In December 2014 we commissioned an independent consultant to conduct a pioneering Environment and Social Assessment (“ESA”), analysing the positive and negative environmental and socio-economic impacts and risks associated with the rehabilitation of our 105 year old plantations, and to design appropriate interventions that would leverage a bigger development impact. To our knowledge, this is the first of its kind in the agricultural sector in DRC.
The ESA was a considerable undertaking and forms an important part of Feronia's commitment to delivering sustainable development via its business activities. We believe that it is critically important to understand the socio-economic conditions and conservation value of our plantations so that ongoing rehabilitation and future development have a positive impact on our areas of operation. This objective is underpinned by a commitment to attain international accreditation via Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) Certification– across all three Feronia oil palm plantations.
Feronia believes that transparency is essential to build trust and maintain a healthy public dialogue, which is why we’ve opted to share the ESA findings in full. Disclosure promotes effective stakeholder engagement through the dissemination of information and provides a platform for open discussion about the challenges we face and how we will tackle them. Find out more about our transparency policy here.
The ESA was based on two internationally accredited frameworks – RSPO Principles and Criteria and the IFC Performance Standards (2012). The ESA has resulted in a total of 3 volumes (biodiversity, socio-economic and environmental) and 21 separate supporting reports. The depth and breadth of these reports, combined with our desire to have the most complete and accurate information possible meant it took a total of 12 months to complete. The biodiversity assessments comprised of High Conservation Value (HCV) studies as well as specialist surveys for flora, mammals, reptiles, fish and birds. The social assessments were based on extensive stakeholder engagement comprising 33 focus group discussions, 23 face to face interviews and 1,126 household surveys which covered 8,481 people. Our total plantation area is estimated to have a population of 57,484 (permanent workers and households) which increase to 98,007 when the wider population who live in and adjacent to, the plantations are included.
The findings from the ESA have given us a strong understanding of our operating environment and we are using them to evaluate our existing activities and to inform our sustainability strategy moving forward. We are serious about the recommendations which have been made to us and have already started to implement many of them – from strengthening community liaison, improving stakeholder engagement and investigating options for Palm oil mill effluent.
What Happens Next?
We recognise that we need to improve how we communicate with our workers and local communities and that effective stakeholder engagement is central to this. Since the study, we have recruited community liaison officers for all three plantations whose primary function is to provide a direct and effective line of communication between the company and local stakeholders. We are developing our capacity for proactive stakeholder engagement and are currently in the process of expanding the team- from corporate to plantation level.
In addition to our commitment to restrict all new plantings to pre-existing plantation areas and to not establish oil palm plantations on areas of natural forest, we recognise that plantation management needs to protect the remaining areas of natural forest, and contribute to our commitment for environmental protection. We will work with local communities to raise awareness on environmental protection and how we can collectively contribute to this goal. Since the study, land management plans have been developed and we now have environmental managers at each plantation who have responsibilities to protect areas of high conservation value.
We acknowledge that effective treatment of POME is a priority. Throughout 2015, we have been working with expert consultants to investigate the most feasible options for POME treatment across all three plantations, which will also be aligned to the requirements of RSPO.
We agree that there is an urgent need to establish a Community Development Plan to address challenges on food insecurity, local employment and livelihood development. To continue our progress in this area, ‘Our communities’ will form a key pillar of our sustainability strategy.
Find out more about our future plans for sustainability at PHC plantations.
Biodiversity key findings and recommendations
The biodiversity studies identified that there were limited areas of HCV in the plantations (which will be retained and protected under the plantation development programs the company is implementing), and that there is community pressure on natural resources at all three locations. A legacy of the isolated locations and restricted trade during the civil conflict has created a dependency on timber, firewood, medicinal plants and bushmeat. Management units have been proposed within the concession to protect the remaining areas of natural forest.
- Mammal species richness is low (a result of bushmeat hunting). Only two monkey species were identified (the Red-tailed Monkey and Wolf’s Monkey)
- 133 bird species were recorded – the African Grey Parrot was recorded at all 3 plantations (listed as vulnerable according to the IUCN red data list), and the studies have extended knowledge of the status and distribution of a number of species. 5 out of 133 bird species identified have never been recorded in this area before
- 43 fish species were recorded. One fish species, Neolebias cf. gracilis is new to the region and will require revision of scientific records
- No Rare, threatened, or endangered ecosystems, habitats or refugia - were identified
Social Assessment key findings and recommendations
It is estimated that approximately 100,000 people live on or within 5 km of the three plantations (‘the study area’) and approximately 47% are under the age of 16. This rapidly growing population presents a significant challenge for the Company and local infrastructure given that local communities within the study area are highly dependent on PHC for employment (both permanent and seasonal) and subsistence farming for their livelihoods.
The socio-economic survey identified significant pressure on land for the cultivation of food crops and that this is a source of tension between workers, who are restricted in where they can grow crops, and non-worker communities, who have more access to agricultural land outside the plantations. This pressure on land is likely to continue and emphasises the need for the implementation of a community development plan and continuation of the existing programme of activities.
In addition, grievances raised during stakeholder meetings appear to be a result of, and exacerbated by, limited communications between PHC management, their workforce and non-worker communities. Establishing an effective and proactive stakeholder engagement plan is considered to be critical to the success of the rehabilitation project and is now underway. To support the restoration of livelihoods, food security and enterprise development, a range of community development initiatives has been identified.
- Average household size: 7.5 members (larger than DRC rural average)
- Adult literacy rates approximately 85% in Lokutu and Yaligimba . This is consistent with the national trend where literacy levels in men over the age of 15 years old is 86% versus females at 61%
- 67% of households rely on 2 or more sources of livelihood
- Average walk to primary school is 30 minutes and secondary school 60 minutes each way.
- Average 30mins to walk to a water source each way
- 1% of households use gas or electricity for cooking, compared to 0.2% in rural DRC
Noise, Air and Palm Oil Mill Effluent (POME)
A desk study conducted on noise and air concluded that the rehabilitation of the plantations will not create significant impacts in terms of noise, or impacts to air quality. palm oil mill effluent (POME) treatment remains a priority and options for safe treatment of effluent were recommended.
- Overall noise from mill operations is not a concern and is predicted to improve as Feronia continues to rehabilitate and modernise plant equipment and logistics
- Air quality is not a concern and will further improve as part of Feronia rehabilitation and modernising of mills, plant equipment and vehicles
- Options for POME treatment include anaerobic digestion and lagooning