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★★★★★ Customer Reviews

Since unveiling our Ministry of Soap Factory in 2021, we have had a great fascination with our RSPO-certified sustainable soap noodles that we use exclusively to manufacture our soap. Benefits of using sustainable RSPO-certified palm oil in comparison to alternatives like soy or rapeseed are clear to see, but still public misconceptions remain. For example, did you know that Palm oil is NINE TIMES more productive than soy? So, nine times less land is needed to produce a tonne of oil.

In August of 2023, we were thrilled to have the opportunity to learn more about the ingredient at the very start of our supply chain, as a representative from The Somerset Toiletry Co., (Sakina’s sister-in-law) Sharon, visited the plantations and tribes in the heart of Papua New Guinea that cultivate our sustainable palm oil in harmony with the surrounding ecosystem and wildlife. 

Please read on to follow Sharon’s journey through Papua New Guinea as she visits sustainable palm oil plantations and discovers how supporting sustainable practises creates opportunity for many communities in PNG and so much more.

DAY 1 (21/8/2023)

I met Peter Callister (Head of Sustainability at New Britain Palm Oil) at Port Morseby Airport and together we flew to Popendetta, the capital of Oro (Northern) Province in Papua New Guinea. From Popendetta, we drove to the Higaturu Palm Oil Company Guest House. I was introduced to several members of the sustainable palm oil team and prepared for what would be a profound and educational few days.


DAY 2 (22/8/2023)

First on the agenda was a board meeting where the many facets of the business were explained to me. Notable incentives that are taken up by New Britain Palm Oil Limited include production of palm oil from seedling to finished product, several conservation efforts, as well as providing accommodation, schools, and medical centres that are directly funded by the business. I was also given several copies of the Sustainability News, a newsletter created by the company.

One of the areas of conservation that is undertaken is to save the endangered Queen Alexandra Bird Wing butterfly. It is the largest butterfly in the world, with a wingspan of up to 30 centimetres. They are in the process of building a butterfly house, which will be the largest in the Southern Hemisphere.

Another area of conservation is the Popendetta Blue Eye Rainbow fish, which is 2-inch (5 cm) long and known for its glowing blue eyes, yellow fins, and distinct fork pattern on the tail. It is endemic to Papua New Guinea and is only found at three localities in Popendetta and nowhere else in the world.

They also explained how the company employs small holders for sustainable palm oil production: They lease the land from them, plant the trees, the farmer then looks after the plants and is paid for the yield of palm fruit. The other option for the locals is to just lease the land to the company but they are not involved in harvesting.

The trees can be harvested every 10-12 days and can produce fruit from the age of 3-25 years. There are around 128 trees to one hectare of land.

Higaturu Oil Palm are the biggest employers in PNG with over 2,400 staff. They were the first company in the world to be part of The Rain Forest Alliance. In 2011 they were number one in applying commitment to sustainability. To see how much effort, commitment and attention Higaturu Oil Palm took into their sustainability was heart-warming.


After the meeting we headed out to visit the Palm Nursery, where I saw the seedlings and learned about how to look after them, so they mature into beautiful palm trees ready to be planted when they are around 2 years old. I was introduced to the workers who look after the Nursery. They also plant trees for the necessary buffer zone required in the fields, some for adding nutrients to the soil and some to attract butterflies etc.

Next, we visited the plantation where they were re-planting young trees in already planted areas. The waste product from the fruit after milling is a fibre, which is used as mulch around the young trees. This is a great example of how New Britain Palm Oil consider sustainability for every angle and try to find multiple uses for all the available resources. 


Next on to the plantation of the mature Palm trees, where we saw them harvesting the fruit with very long sickles. The loose fruit that falls from these towering trees is picked up by workers and put into bags, which also serves as providing another job for locals, many of them woman.


After lunch we drove to the Mill to learn about the factory procedure for producing the oil. Here the bunches are treated with steam, to sterilize them. Then the stripping process occurs, which removes the fruit from the bunches. It also deactivates the enzymes that can potentially decrease the quality of the fruit. The crop yields two different types of oil, crude palm oil from the fruit and palm kernel oil from the crushed kernel. Palm kernel oil is widely used in cosmetics for its moisturising and anti-aging properties. Palm oil is the most productive source of vegetable oil. Switching to other less productive sources will potentially increase natural habitat loss, as more land will be needed to produce the same amount of oil.


