Meet Sebastian Rojas, farmer liaison officer at Natural Habitats. As a child he spent all his summer holidays at his grandparents’ farm. He loved being out in the field, helping his grandfather cultivate the organic fruit orchards. Already from a young age he was imbued with the extensive traditional knowledge that farmers in Ecuador use to work their land. He also experienced how farmer communities are deprived of government services and proper schooling, halting development and innovation. Now, while still supporting his grandfather, he works to eliminate barriers for progress in palm cultivation.
Two years ago, after completing his education in Europe, Sebastian went back to his birthplace. He is now one of the employees who ensures that Palm Done Right delivers on its mission and the promise to produce palm oil that is organic, deforestation-free, wildlife friendly, fair & social. Every day he is out in the field visiting and educating farmers in order to help them understand the importance of farming differently. Farming in a way that relinquishes conventional methods and makes the transition to organic and sustainable production practices. “Changing minds isn’t always easy”, says Sebastian. “Sustainable agriculture is a new concept for farmers that are used to a fixed way of working. In order to change their habits, farmers need to really commit to sustainable practices. And we need to constantly be in direct communication with them, so they are fully aware of our dedication to organic palm oil production.”
Real collaboration requires trust and demands our long-term commitment to farmers. But it also demands that we involve our farmers in the decisions that we make as a company. Sebastian says, “our decisions, but also those of the market, influence all actors in the supply chain. Farmers are often, unintentionally, negatively affected by those decisions. Yet, when farmers see and feel a commitment from the entire chain, a fruitful collaboration can emerge. Then, together, we can change things for the better. Farmers will be in a position to innovate and take full advantage of the value and possibilities that their farms have to offer.”
Dedication makes it work
Good collaboration in the supply chain demands solid contracts and fair prices which motivate farmers to improve their practices. “Our collaboration model stands out, people notice it,” Sebastian explains, “especially in a country like Ecuador, where the agricultural sector is mostly informal and where the well-being of workers, communities and nature are at stake.” Making sustainability work requires our full dedication of both time and money. It doesn’t always mean an immediate increase in profit for the farmers, but it does mean a direct lift in their well-being as well as benefits for communities and nature.
What about your role?
Ecuador may seem far away, but ultimately, it is the product purchasing decisions you make that determine if farmers in Ecuador will have better lives and whether nature will be preserved. There is no need to ban palm oil – it is about making the right decisions. Check your product labels and verify if the ingredients in your products are produced the right way. And, you should demand that brands you purchase are transparent in their labeling. This way you can continue to enjoy all the advantages that this beautiful crop has to offer.
Transparency around palm oil use in products is key. Our #sayitonthewrapper campaign is a call to action for brands and retailers to have an open conversation with their consumers on why they use palm oil in their products, and how they should transition to using only sustainable palm oil.
Written by Monique van Wijnbergen, Natural Habitat’s Sustainability & Corporate Communications Director and spokesperson for Palm Done Right.
Tags: Palm Done Right
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