Sustainability standards for palm oil: challenges for smallholder certification under the RSPO

Brandi, Clara
External Publications (2015)

in: The Journal of Environment & Development 24 (3), 292-314


While smallholder certification in the palm oil sector is an important issue, there is still little research on its potentials as well as its pitfalls. This article aims to contribute to closing this gap by identifying the main barriers for the inclusion of smallholders into standards schemes and the adoption of sustainability standards by smallholders and compliance with their requirements, thereby contributing to the growing literature on the effectiveness of voluntary sustainability standards. On the basis of a smallholder survey and interviews conducted with a variety of different stakeholders during three months of field research, this article offers data on RSPO smallholder certification, focusing on antecedent variables as potential adoption determinants at three levels: smallholders, smallholder organization and the institutional context. The article underlines that smallholders lack both the information and the degree of organization that is needed for smallholder certification and that they require institutional support in order to become certified. The article also identifies the most important compliance challenges for smallholder, which concern land titles, seedlings, pesticide usage, fertilizing and documentation.

About the author

Brandi, Clara

Economy and Political Science


Further experts

Berger, Axel

Political Science 

Hadank-Rauch, Rebecca

Environmental and Development Sciences 

Haug, Sebastian

Political Science 

Mehl, Regine

Political Science 

Morare, Ditebogo Modiegi

Political Science 

Nowack, Daniel

Political Scientist 

Olekseyuk, Zoryana


Owusu, Solomon


Stender, Frederik


Stewart, Benjamin

Social Science 

Volz, Ulrich


Wehrmann, Dorothea


Wingens, Christopher

Political Scientiest