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The Empty Hope of Palm Oil Plantations in Malang

Wahyudi (44), was clearing wild plants that had vines on his palm trees when we met him in Tumpakrejo Village, Malang Regency, East Java . Even though he lost money, he still kept his two palm trees, in the hope that one day the trees would be profitable.

” Niki Sisane (this is the rest),” he said.

Wahyudi is one of the many farmers who still rely on the collectors to come again and buy their palm fruit. Although, there are not many palm trees in Tumpakrejo anymore.

Previously, Wahyudi, along with almost all the farmers in the village, had planted oil palm in the early 2000s. On an acre of land, she planted it in a surrounding shape of other plants, like a hedge. His name is Ubeng Cage .

“He said, in the past, good palm oil cost per kilo. He said, there will be a factory nearby in the Blitar area,” Wahyudi explained, Wednesday (9 November 2022).

Farmers buy oil palm seeds for IDR 1,500 per seed. Based on Wahyudi’s statement, the promised selling price at that time was between Rp. 900-Rp. 1,000 per kilogram. Once the seeds are planted, farmers are told by the seed traders that Tumpakrejo subscribes to, that they will get double profits.

“Usually it is dropping ,” he said.

Seed sellers often leave their wares at the Rukun Tetangga (RT) house. “They said they bought it directly from Kalimantan,” added Wahyudi.

In addition to boasting about the high price, the guarantee of fruit that is certain to be taken also continues to be echoed. A factory in Blitar, East Java, is predicted to be the buyer of all palm oil crops.

This narrative is in line with the discourse of the Regent of Malang Regency who supports palm oil processing factories to support the production of biofuel, the government’s version of an environmentally friendly fuel. Wahyudi then saw an opportunity, although he did not know the legitimacy of the factory.

In the first three years, the crop is profitable. Wahyudi once received Rp. 200,000-Rp. 300,000 per harvest, with a selling price of Rp. 800 per kilogram. But over the years, that number has fallen. In the fourth year, the selling price has fallen to Rp 500 per kilogram. Even with such a cheap selling price, the fruit that has been purchased is not paid immediately. Collectors are still delaying up to three months. Since then, the harvest is unclear.

Different story with Marimin (70). The payment is in three month installments.

“Given the money (purchases) wait three months, but the goods (crops) have already been brought, if the farmers are three months old, yo selak kaliren (yes, you’re going to starve),” he said, Wednesday (9 November 2022).

Marimin is not much different from Wahyudi, an ordinary farmer, with the capital being arable land, is tempted to plant oil palm because the selling price is high. He didn’t know enough about the existence of a palm oil processing factory in Blitar. Capital believed, made him plant oil palm in his one hectare field. He’s never had any results. Finally, the collectors bring their crops and promise to pay them three months later, then disappear.

Now the fruit is not maintained. He was confused about how to sell palm oil in Malang and had tried to put it on the side of the road. To transport, he rents a motorbike because the distance between his house and the main road is about three kilometers. He had to spend Rp. 20,500. Once transported, one motorbike can accommodate 50 kilograms of palm oil.

If sold out, Marimin will only get a profit of IDR 35,000, minus the practical motorbike rental, she will only pocket IDR 14,500.

“What do farmers eat?” he said.

Marimin is an innocent person, she doesn’t understand that the sale of palm fruit is only bought by the processing industry. Not like coconuts that can be consumed and purchased individually.

” Yo it doesn’t payu (yes it doesn’t sell),” he explained. The fruit, lying on the side of the main road to the village.

Sumarsih (54), admitted that she received free seeds and fertilizer. With the hope of making big profits because of the high selling price, Asih is usually called, to plant oil palm in her field. Early on, he once sold it with a profit of IDR 200,000.

After that, the collectors no longer came and the fruit was abandoned. Asih cut it down. “Because it doesn’t produce and it disturbs other plants,” he said, Thursday (10 November 2022).

This monoculture plant is greedy for water, making the soil unproductive. Wahyudi, Marimin, and Asih complained about the same thing.

Wahyudi even needed six months to really “kill” the palm trees. He tried several ways, starting using weed killer drugs, until burning them using tires, but it didn’t work.

“I cut the wide leaves off. I trimmed the shoots and sprinkled them with grass medicine, they just died,” Wahyudi explained.

Now Wahyudi and the majority of farmers in Tumpakrejo grow sugarcane. Their income is more regular than palm oil. The harvest was also bought by a sugar factory, which had been in Malang Regency since the Dutch era.

“Enough for life,” he said when asked about income.

The experiences of Wahyudi, Marimin and Asih reflect the district government’s lack of attention to the plight of farmers. The absence of socialization and thorough analysis of the oil palm expansion plan in Malang Regency has ultimately taken the toll on residents, especially farmers.

The transparency of the work program is also a question. The District Government of Malang, through the Regent Sanusi, often expresses support for the expansion of oil palm plantations. Until the end of 2021, Sanusi often uttered the jargon of Good Palm Oil or Palm Oil that Does Not Destroy the Environment in a number of media. Based on the March 21, 2021 report on , Sanusi said he wanted to build a palm oil mill in South Malang.

The plan to build a factory is said to have been discussed with the East Java Provincial Government, up to the Coordinating Minister for the Economy. The factory is believed to improve the economy of farmers in Malang Regency.

Sanusi said that several investors were very interested in investing in an allocation of 60,000 ha of land.

When confirmed regarding this statement and its work program, until the publication of this article, Sanusi was reluctant to comment either via text message or by appointment. A similar message was also addressed to the Head of the Malang District Agriculture and Plantation Office, Budiar Anwar. However, we received a similar response.

