Chairman of the Indonesian Palm Oil Farmer Union (SPKS), Mansuetus Darto Wojtyla Alsy Hanu, strongly believes that to push Indonesian palm oil smallholders to adopt sustainable agricultural practices, the government needed to provide appropriate incentives.

While active in SPKS, the man who is popularly known as Darto, said that he saw how minimal was government efforts to try to draw smallholders in the palm oil sector into the fold of sustainability, even more so now, when palm oil prices were depressed.

Mansuetus Darto

“The government should encourage farmers to engage in sustainability by providing incentives and make sure that palm oil prices, for example, stay at Rp 2,000 per kilogram for those who cultivate them in a sustainable way,” Darto told The Palm Scribe in an interview in Bogor,

A native of Keka Rejo, Cekaluju village, Manggarai district on the eastern Indonesian island of Flores, Darto believes that the government has so far not really accorded proper attention to palm oil smallholders who are now increasingly playing an important role in the palm oil industry. He said that it was now high time for these small palm oil farmers to be able to assume this bigger role.

Indonesian smallholders account for more than 40 percent of the country’s palm oil plantation in the country and their role are estimated to continue to rise in line with efforts to raise their currently low productivity levels.  These smallholders are also facing a multitude of challenges and needed assistance to deal not only with sustainable cultivation practice but also to raise their productivity and open up access to market, financing and the necessary infrastructure.

Darto said he understood that the current weak palm oil prices in the international market were due to many factors, and specifically mentioned the continues stream of the black campaign against palm oil, especially coming from non-producing countries such as the European Union.

“The government must act fast, this should not harm sales for the farmers who are now still dependent on markets overseas,” he said.

Darto disagreed with many who have claimed that the black campaign coming from the European Union did not have a big impact on Indonesia’s sales of palm oil because there were other alternative new markets.

“Our new market, India, has now begun to apply a hefty excise tax, and China, as well as Pakistan, are also doing that,” he said.

In relations to this, Darto criticized what he said was the government’s failure to protect Indonesia’s palm oil smallholders. “In Europe, their parliament clearly protects their small farmers from imports of palm oil, while here, the government tends to protect corporations only. The orientation of protectionism should be made clearer,” Darto said.

He said that this lack of clarity in policy also showed the government’s minimal role in drawing smallholders to take part in building up the industry of this commodity.

“What the SPKS is fighting for is that the farmers must be saved and be enabled to directly be in contact with buyers,” Darto said, adding that so far, he had not seen any government program which carried a direct positive impact on palm oil farmers.

Darto, who said he had begun to be drawn to provide assistance and advocacy for palm oil smallholders after a work stint with the Indonesian Friends of the Earth (WALHI) organization in West Kalimantan, is of the opinion that most palm oil smallholders were already award of sustainable cultivation practice.

But there were also many who still could not see any benefit in being certified in sustainability.

“These farmers who are not certified, it is because they think, ah, what do I gain by getting certified?” he said, adding that certification could not assure that farmers continued to practice sustainability in cultivating their crop.

Palm oil smallholders, in general, also still faced many challenges in getting sustainability certification such as from the Indonesia Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO) and or the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO.)

“The main challenge in certification for farmers is the matter of legality, the required land titles, and the minimal number of farmers gathered in associations because so far their life pattern has been very individual,” he said.

SPKS came into being following an initiative of Sawit Watch to set up an organization to fight for the rights of palm oil smallholders. In 2009, it was agreed to set up the National Forum for Palm Oil Farmers Unions but in 2014, the forum was then made into a union.

Through SPKS, Darto aims to assist the government in stepping up the participation of smallholders in the palm oil sector, by conducting an integrated data collection.

“We want to integrate the data so that the government has a database to decide the targets and where farmers can be assisted in sales or land legality matters,” Darto concluded.

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