In its bid to develop the national palm oil industry, the government needed to protect its smallholders, including by setting up a number taskforces, each to deal with one of the major challenges faced by these growers, a palm oil labor activist said.

Mansuetus Darto, Chairman of the Palm Oil Farmers Union (SPKS) said that the establishment of these taskforces by the government were to help protect farmers, which according to official data already account for 40 percent of the country’s palm oil plantations.

“First, a task force is to supervise land legality and to prevent fires, second, to oversee partnerships so that they are more egalitarian, third, to supervise weights at mills so that farmers are not disadvantaged and fourth, to control prices for the independent smallholders,” Darto told a national meeting of Indonesian palm oil farmers here on Wednesday (28/11)

The matter of the legality of land tenures has been seen as one of the main problems facing smallholders, especially independent ones and this leads to them having no access to various facilities including funding, technical assistance, and training, good seedlings and fertilizers.

Darto also said that while the government was now focusing on dealing with the matter of land certification for smallholders, there were still administrative and financial constraints that most smallholders had difficulties in the meeting.

The government is currently on a drive to issue land certificates to smallholders, including in the palm oil sector. The government has also said that unless a land was under dispute, land certificates would also be issued for land within forests that have been worked on by smallholders for years.

Director for land reform at the Ministry of Agrarian Affairs and Spatial Planning, Arif Pasha, addressing the same meeting said that the government was now proactively helping farmers to get their land certified at no cost.

“Before farmer was faced with high costs, well, under the new regulations, we are proactively going to the region to collect documents, therefore smallholders are expected to gather this (land-related) documents to their head of the region,” he said.

Pasha also stressed that under the new regulations farmers have to pay nothing.

“It is at zero rupiahs but the condition is that the land should be clearly delineated and the documents are readied,” Pasha said.

“If there are money levied, report it to the local regional government or any law enforcer,” he added.

SPKS, according to Darto, also appreciated the government’s seriousness in supporting the Indonesian palm oil industry, especially in a difficult time like now, when global crude palm oil prices have remained low throughout most of the year.

He said that the Moratorium declared by the government on the issuance of new oil palm concessions was a positive point and would help not to worsen the current glut in palm oil.

“If it (production) continues to happen, it would mean that farmer’s income would reach zero percent. Therefore, a moratorium is very positive and provides a lot of benefit for us, independent palm oil smallholders,” he said.

Meanwhile, William Danny, Assistant to the Deputy for Plantations and Horticulture of the Coordinating Ministry for the Economy, affirmed that the government was fully in support of palm oil smallholders. “Many are of the opinion that palm oil smallholders pose a threat to climate change, but we have a different opinion. Famers are a solution for the palm oil industry,” he said.

However, Danny, who was also speaking at the same occasion, admitted that the government was aware of the problems faced by smallholders were great. Among others, compared to the two other main players in the palm oil industry, the state, and the private sector, smallholders had a production capacity that was far inferior.

Zukri Saad who heads the Sustainability Division of PT. Golden Agri Resources Tbk also said the corporation was in support of the development of palm oil smallholders.

“The company’s commitment is at 1,000 percent to help smallholders because we can also not buy from sources with unclear traceability,” he said.

Saad also said that the company was encouraging the establishment and development of cooperatives in areas managed by the company. Such cooperatives, he said would help improve the livelihood of smallholders.

“We want cooperatives around our plantations to become business entities and that farmers do not merely wait for their oil palms to bear fruits, we encourage them to really be ready to do business with the company,” he said.

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