Sustainable palm oil has provided many benefits for Sumarni, a smallholder in Lada Mandala Jaya Village, Pangkalan Lada, West Kotawaringin. Sumarni, 53, and her husband have cultivated oil palms for 15 years, but it was only in the last two years that Sumarni was able to apply sustainable farming in her oil palm plantation. She is now a Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certified farmer at the Karya Mandala Makmur Village-Owned Enterprise (BUMDes), which has more than 200 members.
“We farmers had to start from zero to get the RSPO certification. Initially, we had no clue what this RSPO was about and the benefits we would get. However, I feel grateful that I have finished the certification process,” said Sumarni. “Besides enjoying the financial benefits, I also get a lot of new experiences related to environmental conservation and farming methods.”
The Karya Mandala Makmur Village-Owned Enterprise is a farmer organization assisted by Kaleka which has helped farmer groups obtain RSPO certification since 2016.
The smallholders went through several stages in order to learn about sustainable palm oil production and to obtain an RSPO certification. As a result, the quality and quantity of fresh fruit bunches (FFB) have increased. Sumarni and her fellow certified smallholders also receive incentives from the RSPO credits.
In addition to teaching responsible and sustainable farming practices, the Internal Control System (ICS) of the village-owned enterprise also provides training sessions on how to maintain soil fertility and control pests and weeds.
“Before joining the training program, I used to grow and waited for the harvest season to come. But it turned out [these sustainable practices] made a difference,” said Sumarni. “I have benefited a lot from being an RSPO certified farmer.”
Sumarni also learned how to grow rubber plants and vegetables, such as eggplant, chilies, and water spinach, in the fields near the oil palm plantation. These additional crops help Sumarni and her family survive. For example, Sumarni can harvests up to 3-4 tons of eggplants every two months.
Ibu Sumarni in the fields near the oil palm plantation
“The vegetables helped me fulfill my daily needs. Besides selling them to the market, my family and I also cook and eat the vegetables for ourselves,” Sumarni explained, adding that she sells the produce from her vegetable garden was sold to a middleman in her village every three days.
Although the farming activities haven’t been heavily affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, Sumarni felt sad because the usual in-persons meetings where she can meet her neighbors are now replaced with regular visits by the ICS and training teams. Face-to-face interactions with other farmer group members have been limited.
“Usually we could talk about the condition of our plantations. Was our latest harvest more profitable or was it just the same as the previous month?” said Sumarni. “Because I don’t have a cellphone, chatting with other farmers is very limited. We talk only if we run into each other. And the conversation doesn’t last that long because we know the whole situation is still not safe.”
During this pandemic, Sumarni received basic food assistance from the West Kotawaringin administration. The Lada Mandala Jaya village administration also actively provides training about the dangers of the coronavirus pandemic, which emphasizes local residents to remain cautious in public.
“Hopefully this pandemic will end soon so that we can learn again through monthly training and group meetings about sustainable palm oil,” said Sumarni.