We also contacted Tomie Herawanto, Regional Secretary of Malang Regency. He actually gave an unexpected response. According to his testimony, there was no specific work program targeting the oil palm plantation sector.

” There is no Ngapunten (sorry) (program), only the potential is in the analysis and study of the Agriculture Service,” explained Tomie, Tuesday (15 November 2022).

Met separately, Andre Barahmin, Senior Forest Campaigner of Kaoem Telapak, explained that the palm oil case in Malang Regency did not use in-depth analysis. Oil palm plantations are usually initiated by the private sector and the government.

“If there are farmers who then change their types of plants from perennials or horticulture to oil palm, it is because the surrounding area has become an oil palm plantation. This means that the supporting infrastructure already exists,” he explained, Saturday (12 November 2022).

According to Andre, socialization is important so there is no disinformation. In the case of Malang Regency, socialization was not carried out.

“In Malang, you could say that farmers have been lied to, lured because there is a trend of oil palm in Sumatra and Kalimantan, without a more complete explanation. A more holistic outreach ,” he said.

The new mode feels old 

The pattern of expansion of oil palm plantations in Malang Regency is one of the most recent. Under the pretext of cooperatives, giving free seeds and fertilizers, as well as guarantees of high selling prices sedate anyone to try their luck. Especially when it comes to sources of income.

Kaoem Telapak explained that approaching farmers was an attempt to avoid permits. “Indeed there is a trend of small companies that don’t have enough capital, then take a circular path by encouraging the provision of free seeds to farmers,” explained Andre.

“Farmers who plant on their own land are the initial justification for them to set up factories,” he added.

There are many loopholes in this scheme. based on Kaoem Telapak’s observations, even though it kisses the local government’s affiliation with industry to approach farmers, cooperative schemes can make it easier for local governments to let go.

“The palm oil industry is playing a game that wants to circumvent regulations, but on the one hand the government does not want to get involved because it feels it is not its responsibility, indeed there is no formal relationship or alternative affirmation, as evidence to demand regional accountability,” he explained.

Rino Afrino, Deputy Secretary General of the Indonesian Palm Oil Farmers Association (Apkasindo) in a discussion held by the Palm Oil Journalists Forum, in Jakarta, explained that the uneven selling price received by farmers needs serious attention from the government as a regulator. This is because independent smallholders often feel that price fixing is unfair.

“The drop in the selling price of fresh fruit bunches (FFB) needs to be a concern of the government. Independent smallholders receive unfair treatment even though there is a price fixing for FFB by the government,” he said.

Still according to him, the price of FFB at the farm level tends to be low. Especially those received by independent oil palm smallholders. In oil palm central areas, the price of palm FFB at the independent smallholder level ranges from IDR 800 to IDR 900 per kilogram.

Oil palm expansion in Java Island

We are trying to trace the distribution of oil palm seeds in Malang Regency. Some information circulated that the seeds were sold through a person named Rusman, a trader who had been a customer of the residents for a long time.

Wahyudi and Marimin also admit that the farmers’ affiliation with the man who lives at the foot of Mount Perkul has been established for a long time. However, the farmers only know that the seeds were purchased directly from Kalimantan.

We also tried to follow the statement of Regent Sanusi about the biofuel factory in Blitar, East Java, which is often used as a platform for promoting palm oil in the media. That narrative fits with our findings, there is a palm oil processing factory, in sync with the findings of Walhi East Java.

PT. Sawit Arum Madani (PT. SAM) is a palm processing company that brought the cooperative system to East Java. Based on AHU data , this company was only founded on April 9, 2020. The largest share is owned by Marimin Siswoyo of IDR 13,878,000,000. In its Facebook page , PT. SAM sells various processed palm oil commodities such as CPO, miko, nuts, solid, empty fruit bunches, to jangkos ashes.

We are trying to contact Director of Operations Sigit Prasetyo via email and the telephone number listed on the account. However, until November 15, 2022 the e-mail was not answered.

The expansion of oil palm, in fact, is not only targeting Malang Regency, but also several areas in the southern part of East Java, such as Blitar, Pacitan, Lumajang, and Jember.

Wahyu Eka, Director of Walhi East Java explained, the total land that has been entered into by oil palm is around 2,000 ha.

“Scheme of smallholder oil palm plantations. The locations are scattered, because they are targeting residents’ gardens,” he said, Monday (31 October 2022).

The discourse on the provision of 60,000 ha of oil palm land in Malang Regency is also unclear. This is because the land that is claimed to belong to Perhutani. At least, 42,365 hectares are protected forests, 43,015 hectares are production forest areas. If allocating 60,000 hectares as land for oil palm cultivation, it will take up all of the production forest and protected forest areas.

Wahyu explained, if the oil palm project continues, conflicts will arise.

“If forced, it will trigger deforestation and social conflict. In fact, there are other ways to offer to preserve the area while strengthening the community’s economy, namely agroforestry and tourism,” he explained.

Met at a different time, Auriga Nusantara Campaigner Hilman Afif, explained that the expansion of oil palm in Java, especially East Java, has no urgency.

“Based on the report from the Ministry of Agriculture, there are 15 million hectares of oil palm plantations in Indonesia. We don’t have a production shortage, palm oil expansion to Java is actually unnecessary,” he said, Thursday (24 November 2022).

According to Hilman, the government only needs to optimize the empowerment of existing oil palm smallholders. Revenue sharing which is still a problem to this day must be resolved, not expansion.

Not only that, according to him, the efforts of the local government in Malang Regency are feared that it will only repeat a similar failure to oil palm plantations in West Java.

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