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Palu (ANTARA News) – The success of residents of 14 villages in Rio Pakava Subdistrict, Donggala Regency through oil palm cultivation cannot be separated from the resilience of residents in facing the twists and turns of life and development in the largest and most remote sub-district in Central Sulawesi.
In 1991, Rio Pakava was just a swampland area when the 17,014.14 square kilometre area was designated as a transmigration area populated by mostly Javanese, Balinese and Bugis.
“Everything used to be swamps here. If we wanted to cross to other villages or to Donggala and Palu, we had to swim or take a boat first to Pasangkayu, West Sulawesi Province,” said I Ketut Putra Widarsa when a number of journalists visited his house in Polanto Jaya Village, Rio Pakava Subdistrict, Tuesday (19/2).
At that time, the economic condition of the residents in the sub-district that was formerly called Lalundu was very poor. The crops they grew were only enough for food and drink said Widarsa,
Widarsa even admitted that he and other residents had given up hope of living in the area and intended to leave the flood-prone area because of the difficulty of earning money there. However, several other residents held them back and told them to be patient.
Initially, almost all residents depended on farming cocoa, oranges, langsat, durian and rice fields. At that time, palm oil was still unknown to them, said Widarsa.
“At that time there was no palm oil. We planted cocoa. There were also some who planted rice fields but they all lost money. The cocoa trees died and the rice fields failed because the soil was very watery. The soil is very soft when stepped on,” said Widarsa, who has been farming palm oil for a dozen years.
In fact, because of the soft texture of the soil at that time, residents could tell the whereabouts of a person from a distance of several hundred metres from their stilt houses. Because when walking on the surface of the land, the surrounding land will also sway, including the houses on stilts.
“The house used to shake as if there’s an earthquake, when people walked around here,” Widarsa continued.
Introduction to Oil Palm
Widarsa and thousands of residents were introduced to palm oil in 1997. At that time, PT Mamuang, a subsidiary of Astra Agro Lestari Group, invited residents there to switch to planting oil palm because oil palm trees are very suitable for planting there.
The company, which developed thousands of hectares of oil palm nucleus plantations, built a drainage system to dry out the swampy land thus converting the land to be more suitable for planting oil palm and other crops, even for building permanent houses and roads.
It was only in the early 2000s that Widarsa and other villagers started planting oil palm and it turned out that their decision was not wrong as they are now enjoying the results.
“In the past, people who owned motorbikes could still be counted. Only one or two people. Now, each person has their own motorbike. I have also been able to send my children to university thanks to the income I recieved from this palm oil plantation,” Widarsa explained.
Mansur, a farmer and head of an oil palm farmers’ group in Karya Mukti Village, Rio Pakava Sub-district, told the same story.
Initially Mansur was reluctant to become oil palm farmers even when the company had done various ways to persuade and convince him. At that time Mansurs have yet to realise the true value of oil palm.
“At that time, I thought that palm oil has no value. I didn’t see any point in cultivating it. However, since PT Mamuang always invited and convinced me, my friends and I decided to try planting oil palm and it turned out that the trees grow well in this area,” Mansur said.
Now Mansur owns 25 hectares of oil palm land, with an average monthly net income of Rp25 million ($1596). Mansur has employed several people on his oil palm land as casual labourers. They are employed to guard and maintain the palm trees so that they are free from pests.
When harvest time arrives, more people are hired to harvest the palm fruit, so unemployment in the 14 villages in the subdistrict is virtually non-existent.
“Alhamdulillah, thanks to my oil palm plantation I have built a few buildings for my five swallow nest,” said Mansur gratefully.
The same story was also told by I Ketut Sumatera, an oil palm farmer from Polando Jaya Village who is now living well thanks to his oil palm plantation.
According to Sumatra, many residents in the area are now able to buy luxury cars, build mansions, and send their children to college.
“I already have one private car and a truck that transports palm fruit. The profit I can get is around Rp20 million every month,” said Sumatra.
The Community Development Officer (CDO) of PT Mamuang Teguh Ali explained the form of cooperation built by PT Mamuang with farmers in Rio Pakava sub-district, specificaly through buying their palm fruit.
PT Mamuang never rejects palm fruits that they sell unless the quality does not meet the established criteria, such as expired fruits.
“We also formed oil palm farmer groups comprising of oil palm farmers within the area. Through the 11 existing groups, we provide them with training on palm oil such as how to increase palm fruit production and keep the palm trees from being attacked by pests,” Teguh explained.
In addition, the company has always provides assistance to farmers and finds solutions to any problems experienced by farmers related to oil palm.
“The company has also built road infrastructure here. Imagine when the Donggala Regency government was not able to build a road from Rio Pakava to Donggala, we have built them a road through Pasangkayu,” Teguh said.
In addition to PT Mamuang, a number of Astra Agro Lestari Group subsidiaries have established partnerships with oil palm farmers in Rio Pakava sub-district are PT Letawa, PT Pasangkayu and PT Lestari Tani Teladan.
These companies do not only engaged in plantations but also palm oil processing plants whose production is shipped directly to various countries and cities in Indonesia through a special port in Pasangkayu, West Sulawesi.
These companies have also spend billions of rupiah each year on social activities aimed towards the community with a primary focus on the education, health and environment sectors.
Source: Antara News