Pangkalan Tiga, Central Kalimantan – A village cooperative in Central Kalimantan has become an exemplary model showing not only the many benefits that good oil palm cultivation practices can bring but also how important it is to have champions and leadership to successfully thread on the path to sustainability.
From an obscure cooperative set up in 1984 catered to transmigrants who were no longer eligible to receive government’s livelihood assistance, KUD Tani Subur has grown into a multi-billion cooperative with diversified assets that includes a two-billion Rupiah credit and loan facility, cattle, fish and poultry breeding facilities, a two-story supermarket and a popular sprawling agrotourism center set up in the middle of a palm oil plantation.
Behind all that is Setiyana, a former transmigrant – farmers moved under a government scheme to alleviate the burden of densely populated Java and Bali islands — and palm oil smallholder, who is now on his third term at the helm of the cooperative. His success has also led him to be elected as a member of the district’s legislative council.
It was Setiyana who as head of the cooperative was quick to grasp the advantage of sustainability in the cultivation of oil palm when the Earth Innovation research institute (INOBU) approached him towards the end of 2015 as part of its drive to push sustainability certification for independent oil palm smallholders.
“I thought, this is good for farmers. They can learn good cultivation practices,” Setiyana said on the margin of a recent media visit to the cooperative’s agro-tourism and education facility in Pangkalan Tiga, organized by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and INOBU. The journey was far from easy and Setiyana said the toughest challenges he had to face was to convince fellow farmers of the benefits and advantages of going sustainable.
And benefit they did, after the RSPO issued 190 members of the cooperative a sustainability certification in 2017. Suparjo, an active member of KUD Tani Subur, told the Palm Scribe at the same occasion that after certification, the yield of his oil palm plantation had risen by around half a ton per month per hectare to reach 1.5 ton.
RSPO Indonesia Director Tiur Rumondang said that picking KUD Tani Subur in West Kotawaringin for certification was not made randomly.
“The way I see it, there are two important components in determining whether a group or a region is suitable for RSPO certification, for a jurisdictional approach,” said Tiur. The first was to see whether the group had no land legality issue or that the region has the ability to provide the necessary legal basis for the land of independent smallholders, The second was whether there were able leaders, or champions, in the group or in the area.
The issue of land legality, including the need for STDBs, is the main obstacle to the certification of smallholders in most other regions of Indonesia.
“These two factors are there in Tani Subur cooperative,” she said.
Although the cooperative had managed to survive and strengthen its finance through its conventional roles, it was only after Setiyana became its head in 2007 that KUD Tani Subur began its steady rise as a viable and successful business.
The assets of KUD Tani Subur now stand at around 15 billion Rupiah, Setiyana said, adding that more importantly, the cooperative’s activity has created jobs for local inhabitants.
“We are also attracting those who have finished their higher studies to come back to their village and work with us,” Setiyana said.
In 2014, the cooperative began a cattle-breeding program using feedstock produced from waste from the oil palm plantation. The manure was recycled and used to fertilize the plantation. From the initial 50 cattle, the number has grown to some 200. The program also provides training on cooperative-managed cattle farming, which is open to anyone interested.
The cooperative’s two-story supermarket is a noticeable feature on the main highway passing through the village. With merchandise worth some three billion Rupiah, it services the village as well as surrounding ones.
“Why should money be just stored, it should be reinvested. The cooperative almost has no money in the bank, everything is reinvested,” Setiyana said.
With his strong business acumen, Setiyana saw an opportunity in the absence of family-oriented recreational facilities in the district and thus, in 2016, he pushed the cooperative to build an agro-tourism and education facility in Pangkalan Tiga, making use of an unusable marshy plot of land among the oil palm plantations of its members.
Inaugurated in 2017, the facility that boasts a number of large swimming pools, man-made ponds with small boats and fishing area, a food area, various outbound activities, minibikes rental, has already contributed some 2.2 billion Rupiah in revenue last year.
“We are now planning to build a culinary center to promote classic village food and also to build some sort of accommodation facility. We also have a lot of people coming here to learn with us, why should they stay far away when they can just stay at the KUD here,” said Setiyana.
Heni Martanila, a sustainability staff with INOBU who has been involved in KUD Tani Subur’s certification process from the start, said that Setiyana has also persuaded farmers’ groups in neighboring villages to also get certified.
“We were invited by Setiyana to follow suit,” said Jaka Suherman, manager of the Technology Service Outpost in nearby Pangkalan Dewa village. He said his organization of farmers has also applied for RSPO certification and is set to get it soon. He said that he was also hooked on what RSPO certification meant. “It can assure a balance between how we make use of nature and maintain its equilibrium.”
Setiyana pointed out that a lot of other parties played a role in the certification and success of the cooperative, citing INOBU and RSPO, palm oil companies, members of the cooperative as well as the local government.
“If the local government strongly support this, it will speed up (the certification process). Here, even the head of the sub-district is willing to sign documents anywhere and never asks for money. The problem of STDB was thus solved,” Setiyana said, his last sentence referring to the Plantation Cultivation Registration Document (STDB), is a prerequisite in any sustainability certification process.
Tiur meanwhile, pointed out that KUD Tani Subur’s still had a long journey ahead and had to face the test of whether it would be able to survive the first five years before the next certification cycle.