On Friday afternoon, 22 July 2022 I had a chance of meeting an oil palm farmer from Papua, DorteusPaiki, a member of oil palm association APKASINDO, who inspired this article.
We discussed the commonly known challenges that oil palm farmers face and the facts that more than 10,000 smallholders can be found in mainly four regions of Papua. A point he made that stood out is conviction that oil palm cultivation has been a life changer for him, his family and the community around them.
He expressed confidence that closer collaboration among oil palm farmers in Papua and the other two palm oil producing countries in the Pacific, namely Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands, would be a sure pathway towards their sustainable development.
With the help of the government of Indonesia, relevant oil palm institutions and local universities in the two Papuan provinces, he was upbeat about capacity building for Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu if the local conditions for oil palm cultivation are proven. He did not preclude the possibility that Indonesia could have a centre of excellence for oil palm cooperation in the Pacific nations in Papua.
Misperceptions of the Oil Palm Industry
The stories on the oil palm industryhave beenfocused on industrial oil palm corporations.
Media and NGOs in the West are very consistent in targeting the most important commodity for Indonesia to date, with biased perspectives on deforestation, social conflict, rights of local communities to the collapse of biodiversity. The litany of attacks has mainly targeted Indonesia and unfairly labelled her oil palm industry as“unsustainable” despite the fact that it lifts Indonesians from a cruel cycle of poverty while providing an affordable cooking oil to the world.
In addressing this war of disinformation against the palm oil industry, a strong alliance of oil palm producing countries must be formed. The industry has not fared well with the weak, incoherent, un-sustained communication strategy of the present day. For a strong communication campaign to take place, strong leadership at the global levels will be required by the major palm oil producing countries as the persistent attacks against palm oil prey upon a divided, and therefore weak, palm oil industry.
Oil Palm Smallholders: The Face Of The Industry
To fight the persistent attacks on palm oil, more objective publications on the true nature of this industry are needed, not only for Indonesia, but for the global palm oil industry where a large portion of the industry is in the hands of smallholders.
In the case of Indonesia, it is more than 42 per cent involving an estimated 17 million people. Palm oil is different from other edible oils notably soybean, rapeseed, and sunflower which are mostly owned by corporations or large-scale farming. The oil palm industry in the three regions of Asia Pacific, Africa, and Central and Latin America is very much about small-scale farmers who own small plots of land and in many cases less than two hectares.
This is a perspective which is often disregarded despite the fact that in many oil-palm producing countries, the industry is almost exclusively in the hands of farmers. These include palm oil producing nations including Thailand, Honduras, Ghana, Nigeria and Colombia.
In many cases, more than 70 to 90 per cent of the industry is owned and operated by farmers that face challenges from acquiring certified seedlings, fertilizers, transportation, fresh fruit bunch pricing mechanism, financial access, governments’ attention and assistance, sustainability to inadequate infrastructure and capacity.
In short, most oil palm farmers are not an apple-to-apple comparison with the heavily-subsidized ‘farmers’ of Europe who would qualify as industrial operations in Indonesia with their heavy machineries and large farms.
Global Food Securityand the Pacific
It does not need an expert to explain the looming food and energy crisis globally especially in the developing world. Much has been said about the fact that the conflict in Ukraine has exposed the soft belly of food and energy security not only in Europe but also in the world at large.
Food and energy security is indeed, one of the main priority issues for the Indonesia’s G20 Presidency this year.
(Selengkapnya dapat dibaca diMajalah Sawit Indonesia, Edisi 130)