setting out the responsibilities, benefits, roles and expectations of different stakeholders, as well as identifying strategic priorities, go/no-go areas, policy requirements and so on. Green growth plans are developed through a consultative process involving multiple stakeholders, and are designed to be supporting documents to assist stakeholders in understanding green growth requirements and integrating these into their own development plans.

Landscapes approach

It has become increasingly clear that a single commodity-focused approach will not be sufficient in some areas. By considering the entire landscape, IDH ensures that interventions on palm oil do not have negative unintended consequences on other commodities or communities. In addition, by working across commodities within a single landscape IDH can direct efforts on production and protection towards the areas with greatest potential impact. 


Fire Free Alliance
A Multi-stakeholder platform to aid in the solution to land and forest fires in Indonesia
Palm Oil Verification Platform
Palm Oil Verification Platform
Palm Risk Tool
Environmental risk assessment tool for areas surrounding palm oil mills
Commitment to Support 100% Sustainable Palm Oil in Europe
Increasing the uptake of sustainable palm oil
Peatland management and engaging independent mills to support smallholders
Supporting independent mills and plantations to avoid deforestation
Supporting 667 farmers to become RSPO certified
West Kalimantan
Peatland and fire management
North Sumatra
Supporting farmers with improving productivity and RSPO certification

Facts & Figures

  • Uptake rate of sustainable production by program partners (in percentage %)

    Target 2020 100
    Target 2017 70
    Results 2017 69



  • Community Oil Palm Outgrowers Liberia

    The Oil Palm Outgrower Scheme in Liberia is anchored in the Liberian oil palm concessions, as a joint program between oil palm companies, the government of Liberia (GoL) and the local community with the goal to improve community livelihoods.

    Read more
    Community Oil Palm Outgrowers Liberia
  • Dutch Alliance Sustainable Palm Oil

    The members of the ‘Dutch Alliance Sustainable Palm Oil’ (DASPO) want to contribute to a more sustainable produced palm oil.

    Read more
    Dutch Alliance Sustainable Palm Oil
  • European Sustainable Palm Oil (ESPO)

    ESPO is initiated to stimulate the uptake of more sustainable palm oil in Europe, and its objective is to achieve ‘100% sustainable palm oil in Europe by 2020’.

    Read more
    European Sustainable Palm Oil (ESPO)
  • Traceability Working Group

    Achieving Traceability in Palm Oil. The Tracebility Working Group consists of a committed group of palm oil producers, traders and users who are working together to define traceability and the roadmap to get there

    Read more
    Traceability Working Group


Title Type Year
Choosing sustainable palm oil Article 2019
Terms of Reference: Expert Consultant for Scoping European National Level Deforestation Free Initiatives Article 2019
Monitoring Report ESPO 2017 Report 2017
A Framework for Community Benefit Sharing Mechanisms Learning Study 2017
COP Frequently Asked Questions Factsheet 2017

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