The role of credit cooperatives in improving the economy at grass root level has already been widely proven, but in Indonesia’s West Kalimantan, one such cooperative went a step further, promoting sustainable practices among oil palm smallholders through the holding of field schools that teach them good agricultural practices.
It is the Keling Kumang Credit Union, a credit cooperative founded in 1993 that took its name from a legendary couple in the local Dayak folklore, that two decades after its birth established a field school for oil palm farmers, with its members in mind.
“The aim of the establishment of this oil palm farmer field school for members of Keling Kumang, is so that smallholders can maintain plantations well and prioritize environmental and sustainability aspects,” said Paskalis My, Project Manager of the Keling Kumang Oil Palm Field School, adding that the holding of the school was “a social activity to empower smallholders.”
Paskalis told The Palm Scribe, that the Keling Kumang Credit Union was one of a number of business units under the Keling Kumang Group. The Group currently counts five business units – the Keling Kumang Credit Union, the Keling Kumang Foundation, The Lima Dua Consumer Cooperative (K-52), the Tujuh Tujuh Producer Cooperative (K77) and the Ladja Tampun Juah Service Cooperative.
The mission of the Keling Kumang Credit Union itself is to provide responsible and sustainable financial services to reduce poverty and improve living standards.
Paskalis said that the majority of members of Keling Kumang were oil palm smallholders in West Kalimantan, although the school was also open to members who were not oil palm growers.
To submit an application for the holding of a farmer field school, members have to organize themselves into a group. The application can be submitted to any of the Keling Kumang Credit Union branches.
‘Fore efficiency on the field, we do indeed target a participation of between 15 to 30 participants to open one class, but there is no obligation for a class to have such numbers,” Paskalis said.
As a social activity, the field school is free and its activities are fully funded from the CSR of the Keling Kumang Group as well as from cooperation with a number of other parties.
Paskalis said that the field school, which essentially provides assistance to smallholders in the field, offers two modules – the TBM module for farmers whose crops were not yet productive, and the TM Module for those with crops that were already producing. Each module takes seven sessions, each of them held once in a week for 120 minutes.
“All activities are held in the field, be that theory or practice,” he said. The activity is held at an oil palm plantation proposed by the group which applied for the course. Members of the credit union are mostly smallholders, both independent or part of plasma schemes. Those groups with not plantation can use a plantation belonging to another group or individual.
Besides the farmer field school, Paskalis said that the Keling Kumang Group also ran a Financial Management School for farmers. In this school, farmers are taught about responsible saving, spending, loans and investment. More than 7,000 people have completed courses at this school, he said.
For these two schools, Keling Kumang Group had 18 teachers which in this scheme is called trainers. All came from the Keling Kumang Group.
Paskalis stressed that the sustainable oil palm plantation maintenance and management practices taught by the schools were aligned to the standards contained in the Principles and Criteria of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), the world’s leading oil palm sustainability certification scheme.
Keling Kumang continues to provide guidance and assistance to graduates of the field schools since they were all members of the Keling Kumang credit union. Graduate of the farmer field schools were also expected to join the Keling Kumang Association of Oil Palm Farmers (APKS KK), an association under the guidance of Keling Kumang Group that was established in 2015.
The management of the APKS KK was by graduates from the farmer field school itself. Paskalis said the alumni of the school numbered more than 2,000 so far.
“At present, the Keling Kumang Group sis preparing farmers to take part in the RSPO certification through the Keling Kumang Association of Oil Palm Farmers,” he said.
As a field school, and one for farmers, the organizers are not lacking in challenges. “The challenge that we are facing is that the majority of the people we are training have never received a formal education,” Paskalis said. Many of them were even illiterate and this necessitated a special approach in communicating teaching materials.
Another challenge was that the trainers have often to go through physical hardship to reach the areas where they have to teach.
“The locations that are far, the difficult terrain, having to go through villages, but we continue to undertake these activities sincerely and with a high spirit,“ Paskalis said.
Pilemon, a participant of the field school held in Empaka Kebiau Raya village in the sub-district of Binjai Hulu in the West Kalimantan district of Sintang, said that many were the benefits from taking part in the school.
“Firstly, we got to know how to plant oil palm and then how to maintain the crop, something which we could not do before,” Pilemon said in a video uploaded on the Facebook page of Keling Kumang Group. He said that by taking part in the school, he and his friends have been gradually able to take good care of their own plantation.
“With this field school, participants also became motivated to have their own plantation,” he added.“