Behind Our Smallholders Program: Rob Nicholls and Team
By Tiffany Goh
A people-person’s dream job
Rob Nicholls has been a General Manager of Programs and Projects at Musim Mas for over three years. Altogether, he has about 21 years of experience working in the palm oil industry across Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. He and his team are responsible for helping oil palm smallholder farmers adopt sustainable agriculture practices by implementing Musim Mas’ smallholders program. The program improves smallholders’ livelihoods by improving their farm’s productivity, financial access, market access, and more. It is a dream role for someone with a passion for people like Rob.
“I enjoy interacting with people from different cultures, ethnic groups, and languages,” said Rob passionately. “The motivation, laughter, openness, and willingness of Indonesian farmers to share have moved me. They’ve never met us before, but they let us stay in their house, eat with them, and eventually become family.”
The language barrier does not stop Rob, originally from Australia, from connecting with Indonesian farmers living in rural areas. In fact, it inspires him to learn the language so that he can form meaningful connections and share his knowledge to improve farmers’ lives.
“One of the most rewarding things about my job is being able to make an impact on someone’s life and seeing how grateful they are. To me, it’s all about the people and the feeling we get when they are successful, both for those people and for ourselves in terms of what we are trying to implement,” Rob adds.
A hard row to hoe
Rob explains that the key to a successful smallholders program is developing a trusting relationship with smallholders and keeping them motivated – something many companies struggle with.
“The other big challenge for me is to remain motivated as an organization and motivate the people we are working with. I’m quite a positive person, but it can be a very tough industry. There are market forces that can cause palm oil prices to fluctuate, which can demotivate the farmers. It’s something we have to face and something that we have to overcome.”
With teamwork, anything is possible
The other big part of Rob’s role is leading and inspiring his team. A constant huge smile appears on his face as he talks about his team. For him, the team makes everything work. “You can have a soccer team with 11 best players in the world, but without teamwork, it’s challenging to achieve a common goal.”
Rob has a highly diverse team that consists of people who are gregarious and hardworking. Together with their families, some of them have even relocated to remote locations across Indonesia to reach out to smallholders in rural areas. They represent all the different ethnicities within Indonesia. What ties them together is the desire and passion for their work and a common goal to help smallholders improve their livelihoods.
“We picked a lot of younger people who may have limited knowledge initially, but we have seen them develop and grow in their jobs. We have a number of highly experienced people as well,” says Rob. “I’m just really excited that our industry empowers people, not just the smallholders themselves, but also the people who are carrying out the smallholders program.”
About our Smallholders Program – Small Producers and Big Responsibility series
A peek into the lives of five independent smallholders from our smallholder program. The program understands that these small producers hold a big responsibility in producing oil palm sustainably, hence it teaches them good agricultural practices, financial management, and encourages them to apply for sustainable certification.