It is Time to See Palm Oil with Heart

Foto by Nggi Praditha Septiany/SawitFest 2021
It is Time to See Palm Oil with Heart

InfoSAWIT, JAKARTA - “If we cultivate palm oil plantations, your future will be better”. It seems, my father knew that I was a lazy son. With my heavy arm, I just put palm oil seed that I brought to the edge of hole where my father already dug. I closed it by sand. My parents cultivate them with all of their hearths.

It was in the midst of 2000. I was in the third grade of Madrasah Tsanawiyah (MTs). I never imagined that palm oil is significant for my future because my school in City of Jambi ran well from om rubber plantation outcome.

But my father’s instinct did not miss. In 2007, rubber was sold only Rp 3.500 per kilogram and never got much expensive like the old days, which was Rp 20.000. I got trouble and uncertainty at my school.

The location where I was born was not different. I met many hopeless men in every corner in my village. The traditional markets where people came and went by heading to Idul Fitri now turn to be like a dead city.

One decade passes by. My village is different now. The people’s economy gets busier. Sluggish and hopeless men now smile. It is undeniable, they get better life because of palm oil which provides solution from their dead-end economic in rubber plantation.

If looking back to data, palm oil revolutionizes plantation sectors in Jambi for centuries, the people depend on rubber. In 2007 - 2017 palm oil plantations significantly got wider from 430.610 hectares to be 497.984 hectares. In District of Tebo where I live, palm oil plantations significantly got wider from 34.510 hectares to be 59.468 hectares. In 2021 Jambi was one of seven provinces in Indonesia within the vastest palm oil plantations up to one million hectares.

Many regions in Indonesia have the trend, such as, Sumatera to Papua. Palm oil plantations in seven districts in Riau, the widest palm oil plantations in Indonesia are much more massive than plantations and food plantations, more than 80% in average.

Resilience and Contribution

People’s high preference to palm oil, apart from the cheap rubber price, is the collective memory on the old times – resilience of the mainstay commodity. Economic collapse in national level because of rupiah exchange in monetary crisis in 1998, did not destroy the economic sectors.

In palm oil producer regions within developing plantation sectors, the crisis was avoidable. In 1999 – 2000 or one year after the economic crisis, crude palm oil (CPO) trade from Indonesia got bigger in the global markets. Because of the resilience reason, palm oil was crowned as national economic savior in 1998 crisis. The same resilience was shown by palm oil in financial crisis in 2008 by providing 1,6% of gross domestic product in national scale.

In the next years, palm oil showed up its power to our economy. In 2012 – 2019 or before Covid-19 pandemic, net non-oil and gas exports from Indonesia were always deficit. It was covered up by palm oil and its derivative progress and the trade balance from non-oil and gas sectors could be surplus.

When Covid-19 hits that makes economic recession in Indonesia, palm oil showed up the significant increasing price. In August 2020, CPO from Indonesia was US$ 700 per ton in the globe. The numbers were higher than those in the previous year. Palm oil and its derivative demands increased in our country too.

In the early days when Covid-19 hit (January – June), the demands reached about 8,6 million tons or much more than the previous year (year on year). It happened for the large demands on cooking oil in our country, and many products from cosmetics to health sectors need palm oil as the material. Not only in the domestic, palm oil demands from other countries were positive within the export value up to US$ 22.97 billion (2020), or increased 13.6% from 2019.

Palm oil resilience happens in my family and neighborhood. It never happens again like rubber getting cheaper in the old days. Economic effects during pandemic never happen. There is no unemployed, salary reduction, or plantation or mill shutdown. Everything runs as usual and palm oil gets more and more expensive.

Within palm oil canopy about 16,38 million hectares in total and average CPO production about 45 million tons per year (2019), more than 65% of palm oil needs in the globe were from Indonesia. Palm oil demands and consumption from Indonesia significantly increased in Europe in the last two decades.

It may seem that palm oil markets in international trade lead European Union limits palm oil imports from Indonesia by Renewable Energy Directive (RED) II. Palm oil delivers serious threats to vegetable oil industries in some countries in Europe. In addition, vegetable oil markets in the continent are competitive. Palm oil as the new comer now becomes the main competitor.

That is why the limited trade issue could be only trade war from European Union. Trade war indication gets more obvious when Netherland is reluctant to obey RED II, knowing that the country is also palm oil producer by conducting cooperation with Indonesia. Other indication is that media reports in Europe that framed palm oil as forest damage and recommended other kinds of vegetable oil as the solution.

In framing theory of broadcast science, this is the strategy of media to influence readers by adding certain perspective to one issue. The goal is to break palm oil image and escalate other substitute commodities prestige. But palm oil remains stronger. Research found that palm oil import limits by European Union does not influence palm oil industries and economy in Indonesia.

Remains the Support

Within time tested - resilience and fantastic contribution to national economy, it is not too much to tell that palm oil will be always the mainstay and hope. It is easy to cultivate, not like rubber that should be tapped in every day. Palm oil needs fertilization and nursery in phases. After the trees are productive, there will be regular harvest. The price is relatively stable as it is shown in the last years. It is not questioned that many people in Jambi, including in my village, want to plant and develop palm oil because it is proven to mobilize economy.

This is also the reason why the people in my neighborhood reject to conduct Social Forestry program with pulp and paper companies. For them, the acasia has no profit to get and the products cannot be taken in every month because it will be harvested after five years of planting. The people never think of acasia who should earn their family. Many of them should independently plant and develop their own palm oil trees instead of joining with pulp and paper companies.

Palm oil could be the solution in employment for millennial and Generation Z both in formal working at companies and in independent smallholders. The last is that many proofs that my friends are young bosses for having some hectares of palm oil plantations.

It has been years since I helped my father planting palm oil seeds. Palm oil trees are high enough like coconut trees. As my gratitude, every time I went to my village, I always visited them. For me, they are the witnesses of history within valuable services. If I did not plant palm oil in my father’s small area, I would have stopped by school which means, I could not write this article. Thanks to palm oil in the small area, I now have my education at university to get scholarship in other countries.

But palm oil services are not for me only, many million kids from other nations namely from my neighborhood enjoy the goodness of palm oil and they get undergraduate title, become doctors, teachers, and others.

That is why, seeing Indonesia from palm oil is not enough from eyes only but also should be from heart. Just like H. Jackson Brown Jr. – American famous writer said, “Sometimes the heart sees what is invisible to the eye”. For me and millions of smallholders’ children, palm oil is not regular tree but hero with amazing service. (*)

By: Muhammad Beni Saputra

Nominator Sawit Fest 2021 Kategori Lomba Esai / this article has been edited; for more details, please go to SAWIT FEST 2021  


About Sawit Fest :

Sawit Fest 2021 supported to escalate palm oil literacy for the people in public and young generations in special to deliver whole description about palm oil industries. It was also to deliver the right understanding about palm oil contribution to countries, social, and environment.

Sawit Fest 2021 was supported by Palm Oil Plantation Fund Management Agency (PFMA), Bumitama Gunajaya Agro Group, Indonesian Palm Oil Association (IPOA), Asian Agri Group, PT Austindo Nusantara Jaya Tbk, and PT Cisadane Sawit Raya Tbk., with the strategic media partners, Media InfoSAWIT and Palm Oil Magazine.

Sawit Fest took every stakeholder, such as, government, businessmen, researhcers, organizations, social and environmental activists, and others to discuss and develop sustainable palm oil in Indonesia.

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