Since 2009, Dr. Bronner’s has been operating Serendipalm as the world’s first commercial project to produce certified Fair Trade and organic palm oil.
Serendipalm is a sister company of Dr. Bronner’s, the best-known natural soap brand in the USA, and it is part of the Serendi family of agricultural projects that Dr. Bronner’s has been setting up since 2005. The company’s goal is to ensure a supply of raw materials for its products from verifiably fair and sustainable sources.
The “Serendi” in the company name is derived from the word “serendipity” which means “finding something valuable or delightful when you are not looking for it”—a motto that applies to all Serendi projects.
Location of Serendipalm
Serendipalm produces certified Fair Trade and organic palm oil eschewing the large infrastructure and monoculture cropping used by most palm oil manufacturers. We do much of our work by hand, which means more jobs for unschooled workers. We have deliberately chosen not to automate production wherever possible.
The difference between Serendipalm’spalm oil production and that of our major competitors is obvious. They grow oil palms on large monoculture plantations, often on freshly cleared forest land. The palm fruits are processed in central oil factories that are poorly integrated into the local communities—often with disastrous and globally criticized results for people, animals and the environment. Serendipalm, on the other hand, only buys palm fruit from more than 600 local organic small farmers, whom we help to switch to organic cultivation, while assisting them in continuously improving soil fertility and yields. Typically, they have fields of 2–3 hectares—so very small in comparison with the conventional plantations that can easily have an area of 10,000 hectares. At our oil mill in Asuom we use simple processes that call for a great deal of manual labor. In this way, we have created many jobs—over 250 in total. Work planning, good communication, continuing education and ongoing improvement of production efficiency all play a major role here. In many regards, Serendipalm is a training organization—out of necessity—which results in great joy and the occasional headache.
Serendipalm’s weekly production currently represents a fraction of the 500 to 1,000 tons of organic palm oil produced on major projects. However, small is often better, and Serendipalm’s philosophy of fair and eco-friendly production enables it to integrate closely into the community and have positive effects on the Asuom district, both as an employer and by means of community development projects. As a rule, major palm oil producers cannot afford to do this, even though many of them have good intentions.
Serendipalm’s success shows that “good” Fair Trade and organic palm oil is possible. We are delighted that there are new, larger projects around the world producing fair organic palm oil, and we are collaborating with them in disseminating our concept (see www.palmdoneright.com).
And finally, Serendipalm and Dr. Bronner’s are active players in the heated debate in Europe on the subject of palm oil—giving talks, issuing publications, and helping to draw up proposals for politicians.