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Collaboration Is Key to Scaling up Training for Oil Palm Smallholders in Indonesia

(Courtesy of RSPO)

Delivering training on sustainability to smallholders in Indonesia, one of the largest palm oil producers in the world, is challenging. There are around 2.5 million smallholders within the country - a formidable asset to the industry. Yet many independent smallholders - whether due to geographic isolation, a lack of access to other supply chain actors, or the absence of supporting organizations - do not have access to structured training or other reliable sources of knowledge on palm oil farming.

In view of this, RSPO pioneered the Smallholder Trainer Academy (STA). Dedicated to developing a community of trainers across the country, it helps to build capacity amongst a growing number of smallholders. Since its launch in November 2019, more smallholders can now demonstrate proof of legal land holding, apply good agricultural practices and are members of a farmer group (co-op, association, etc.).

Key to success has been partnership. By working with 12 local organizations in Indonesia, the RSPO STA has managed to train 6,635 smallholders as of April this year.

Guntur Prabowo, the Smallholder Programme Manager in Indonesia, mentioned that “While knowledge alone will not (at least directly) address other issues, such as a lack of access to technology, markets and financing, it is a necessary condition for creating sustainable livelihoods. Without it, traditional farming practices, which may include damaging environmental practices, are being passed down from generation to generation”. There is no “one size fits all” solution given the diverse needs and realities of smallholders. With a 170% jump in the number of smallholders being certified last year, we see that the bulk of program costs derive from the delivery of trainings and technical support. “We need to partner with more organizations and companies to make it easier and more affordable for smallholders to access this knowledge and expertise” he added.

STA recognizes the need to move from scaling organizations to scaling impact through a network of intermediaries, institutions, organizations, and initiatives that are already actively pursuing the same aims. This ensures that efforts build off existing practices and support existing Government programs to scale up and reach more farmers. A recent training collaboration between the STA and Yayasan Kehati under the SPOS Indonesia Programme, provided an understanding of sustainability and nudged smallholders in three producing provinces towards participation in the formal value chain of ISPO and RSPO certification.

Irfan Bakhtiar, the SPOSI director argues that this is the time for smallholders to have full awareness of meeting sustainability standards. “With ISPO becoming mandatory by 2025, there should be a generic capacity building method developed for smallholders.”

These trainings in Central Kalimantan, East Kalimantan, and West Sulawesi are led by Master Trainers of STA from various participating organizations that focus on adult learning approaches based on needs and outcomes of the smallholder groups.

The training sessions focus on topics covering environmental, economic and social sustainability, health and safety and group formation of smallholders. These topics were curated with the aim of helping the smallholders to better understand sustainable approaches towards long-term planting of palm trees.

Harris Silalahi, one of STA’s Master Trainers was the lead trainer for both the trainings with Yayasan Kehati. Pak Harris has 15 years of experience as an individual consultant and trainer under De Guru Consulting in Indonesia. He explained that “Like other people, oil palm smallholders learn in different ways. For example, while printed materials are likely to resonate with people visual-spatial and verbal-linguistic intelligence, coaching and mentoring for transaction-based learning may relate more to interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligence, and field-based training may for instance trigger people’s logical-mathematical and naturalistic intelligence.”

“Smallholders also learn in different places. For many, the classroom setting will be unusual and boring but possibly also far away and the opportunity cost too high. More feasible venues for learning may be their own or surrounding farms, the closest collection point or mill, or their mobile phones.”

The training includes interactive exercises and discussion among the smallholders to encourage participation. The content was designed with inputs from smallholders on their ability to understand the context and the language barrier.

Muhammad Ramli, one of the smallholders who attended the training said, “Now we understand better what constitutes good agricultural practices and the importance of record keeping, thanks to this 4-day training. We hope that we are able to continue applying what we have learned in order to access better social and economic opportunities whilst living in harmony with the environment.

This is not the first training to take place. STA has worked with their global STA Master Trainers to disseminate the knowledge on sustainable planting since the end of 2019. As of April 2021, they have managed to train a combined total of 7,456 smallholders, group managers and community trainers globally.

In line with the RSPO’s Smallholder Strategy, the objective of the STA is to improve the livelihood of smallholders and enable them to survive and thrive with decreasing amounts of external assistance.

“Our Smallholder Livelihood program goes beyond certification. Whilst this training bridges the knowledge gap on the journey to certification, more important is making sustainable planting of oil palm the norm. This, we believe, will contribute significantly to improving smallholders’ livelihoods” according to Kertijah Abd Kadir, the Smallholder Livelihood Programme Manager.

The Smallholder Training Academy (STA), an initiative of the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), is a training platform for smallholders globally to access knowledge and high quality training in order to build their capacity to achieve sustainable livelihoods.


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