Margini: Female Farmer Alive and Kicking at Oil Palm Plantation

Ibu Margini

Margini, 47, is a transmigrant who later became an independent oil palm farmer in Pangkalan Tiga Village, Pangkalan Lada District, Kotawaringin Barat, Central Kalimantan. In that village, Margini had to deal with many challenges and has grown into a tough and resilient woman.

Before setting foot on the island of Borneo, Margini used to work at a textile factory in Boyolali, Central Java. After three years of working there with a salary deemed too low, she felt she had enough and wanted to change her life by moving to Kalimantan through the transmigrant program.

Around 1995, Margini moved to the earliest transmigrant settlement in Pangkalan Tiga Village in Central Kalimantan. At that time, the forests were being cleared and converted oil palm plantations. The settlement was quiet and isolated, the residents had no electricity, and their houses were built with wood.

In her early years there, Margini worked at a regional cooperative and a timber company, before finally meeting and marrying her husband who worked as an excavator contractor.

Margini saved money from her husband’s income to buy land. Margini and her husband also built a house in Pangkalan Lada. Margini also bought a half hectare of land with the money she had collected when she was still single.

Margini who was told not to get a job since she was married spent her days taking care of her husband and children.

Only when her children entered elementary school did Margini start growing oil palms on her vacant land located not far from her house. In the morning, when the children have gone to school, Margini would go to work on her plot, clearing bushes and shrubs. She spared two to three hours every day to clear the land.

Then, Margini hired workers to plant and grow oil palms. Initially Margini had no clue about palm oil, so needed to teach herself to be a oil palm farmer, asking her husband and fellow farmers.

In 2016, Kaleka went to oil palm plantation villages in Central Kalimantan, providing education on sustainable palm oil and training on certification for smallholders. Among the villages is Desa Pangkalan Tiga, a pilot village for the certification program.

Margini was interested to join the certification program. She said she has enjoyed tangible results, such as higher yields and increased income, from the various training she had.

“We can see that our crops are getting better,” said Margini.

Ibu Margini

After joining the certification program, she was able to access a more transparent market and enjoy a higher income because she no longer sold his crops to middlemen. “My crop is now weighed accurately and the sales yield is also higher.”

In 2017, Pangkalan Tiga Village succeeded in certifying all independent oil palm smallholders. The certification program in this village only takes 1.5 years, one of the fastest compared to other certification programs.

What is interesting is that Pangkalan Tiga Village has not only succeeded in empowering oil palm farmers but also in diversifying its businesses. Thee village unit cooperative is one of the best examples. The financial benefits from the certification program have been used to accelerate the development of the cooperative — called KUD Tani Subur — which offers a loan of Rp 2 billion as well as facilities and infrastructure for cattle, fish, and poultry.

In addition, the village also has a two-story supermarket and has successfully developed an agro-tourism center in the middle of an oil palm plantation, operating a fishing area and a water recreation park for families.

Margini has also benefited from the diverse and sustainable business model.

Margini, who just opened a sundries shop at home in February this year, is facing a lack of income due to the pandemic.

“When I opened a shop, right when the pandemic started,” said Margini.

Her husband’s income has decreased due to reduced work hours, and the purchasing power of the locals has weakened. Fortunately, the agro-tourism business center still attracts tourists from other regions. One of his friends who sell snacks in the agro-tourism area bought the materials from her shop.

“At least I make extra money, although it isn’t that much,” said Margini.

In recent months, tourism has started to pick up, but tourists bring their own food. Only a handful of people buy from the food vendors.

Furthermore, Margini knows that she needs to find other income streams besides from his husband’s job. One day her husband will become old and eventually stop working as an excavator contractor. With certification and a variety of village businesses, Margini and her husband still can make a living for their two children who are about to go to college.

“When my husband gets old, he will stop working and that means we have no more income,” said Margini. “So, later we will focus on plantations to care for oil palm. In my spare time, I also grow bananas and cassava. “