About · ISCC Independent Smallholder (ISH) Certification

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ISCC independent smallholder (ISH) certification

Process towards ISCC independent smallholder certification

As millions of smallholders depend on selling their agricultural products for their livelihood (see figure 1) but are facing problems of low yields, little income and lack of market access, the pressure on land to expand agricultural activities continues. Certification can provide an option to increase productivity and thus increase income, raise attention to potential customers and ease selling products, taking away the need to further expand into forested areas.

Figure 1: Example Indonesia: Millions of smallholders produce oil palm and depend on it

Independent smallholders are farmers that grow crops on own land and fulfill certain additional conditions:

  • The labour on the farm is principally provided by the family
  • The farm provides the major source of income
  • ISH land does not belong to a PLASMA. On that land, smallholders are free to choose how to use land, which crops to plant and how to manage it
  • The land is not contractually bound to any oil mill and may receive support or extension services from government agencies or other support system
  • The planted oil palm area on the own land of an ISH is less than 50ha

ISCC has developed an independent smallholder (ISH) certification process. ISH certification is a group certification under the scope of a Central Office (CO). The CO is the holder of the ISCC certificate and is responsible for certain tasks like ISH management, administration, subcontractors or fund management.

The certification process includes the following steps:

1. Set up a Central Office (CO) organisation

An important precondition for a successful ISCC certification of ISH is the clarification of responsibilities and an appropriate organizational structure.

Under ISCC, ISH who would like to receive ISCC certification would need to be certified as a group under a so-called Central Office (CO), which is managed by a CO manager. ISCC enables the integration of several organizational units, e.g. cooperatives, to be certified under the certificate of one CO. This reduces the auditing effort and expenses. However, setting up a CO will be possible for any kind of organizational set-up. There is not such a requirement that cooperative structures are prerequisite for setting up a CO. In case of existing cooperatives the CO can be above, below or on cooperative level.

Only those ISH willing to be certified have to be covered under the certificate and not necessarily all ISH belonging e.g. to one cooperative (see figure 2). The CO will be the holder of the ISCC certificate and responsible for the compliance with ISCC requirements of each group member. ISH can be continuously added under an existing ISCC certificate. Precondition is a signed self-declaration, stating that the smallholder complies with ISCC requirements and the conduction of an internal audit to verify compliance. The important message is that one can start the certification process with a relative small group size. This reduces lengthy discussions with a large number of people and enables the ‘early adopters’ to act as a role model and to convince with results rather than words.

ISCC applies strict rules. ISH where land use change after 2008 has been detected will not be eligible for certification. There is no compensation mechanism for new plantings allowed under ISCC.

Figure 2: Only smallholders willing to get certified are subject to certification, not necessarily the whole cooperative

In order to reduce risks and ensure compliance with ISCC criteria a number of tasks shall not be performed by ISH themselves, but rather by the CO or subcontractors (see figure 3). Those include management, administration, bookkeeping, coordination of sales and supply chain documentation, among others. Furthermore, the storage of agricultural feedstock, logistics, spraying and storage of plant protection products and the buying of seedlings, pesticides or mineral fertilizers should also not be done by the ISHs themselves.

In case there is currently no organizational set-up which is in line with ISCC requirements, solutions for organizational adaptations shall be implemented.

Figure 3: The Central Office (CO) is the holder of the ISCC certificate. The responsibilities are focusing on the management of the smallholders

2. Receive Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and ISCC ISH Training

ISCC, together with regional and local specialists, provides specific good agricultural practices (GAP) and ISH trainings focussing on the organization of independent smallholders, better management and good agricultural practices as well as ISCC requirements.

The training aims to support ISH in setting up or adapting an organizational structure beneficial for certification and to raise awareness of GAP in order for smallholders to increase productivity.

The independent smallholder training is based on a three-level “Train the Trainer” concept (see figure 4):

  • 1st level – ISCC specialists provide a comprehensive training to master trainers. Master trainers are experienced trainers who are familiar with smallholder organizations, certification systems and GAP training. This training covers all requirements and framework conditions relevant for ISCC certification. The training is held in English supported by simultaneous Bahasa and English Powerpoint presentation
  • 2nd level – Master trainers provide the same training content they have received to the CO. The target group consists of representatives that have an important function at the CO such as the CO manager, internal auditors and ISH in charge of the 3rd level training. The training will be held in Bahasa with Powerpoint charts in Bahasa by native speaker. For the ISH part it will be quite appropriate to train smallholders as in their position they can best understand the needs of their peer group
  • 3rd level – Only training material is used that is relevant for the respective target group, i.e. CO personell or ISH. The 3rd level trainers need to be experienced in smallholder training and use in addition to Powerpoint charts other appropriate training material. Training and material will be held in Bahasa by native speakers

Figure 4: The train-the-trainer concept is a three level approach

3. & 4. Conduct a baseline audit and implement corrective measures

A baseline audit has to be conducted in order to better understand the status quo and to identify gaps towards certification and to design a customized training program for ISH. Results of the audit are discussed in order to identify and evaluate corrective actions.

ISCC has established a scorecard, which includes sustainability requirements that are independent of any certification system, helps smallholders to identify gaps and enables a customized and focused independent smallholder training. The scorecard can be applied by smallholders and internal auditors to monitor at different points in time the progresses of the sustainability performances and highlights when the smallholders fulfil the minimum level of compliance required for achieving certification.

Figure 5: Scorecard for identifying gaps and enabling customized and focused independent smallholder (ISH) training

Depending on the pace of implementation, the scorecard allows visualization of the performance level and the degree of compliance with different certification systems. Currently, the scorecard is linked to ISPO and ISCC requirements. In figure 5 the level of performance is shown for two different points in time. At the beginning the performance level is quite low. However the scorecard shows four areas of performance gaps. This will allow the trainers to focus their training on these gaps. Significant progress can be seen when the level of performance is verified at a second point in time.

5. Become certified

In order to become ISCC certified, ISH have to comply with ISCC principles one to six, covering the protection of land with high biodiversity value or high carbon stock as well as several ecological and social requirements and management practices.

The environmental and biodiversity risk assessment as well as verification of land use change would require certain qualifications and would add quite some costs to the overall audit costs, making it difficult for ISH to achieve certification. Therefore, ISCC has decided to facilitate the process for the land use change analysis for any of the ISH certification projects, reducing the burden, risks and costs for ISH substantially. Verification of compliance with ISCC Principle 1 is concluded by using the GRAS tool, which is recognized by ISCC for the verification of No-Go Areas and Land Use Change (LUC). The necessary GRAS analysis is performed by remote sensing specialists and subsidized by ISCC.

Furthermore, through the efficient approach to cover several cooperatives under one ISCC certificate and by this reducing the total number of samples taken for audit the costs for certification are further reduced.

No registration and certification fee is covered by ISCC for ISH certification.

It is expected that the ISCC ISH certification approach will cost 30 to 40 percent less compared to other approaches and at the same time will help ISH to generate additional revenues via an ISH fund. The underlying cost and revenue structure is currently monitored continuously in order to prove the concept.

If you are interested in setting up an ISH project please contact ISCC directly.

If you would like to learn more about the ISCC ISH certification concept, please find detailed information in the documents provided below as well as in the section ISCC tools.

Further information: Downloads and Links