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By Yos Kusuma

I remember my first job as a cub reporter, being assigned to multiple news reports in a day. I always thought that was tough for a fresh graduate. Now, 12 years later, I meet these inspiring men and women who took it up a notch.

A field assistant explaining about sustainable farming to the smallholder farmers under his care.

Meet the Field Assistant – they are fresh graduates, not farmers – but they are teaching experienced farmers how to farm better. They are part of an inspiring effort to improve the operational, and eventually, livelihoods of independent oil palm Smallholders in North Sumatra. As the ground leads of the Indonesian Palm Oil Development for Smallholders programme devised by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and Musim Mas, each Field Assistant is responsible for the training and assessment of up to hundreds of independent Smallholders , who often live tens of kilometres apart.

The spectacular distance and terrain the Field Assistants have to go through are challenging enough, but what they do once they reach the Smallholders – convincing them to take part in this programme – is even tougher. “What can these field assistants, who are fresh out of school and new to the industry, possibly tell me about my job?” the Smallholders must think to themselves.

A field assistant explaining about sustainable farming to the smallholder farmers under his care.

Nothing is instantaneous when we strive for sustainable results – no instant gratification to the independent Smallholders for volunteering to join this programme, no instant benefit for Musim Mas for committing to this programme, and definitely no instant knowledge for the Field Assistants who will have to guide the Smallholders every step of the way. The Field Assistants are selected based on their educational qualifications, professional and personal values, how close they live to the plantations, as well as how well they interact with the Smallholders .

To build up their knowledge of the industry, the Field Assistants underwent a training curriculum delivered by IFC personnel versed in sustainability, as well as Musim Mas’ agronomists. They will then train and assess the Smallholders in groups of 20 to 30.

Regardless of rain or shine, the Field Assistants often travel for many kilometres each day to impart their knowledge on sustainable farming to the Smallholders . Their endeavour started from the moment the Smallholders signed up for the programme, all the way until they assess the Smallholders ‘ readiness to undergo the sustainability audits (for RSPO or ISPO certifications).

Train-the-trainer session conducted by IFC and Musim Mas for our field assistants.

Three years after the programme launched in Rantau Prapat, three other mills in Riau have joined, bringing the total beneficiaries to more than 13,000 Smallholders from just 539 at the beginning. The number of Field Assistants is now at 55.

As the 2020-deadline draws closer, the field assistants are working even harder, and closer with IFC and Musim Mas, to identify the top 30 smallholder groups to be formalised as an association at each mill’s surrounding area. A total of four independent Smallholders (farmers) associations will undergo certification audits by 2019.

About the Indonesian Palm Oil Development for Smallholders programme

The Indonesian Palm Oil Development for Smallholders programme is a Musim Mas collaboration with IFC to assist independent Smallholders who supply FFB to our subsidiaries. We support independent Smallholders in meeting the same efficient farming standards like those adopted by large Palm Oil organisations. This is achieved by training and educating them in implementing agricultural best practices, such as in chemical usage (pesticide and herbicide), fertilising, pruning and harvesting.

Through the programme, the IFC hopes to encourage and inspire external stakeholders and other Smallholders to adopt similar programmes, thus spreading these sustainable farming practices across the industry.

Watch our videos on the programme and the Field Assistants.