Helping palm oil farmers increase productivity more sustainably

In Sumatra, we are working with independent mill PT SKIP (Sumer Kencana Indo Palma) to develop a Palm Oil Field School training programme for smallholder farmers focused around the principles of good agricultural practice and no deforestation, no development on peat and no exploitation (NDPE).

Palm oil worker

The 16-week programme involves a series of training sessions, held on the farmers’ plantations, to show them how to increase productivity in a sustainable way, so they can commit to NDPE. It covers topics such as good agricultural practice, environmental management, labour laws, and gender equality.

The farmers who take part must meet high standards, particularly in terms of attendance. The ideal outcome is that they change their agricultural and land-use practices, boosting both their sustainability and profitability.

The top performers from each intake go on to attend a three-day intensive programme to become trainers themselves. They will ensure we can scale up the programme, while providing peer support within their farming communities.

In the programme’s first year (2017), we began training nearly 600 smallholder farmers. The third intake of farmers and farmer trainers have just graduated from the programme, reaching 1700 farmers and 50 farmer trainers. We are now expanding across Sumatra with the goal of reaching several thousand by the end of 2019.

Looking beyond our own operations

The Field School training is part of a wider initiative – called the Farm Start Palm Programme – which aims to help transform the industry.

As Ingrid Richardson, Sustainable Sourcing Manager, explains: “The majority of the world’s palm oil comes from largescale plantations, but a significant 40% originates from smallholder farmers, many of whom face barriers in terms of their productivity, profitability and sustainability. These include land tenure challenges, poor agricultural practices, and lack of access to markets or to finance for replanting and certification.

“We want to include more smallholders in our supply chain and help them overcome these barriers because unlocking their potential through sustainable agriculture will play a vital role in transforming the palm oil industry. The Farm Start Palm Programme will help us achieve this.”