We are introducing a variety of coconut tree and a tech solution for our teams that are set to improve the incomes and livelihoods of smallholder farmers by increasing the productivity of their plantations.
Smallholder farmers are responsible for 40% of the palm oil produced globally. But, because the price of commodities can rise and fall rapidly with market changes, it can be a challenging way to make a living.
That’s why we’re supporting women farmers in Indonesia to diversify their income and help them care for their existing land better. In Riau, some smallholder farmers have chosen to plant pineapples alongside oil palm. By diversifying, they are less economically reliant on the volatile market price of palm oil.
A sweet income for women farmers
The Siak and Pelalawan districts cover 2 million hectares of land and are home to more than 200 villages. With a significant number of independent smallholders in the region, it is a major palm oil production area.
We supported training for a group of women farmers in Mengkapan Village, Siak District, making sure they are getting the best out of this shift by teaching them how to process their pineapples into higher-value items such as snacks and juice, so they can earn more from their crops. This has proved successful so far, and the group are now selling their products across the country.
Rozalita is one of many women the project has helped. Working with her husband, she began growing pineapples when the price of palm oil fell in 2018. She explains that, at first, they found it hard to sell the pineapples and lots were wasted. But after training from the programme, Rozalita and the other women began processing the fruit into pineapple sticks, sweets, jams and syrups, and are now earning far more from the sale of the goods created.
We received a lot of support from the programme. Firstly, and most important to us, was the training. It really helped because at that time we didn’t really know how to take care of the pineapples. They taught us how to make the raw materials into finished products and more. The tools were all from them, such as the pot for cooking.Rozalita
In addition to this training, farmers in the village – who live on peatlands and depend on oil palm and now also pineapples for a living – were taught how to manage their existing peatland so it does not dry out and become susceptible to fire. Demonstration plots were created in villages to teach farmers best practices, which most of the farmers have since adopted.
The farmers of Mengkapan are among the latest farmers to benefit from peatland management training. In 2021, Unilever supported 209 independent smallholder farmers of the Beringin Jaya Cooperative in Siak in becoming RSPO certified; the training covered peatland management.
Protecting forests and supporting communities
The work is part of the Siak Pelalawan Landscape Programme (SPLP), an initiative supported by a coalition of eight companies, including Unilever, and facilitated by independent consultant companies Proforest and Daemeter. Together we are trying to protect forests, restore ecosystems and encourage sustainable production. This kind of landscape-based project relies on collaboration, because we recognise that no single organisation or group of people working alone can achieve what’s possible when everyone works together.
As Jimmy Wilopo, Landscape Project Manager, Daemeter and Co-Lead, Siak Pelalawan Landscape Programme, says, “Protecting forests requires collaboration and partnerships with all key stakeholders, including private sector companies that are sourcing from production landscapes.
“In addition, we also need to show communities that they don’t have to depend solely on one commodity, and that they can still make a living while protecting the environment. Through the SPLP, we help kickstart programmes to enable smallholders to have a living income.”
Explore our landscape work
Change must be bigger than our supply chain
Riau is a key sourcing area for palm oil for companies like ours. We have learnt from experience that focusing on our own palm oil supply chain will not be enough to stop the deforestation that unsustainable farming creates. We should be thinking landscape-wide, and that’s why we’ve invested in five landscape programmes across South-East Asia, including the SPLP.
“Smallholders are an essential part of global commodity supply chains, and we believe they can be a positive force at the forefront of global efforts to protect and regenerate nature,” explains Rauf Prasodjo, Senior Sustainable Sourcing Manager, Unilever.
“We’re glad to be part of the Siak Pelalawan Landscape Programme. Supporting these farmers to increase the returns they get from their existing land alleviates their need to expand into forests. That’s why, together with local governments, communities, NGOs and businesses, we’re backing income diversification efforts for oil palm smallholders in key sourcing areas.”
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