Community mapping for responsible palm oil

According to the Roundtable on Responsible Palm Oil’s principle on the development of new plantations, customary and user rights need to be demonstrated as part of the free prior and informed consent process. This can be done through community mapping, says a new policy brief



In many countries, customary village boundaries are rarely documented on official maps. Consequently, governments sometimes lease land that is used by local people to oil palm companies, which often results in conflict.

Community maps can be used to improve planning by plantation companies that are certified by the Roundtable on Responsible Palm Oil (RSPO), which is an international membership  organization and certification scheme for sustainable palm oil. This helps reduce conflict, for the benefit of both companies and farmers.

‘Community mapping’ means that community members create a cartographic map of their customary or village territory, often with the support of an independent expert organisation. Together they document boundaries and land uses, using simple Global Positioning System (GPS) technology and Geographical Information System (GIS) software. The boundaries between villages are established in consultation with neighbouring communities.

World Agroforestry Centre, scientists, land-allocation map, Bantaeng district, South Sulawesi, Indonesia

World Agroforestry Centre staff examining a land-allocation map in South Sulawesi, Indonesia. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Robert Finlayson

Community maps enable local people to communicate their perceptions of land rights and resource management systems with the government, companies and others involved.  

In recent years, community mapping has developed into an efficient and cost-effective method to create detailed local maps. Companies can use these maps to make sure that they comply with several of the RSPO’s principles and criteria.

Before plantations are established, RSPO-certified companies would be well advised to ensure that communities located within the concession area have been helped to document the boundaries of their lands and land uses through community mapping. Only then can communities negotiate on an equal footing and give their free, prior and informed consent.

Community maps can be used for proper site identification and internal zoning of plantations, to allow for local food crop production and biodiversity preservation. Companies should provide the farmers who participate in outgrowing arrangements with land-right certificates within one year of plantation establishment. In the case of land-based conflicts within existing plantation areas, community mapping can be used for dispute settlement.

In the policy brief, the team also recommends that the RSPO creates a dedicated fund for independent community mapping and inclusion of community maps into spatial planning. As well, the organization should  update the 2008 RSPO Guide for Companies on FPIC, aligning it with the revised principles and criteria and incorporate recent experiences with participatory land-use planning and community mapping. Although the revised principles and criteria make mention of ‘participatory mapping’ they do not provide further guidance.

Eventually, new plantations should only be regarded as being in compliance with RSPO principles and criteria if it can be proven that each community in, or adjacent to, the plantation area has effectively participated in making decisions about land use. This can be demonstrated through a community map that establishes village borders and clearly indicates disputed land.


Edited by Robert Finlayson


Read the policy brief

Kusters K, De Koning P, Sirait M, Witsenburg K, Wolvekamp P, Wezendonk L. 2013. Community mapping for responsible palm oil. Recommendations related to the EU RED. Policy brief. Bogor, Indonesia: World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) Southeast Asia Regional Program; Amsterdam: Both ENDS; Sanggau, Indonesia: Yayasan Perhutanan Sosial Bumi Khatulistiwa; Pontianak, Indonesia: Lembaga Bela Banua Talino; Pemberdayaan Pengelolaan Sumberdaya Alam Kerakyatan; University of Tanjungpura; UvAAISSR; Wageningen, The Netherlands: Wageningen University Research and Dienst Landbouwkundig Onderzoek; Amsterdam: Centre for International Cooperation at VU University Amsterdam; Den Haag: Catholic Organisation for Relief and Development Aid; Leiden, The Netherlands: Mekon Ecology; Haarlem, The Netherlands: WiW Global Research and Reporting.


This policy brief was produced as part of the Participatory Land-use Planning to Promote Sustainable Palm Oil Production project, which was carried out by a consortium consisting of Both ENDS, World Agroforestry Centre, Yayasan Perhutanan Sosial Bumi Khatulistiwa, Lembaga Bela Banua Talino, Pemberdayaan Pengelolaan Sumberdaya Alam Kerakyatan, University of Tanjungpura, UvAAISSR, WUR-DLO, Centre for International Cooperation at VU University Amsterdam, Cordaid, Mekon Ecology and WiW Global Research and Reporting. The project was primarily funded by Fonds Biomassa Mondiaal, Agentschap NL and co-funded by the MFS II Ecosystem Alliance and the Ford Foundation.



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This work is related to the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry


Rob Finlayson

Robert Finlayson is the Southeast Asia program's regional communications specialist. As well as writing stories for the Centre's website, he devises and supervises strategies for projects and the countries in the Southeast Asia region, including scripting and producing videos, supervising editors and translators and also assisting with resource mobilization.

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