Sustainability Concept’s Interpretation Affecting Native Farmers’ Participation on JCSPO Initiative and Governance in Sabah, Malaysia

  • Tham Mun Hou
  • Pramila Tamunaidu


This study investigates how the contradiction of sustainability concept’s interpretation between the policy makers and Sabahan native farmers impacts on the slow participation in the Jurisdictional Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (JCSPO) initiative. Triangulation methodology combining documentation method, ethnographic fieldwork, semi-structured interviews and focus group meetings with 155 key stakeholders were conducted in Sabah for over a fourteen-month period. Thematic approach and narrative analysis were utilized to analyse and interpret data collected on field. Findings revealed that unique native farmers’ characteristics, local customary law and cultural belief impacted their extent of participation in JCSPO initiative. The analysis indicated that the vague sustainability concept and the element of commercialism embedded of the JCSPO initiative further exacerbated the clash of sustainability concept’s interpretation of the native smallholders, which ultimately complicates the governance of the farmers. Findings on specific aspects of sustainability concept’s differences as identified in this study may provide awareness for policy makers for restrengthening the initiative by redefine, realigning and rebalancing the sustainability concept based on local needs and acceptance.


Kacen, L., & Chaitin, J. (2006). ’The times they are a changing’: Undertaking qualitative research in ambiguous, conflictual, and changing contexts. The Qualitative Report, 11(2), 209-228.
Kenney-Lazar, M., Wong, G., Baral, H., & Russell, A. J. (2018). Greening rubber? Political ecologies of plantation sustainability in Laos and Myanmar. Geoforum, 92, 96-105.
Nakashima, D., Galloway McLean, K., Thulstrup, H., Ramos Castillo, A., Rubis, J., & Traditional Knowledge Initiative. (2012). Weathering uncertainty: Traditional knowledge for climate change assessment and adaptation; 2012.
Pita, C., Pierce, G. J., & Theodossiou, I. (2010). Stakeholders’ participation in the fisheries management decision-making process: Fishers’ perceptions of participation. Marine policy, 34(5), 1093-1102.
Ritchie, H. (2021, February 9). Palm Oil. Our World in Data.
Roundtable Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) (2017). RSPO Certifications Systems for Principles & Criteria. Assessed on February 15, 2021.
Rulli, M. C., Casirati, S., Dell’Angelo, J., Davis, K. F., Passera, C., & D’Odorico, P. (2019). Interdependencies and telecoupling of oil palm expansion at the expense of Indonesian rainforest. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 105, 499-512.
Ruysschaert, D., & Salles, D. (2014). Towards global voluntary standards: Questioning the effectiveness in attaining conservation goals: The case of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Ecological Economics, 107, 438-446.
Teng, S., Khong, K. W., & Ha, N. C. (2020). Palm oil and its environmental impacts: A big data analytics study. Journal of Cleaner Production, 274, 122901.
Vogelpohl, T. (2021). Transnational sustainability certification for the bioeconomy? Patterns and discourse coalitions of resistance and alternatives in biomass exporting regions. Energy, Sustainability and Society, 11(1), 1-13.
World Wildlife Fund, Malaysia (2021). Sabah: A Global Leader in Sustainable Palm Oil. Available at: Assessed on January 13, 2021.
How to Cite
MUN HOU, Tham; TAMUNAIDU, Pramila. Sustainability Concept’s Interpretation Affecting Native Farmers’ Participation on JCSPO Initiative and Governance in Sabah, Malaysia. International Journal of Advanced Research in Economics and Finance, [S.l.], v. 6, n. 1, p. 70-77, mar. 2024. ISSN 2682-812X. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 21 may 2024.
English Section