DAY 3 (23/8/2023)

This morning we drove out to visit a local, small holding family. They had a very well looked after plantation and a sprawling property. They welcomed us warmly; giving us a tour of the plantation and showing us their newly harvested fruit, which Peter Callister told me had been prepared for the mill perfectly.


We sat and discussed any questions they had, and I told them about the products that were produced from their oil. I handed out soaps made by the Somerset Toiletry Company. They were so excited to receive the soaps developed from the palm oil they work so hard to harvest. It was a true full circle moment. It was touching to see what this meant to each member of the family. Our meeting felt ceremonious and after the presentation of the soap. Conversation turned into a small banquet boasting an assortment of locally cooked food, all freshly prepared for our arrival. At the close of the meal, I chewed beetle nut, a local delicacy! Before our departure, I was presented with a beautiful shell necklace as a ‘thank you’ for coming to visit them as they never get visitors from the western hemisphere. I will treasure the necklace forever.

Next, I was taken to the conservation grounds, where I was given a tour around the amazing butterfly habitat, one of Same Darby Plantation’s many initiatives. I got to see the Queen Alexandra butterfly. I also got a sneak-peak at a new saw structure that will soon be a bustling new butterfly house.


The final stop on my tour was Oro village to meet more small holders. I was given a tour of the natural, pristine jungle high conservation area that the village looks after. They are paid by the company to look after this area and to stop people who might not have the best intentions from entering.


Then on to the village. Wow what a welcome! The villagers in their tribal costumes were dancing and playing music as they escorted me into their village. I felt so emotional at such an amazing welcome. I was presented with many more gifts an amazing meal once again! Then, a community meeting addressing concerns and questions.

I truly feel that Sime Darby and New Britain Palm Oil are doing all the right things that go along with sustainability of palm oil and are fully committed to providing a great environment for their staff and all the small holders and their extended family. Before my visit to Papua New Guinea, I was sceptical of palm oil like many people in the UK. I had seen the negative press around palm oil and assumed it must be a net-negative ingredient. The visit has completely changed my mind. Sustainable palm oil is not just about the certification or the method in which palm oil trees are harvested, it also touches local communities, wildlife and other practises that rarely get any attention.

I’ve noticed a narrative from several UK business that suggest we go palm oil-free. This is simply not the answer. The answer is sustainable palm oil. If we were to go palm oil-free, smallholder farmers like the ones I’ve met here will be greatly impacted. Alternatives like Soya and Rapeseed require far greater acreage to harvest. Removing ourselves from the problem won’t save orangutans. We need to use our powerful voice to influence the industry to be better and follow the people I have met here who keep sustainability at the forefront of their practises.

I’m so touched by the generosity and care that my hosts have given me during these busy few days. Everyone has gone all out in trying to accommodate me. Thanks to all those who made my trip so enjoyable and informative. It’s a trip I truly won’t forget. – Sharon.

We are thrilled that Sharon saw first-hand the effort our supplier puts into producing palm in a sustainable way, supporting native people and the environment in PNG. However, it saddens us to know that many companies do not actively promote the use of RSPO-certified palm oil due to the controversy surrounding the subject. We hope you’ve enjoyed seeing where our palm oil comes from and will, like us continue to promote the use of sustainably sourced palm oil, certified by RSPO.  


We’d like to extend a huge thank you to Sime Darby Oils for welcoming us to Papua New Guinea with open arms and being such gracious hosts to Sharon. The work that Sime Darby Oils do for responsible agriculture practices, human rights, as well as innovation and productivity are clear throughout Sharon’s diary and deeply embedded in the company’s ethos.

Learn more about Sime Darby Oils here.

The Somerset Toiletry Company was founded in 1999 and has been developing beautiful body care and gifts ever since. Please read our about us page to find out more, or explore all our scented toiletries, home fragrances and more on our website.

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