The Jakarta Post
Owning and operating oil palm plantations changed the lives of many smallholders but the real change did not occur until they joined a partnership program. Siswoyo is one of them.
Being idle for nearly two years was by no means good for young Siswoyo, a senior high school graduate.
So, lured by a story of financially comfortable palm oil farmers shared by a visiting transmigrant, he decided to leave his home in Lampung to make his way in life.
The inexperienced and unskilled young man tried his luck in 1996 by becoming a smallholder in Ukui, one of the popular oil palm plantation areas in Riau.
Siswoyo purchased a two-hectare site, paying Rp 1.5 million for the land and oil palm seeds.
However, he stayed there only for one-and-half months and returned to his village in Lampung. 'Life was very tough and I stayed with another family. And besides, I had no knowledge about cultivating oil palm,' he recollected.
In 2011, he got married but life remained tough because his farmland had yet to bear fruit optimally and therefore he still worked as a farmhand to earn extra income.
To optimize the productivity of his plantation, he tried to copy what other smallholders did but it was difficult to get fertilizer because he had to fight for it as many others wanted it.
'I had to order first from a distributor but it did not guarantee that the fertilizer would come on time. Because of the frequent delays, I could not fertilize my plantation on a regular basis. Consequently, when harvesting time came, the 2 hectares of land could only produce less than 1.5 tons,' he recalled.
Like many others, he sold the yield to a broker at a low price. To raise his bargaining position and to make fresh fruit bunches (FFB) easy to sell, independent smallholders in the village formed groups of independent smallholders whose numbers kept increasing, which eventually led to the birth of the Amanah Independent Smallholders Association. However, when it came to sales, they had to adopt a queuing system.
'We, independent smallholders, wanted to receive assistance from a company like plasma smallholders did. They did not seem to find any of the difficulties that we experienced,' he said.
Siswoyo joined Bhakti Village Cooperative Unit in 2001 and nine years later he became an assisted partner of PT Inti Indosawit Subur (IIS), a business unit of the Asian Agri group.
'We realized that we lagged far behind compared to plasma smallholders. Therefore, we agreed to partner with PT IIS so as to achieve a level equal to that of plasma smallholders, who had made an established kind of life much earlier,' he said.
Siswoyo acknowledged that many advantages could be reaped by being an assisted smallholder.
'Now I understand how to fertilize correctly and the required composition for its benefits. It is also easy for me to get fertilizer as the company provides fertilizer packages for us. We do not have to stand in a long queue to deliver fresh fruit bunches. The clear thing is the company will help us find solutions to any problem we face in our plantations,' he said.
The independent smallholders were trained and taught by their adopted parent to understand the need for fertilizer based on the result of leaf analysis. They were also guided to take care of the plantation properly and regularly, how to harvest, maintain the quality of fruit, the right way of spraying and fire-extinguishing techniques.
'By becoming an assisted smallholder, I can increase the plantation productivity. My two hectares of land can produce yields of over three tons. And even in the non-fruit season, it can produce 3.5 tons. The land productivity increases twofold compared to before becoming an assisted smallholder,' he said.
Many plasma smallholders from Trimulya Jaya village managed to achieve Roundtable Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) status on March 1, 2011, which encouraged the independent smallholders to gain similar recognition.
Siswoyo and 345 independent smallholders asked for assistance and guidance from Asian Agri to enable them to obtain RSPO certification. And finally, after a long struggle, their endeavors paid off. Independent smallholders from Trimulya Jaya, also managed to obtain the certificate.
Thanks to his hard work and perseverance, Siswoyo has been able to expand his plantation by buying another two hectares of land.
By owning and operating two plantations, he can earn an average income of between Rp 8 million (US$617) and Rp 9 million per month, far higher than what he earned prior to joining the partnership.
Discovering the good prospects for palm oil, he expressed regret at not buying more land before the year 2000 during a time when many sold their land because they could not wait for their first harvests.
In the past, oil palm land sold for between Rp 4 million and Rp 6 million per hectare. 'But now the price has reached around Rp 150 million per hectare,' he said.
By partnering with PT IIS, the lives of Siswoyo's family change.
Since 2011, his family no longer lives in the small plank hut built in 1999. 'Now we occupy a permanent cement house in front of my hut that now functions as a warehouse,' he said in a happy tone.
He now has no fears for the future. 'Now I have enough money to pay school fees for my two children,' he said.
'Hopefully, my wife and I will perform the haj pilgrimage in 2017. I applied for it in 2010,' he added.
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