Following the recommendations of the RSPO’s Task Force on Smallholders and the RSPO Certification Working Group, RSPO documents make a distinction between what have been variously called ‘tied’, ‘associated’ or ‘scheme’ smallholders, on the one hand, and ‘independent’ smallholders, on the other. After careful deliberations and comparison of national situations, the Task Force on Smallholders Steering Group agreed that the most appropriate terms are ‘scheme’ and ‘independent’ smallholders.
Definition of smallholders:
Farmers growing oil palm, sometimes along with subsistence production of other crops, where the family provides the majority of labour and the farm provides the principal source of income, and where the planted area of oil palm is usually below 50 hectares in size [Definition from: RSPO Principles and Criteria for Sustainable Palm Oil Production – October 2007].
Scheme smallholders, while very diverse, are characterized as smallholders who are structurally bound by contract, by a credit agreement or by planning to a particular mill. Scheme smallholders are often not free to choose which crop they develop, are supervised in their planting and crop management techniques, and are often organized, supervised or directly managed by the managers of the mill, estate or scheme to which they are structurally linked [Definition from: RSPO Principles and Criteria for Sustainable Palm Oil Production: Guidance on Scheme Smallholders – July 2009].
Independent smallholders, while very varied in their situations, are characterized by their: freedom to choose how to use their lands, which crops to plant and how to manage them; being self-organized, self-managed and self-financed; and by not being contractually bound to any particular mill or any particular association. They may, however, receive support or extension services from government agencies [Definition from: RSPO Principles and Criteria for Sustainable Palm Oil Production: Guidance on Scheme Smallholders – July 2009].
Where an endorsed National Interpretation includes a definition for smallholders, this will also be recognized. The Papua New Guinea National Interpretation Working Group adopted an intermediate category of smallholders referred to as ‘Associated Smallholders’, who share some of the characteristics of independent smallholders, notably in terms of land use and management decisions, and yet are closely linked to particular mills for marketing and extension.
The distinction between ‘scheme smallholders’ and ‘independent smallholders’ is not always easy to make. The Task Force on Smallholders recognises that national interpretation working groups will need to look in detail at how this distinction applies in their country and provide comprehensive lists of which types of smallholders best fit which category.