Successful Oil Palm Farmers Revolution

Farming communities in almost all countries must be subsidized so that their business can grow, thus they are able to support their families. In countries like the EU and North America, for example, every year the government must spend huge funds (almost half of our state budget) to subsidize farmers either directly or indirectly. In Indonesia, crop farmers are also provided with indirect subsidies either through subsidies of fertilizer, seeds, and others.

Unlike those farmers, the oil palm farmers in Indonesia show their own class by proving that without subsidizing or burdening the government, the oil palm growers managed to develop oil palm plantations at their own expense. Even the oil palm farmers are not only successful, but they have made a history of the farmer revolution.

The share of farmers’ oil palm plantations increased rapidly from zero percent before 1980 to about 45 percent by 2014. Approximately 10 million hectares of Indonesian oil palm plantations in 2014, about 4.5 million hectares are farmers’ oil palm plantations.

Farmers’ oil palm plantations have not only grown in some areas, but nowadays it has grown in 190 districts in the country. If during the New Order (Orde Baru), the government had to spend large amount of money to transmigrate the population to islands outside Java, through the oil palm farming movement , it was proven that they are capable of self-supported transmigrating and opening up new economic growth centers in remote areas.

Various studies have revealed that the success of the palm oil revolution also significantly reduced poverty in the countryside, even has created a middle-class economy in rural areas. Previously, the best ten universities in Indonesia can only be enrolled by the children of urban-rich people, now the children of oil palm farmers can be easily found in the best ten universities, too.

Farmers’ oil palm revolution has also helped bring Indonesia into the world’s largest producer and exporter of palm oil, beating Malaysia since 2006. From palm oil exports, Indonesia earns about USD 20 billion annually, and about USD 8 billion is contributed from farmers’ oil palm plantations.

If Jokowi’s current government is still looking for ways to implement the development revolution, the farmers have proved it. Even our oil palm farmers have also preceded the development program from the suburbs that the current Jokowi’s  government is currently implementing.

Farmers’ oil palm revolution has also proven the scientists’ argument wrong. Western agricultural and economic experts in the colonial and post-colonial period had never imagined if smallholder farmers would be able to penetrate the oil palm plantation industry. The relatively large capital, technological and management needs required for oil palm plantations (including palm oil mills) are the things beyond the reach of small farmers, so it is not possible for farmers to enter oil palm plantations business. Therefore, both in the Dutch colonial and post-colonial period, even at the beginning of the New Order (Orde Baru), farmers were never included in the development of oil palm plantations in Indonesia.

However, the history of oil palm plantations in Indonesia records another story that made western experts re-evaluate their views. The revolution of smallholder oil palm plantations in Indonesia, among others, is marked by the rapid increase of farmers’ oil palm plantation area, where small farmers mostly cultivate the land independently, breaking the views of those western experts.

Our oil palm farmers in 190 remote districts are the assets of our nation. In addition to being protected, they also need to be facilitated in order to step up their class. We are waiting for the second wave of farmers’ oil palm plantation revolution, which is to become a player in every chain of palm oil production, from its upstream to downstream process.

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