Communication with Smallholders: The Biggest Challenge on The Field

April 12, 2018. One of our field staff in Central Kalimantan, Dian Nur Cahya Sejati joined INOBU in September 2015. Dian, who is currently studying Agribusiness at the Open University, was initially involved in mapping oil palm smallholder plots. He spent two years in the mapping project, and since December 2017, has been part of the smallholder certification program.

Despite his lack of experience in working with non-government organizations, he has extensive experience working in the field and engaging with farmers and local communities. However, Dian only started working with oil palm smallholders since joining INOBU. Dian has been involved in designing and trialling interventions to support smallholders so that they can improve their productivity and the sustainability of their farming methods.

Dian shared some interesting stories about his experiences in engaging with oil palm smallholders.

What has been the most memorable experience for you during your time with INOBU?

The most memorable experience is definitely having the opportunity to work with locals and smallholders. Smallholders usually lack awareness about their own safety and the surrounding environment. They only use sandals when farming and have a tendency of throwing waste (herbicides, fertilizer, and food packaging waste) on their farming plots. After participating in the smallholder certification program, the smallholders developed a habit of using boots and cleaning waste from their plots. Those that usually harvest fruits that are unripe now also understand that harvesting them can destroy the harvest rotation cycle and reduce oil palm productivity. Smallholders now usually start harvesting when the fresh fruit bunches (FFBs) on the oil palms are ripe.

I have a story during my time assisting oil palm smallholders achieve RSPO certification in Lada Mandala Jaya Village. We were introduced to a local farmer. Before participating in the certification program, his farming methods were similar to other smallholders. He planted oil palm, maintained them, and harvested. Although some of the FFBs were still unripe, he still sold them to the middleman. After participating in the RSPO certification program and receiving training, he started to understand that smallholders not only farm to produce FFBs. Smallholders should also pay attention to their own safety. He became aware that sustainable practices are beneficial to smallholders and that they should be implemented daily. He does not only see them as a requirement for certification, but they are useful for the well-being and livelihoods of smallholders and the surrounding environment. With sustainable practices, the produce will also be of higher quality. The farmer hopes that with the certification program, FFB prices will increase. He also hopes that other villages can also participate so that more oil palm smallholders can reap the benefits.

 What are the lessons that you have learned from the field?

 There are a lot. But the most important thing to me is how to ensure so that we can convince and change the mindset of locals, especially smallholders. Communication with locals is a huge challenge. We have to be really patient so that what we are communicating will be well received. We also have to engage with them so that they are aware that our activities are beneficial for them. Usually, we hold formal sessions one or two times. But, most of the time, we hold informal discussions at the local coffee place, security post, and after farmer group meetings. Through those informal discussions, we can hear their stories, experiences, and complaints. Thus, we can offer what help they need through our activities. I think informal discussions are the most efficient way to communicate with locals.

What concerns you most and what are your hopes for the future?

Through my experiences in the villages, I am most concerned of the depletion of natural habitats surrounding the villages. Such as in Seruyan, there are a lot of orangutans that enter local settlements. That is why I have high hopes with the certification program. With the certification program, I hope that we can encourage smallholders to change their mindset. We encourage smallholders to try their best to sustainably utilize and maximize their productivity, so that they would not clear new land. Land clearance would degrade the environment and deplete natural habitat. I also hope that smallholders would not only think of harvesting produce, but also start thinking about their health and safety during farming, whether it is their own or others.