The Palm Scribe

In Times of Pandemic, Govt Must Assist Oil Palm Smallholders: Experts

oil palm farmer in covid pandemic era
Palm Oil Farmer. Photo: RSPO

In times of Pandemic such as the current COVID-19, the government must provide assistance to smallholders who operate some 43 percent of the country’s oil palm plantations, but to do so, it was urgent for it to first build a solid database on smallholders to enable well-targeted reliefs, experts said Thursday (18/6.)

A number of farmers talking in an online media gathering held by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), all spoke of erratic price jolts and low prices for their oil palm fresh fruit bunch (FFB), and also high prices of fertilizers. Mansuetus Darto, Chairman of the Indonesian Union of Oil Palm Farmers (SPKS) pointed out that oil palm smallholders were totally dependent on oil palm as they usually planted no other food crop that could help them weather the current hardship due to the pandemic.

 “The government needs to resolve the price jolts at the farmers’ level,” Darto said, adding that “Farmers in all places are complaining about fertilizer and there needs to be government assistance in relations to fertilizer.”

Darto however, also pointed out the urgency for the government to conduct a mapping of the oil palm smallholders which he said still did not exist

 “A mapping is very urgent. We need to know where their assets are, we need to know whether they are organized or not, what is their legality aspects. This is an important base, not only for (sustainability) certification but so that assistance, if we want to help in the context of COVID, can be targeted and clear,” said Guntur Cahyo Prabowo, RSPO Indonesia Manager for Smallholder Program.

Speaking at the same occasion, Prabowo said that with the government now making it obligatory for all oil palm producers, corporate or individual, in Indonesia to get sustainability certification under the Indonesia Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO) scheme, it was important to also consider addressing the root causes behind the small number of smallholders who have been certified.

The virtual event titled “the Impact of COVID-19 on RSPO Certified Growers” also heard Rukaiyah Rafik, a senior advisor to the Forum of Sustainable Oil Palm Farmers (Fortasbi) say that as mills and manufacture industries slowed down amid the pandemic because of the prevailing Large Scale Social Restriction, prices were low but fertilizer prices were high.

“COVID-19 has an impact on them and their main source of livelihood as they cannot sell or transport their FFBs to buyers. The Pandemic also affects the stock of fertilizer and other input for farmers as well as the price of food,” Rafik said.

Darto pointed out another effect of the Pandemic on smallholders. He said that with income falling, farmers had difficulties affording fertilizers and therefore were forced to reduce the amount of fertilizers, thus negatively affecting the productivity of the tree the following year.

Rafik however, said that RSPO certified farmers had a much better resilience against the hardship caused by the pandemic because they were organized and as such had better access to corporate buyers, and also could gain additional fund from their certification credits which could be used to provide the assistance needed by the organization’s members.

Prabowo said that sales of RSPO certification credits in the May 2019-May 2020 period had yielded some $1.5 million that were channeled to 30 RSPO-certified farmer organization to enable them to provide relief for their members during the current difficult time.

YB Zainanto Hari Widodo, a representative of the Independent Oil Palm Farmer Association in Kotawaringin Barat, Central Kalimantan, said that with RSPO certification, the association had a windfall because the sale of its an RSPO certification credits allowed them to obtain relief assistance during this COVID time to buy food, get free fertilizers for members but also to help poor families in their area.

Similar benefits were also expressed by a number of other representatives of RSPO-certified farmer groups in other provinces, including North Sumatra, Riau, and South Sumatra. Widodo said that he hoped the benefits from RSPO certification could motivate other oil palm smallholders to seek certification.

Data from the Ministry of Agriculture showed that in 2019 Indonesia had 121,168 certified oil palm farmers, or 4,42 percent of the total. They accounted for plantations of 223,229 hectares or 3.75 percent of the plantations operated by smallholders.

Indonesia is the world’s top producer, exporter and consumer of palm oil. It contributes more than half of the world Crude Palm Oil supply and 20.53 percent of the global certified sustainable palm oil. At home, certified sustainable palm oil for 54.30 percent of the national production.

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