Current debates on climate change have led to an increased demand for sustainable commodities. Serving this demand, sustainability certification schemes and eco-friendly labels have become prominent mechanisms of climate governance. Smallholder farmers in Jambi province, Indonesia, producing palm oil and rubber as the two dominant smallholder crops, are impacted by this distal demand. Zimmerer et al. (2018) suggest analyzing the potential sustainability in such a context with the multilevel smallholder telecoupling framework. Applying this framework to case studies from Jambi province, our first case reveals that smallholder certification for so-called sustainable palm oil does not necessarily influence smallholder towards more sustainable management practices. One explanation might be a discrepancy in sustainability perception between sender and receiver systems. The second case is the setup of an allegedly eco-friendly rubber plantation. The establishment of this model plantation is implemented by a transnational corporation in collaboration with a nature conservation organization, impacting the access to land for adjacent smallholders. The struggle over access to land is not only negotiated between smallholders and the corporation producing “eco-friendly” rubber but also between smallholders and big land mammals lacking access to land since the rubber plantation began to be established. We argue that the concept of sustainability as demanded by the receiving system does not mirror management practices in the sending system, even though the products reach the Global North as supposedly socially and climate-friendly. The smallholder telecoupling framework is helpful for assessing potential sustainability but can be expanded towards conflictive spillovers, second order effects, and a mismatch in sustainability perceptions in order to draw a more comprehensive picture.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited