Antonius Tulus, known as Tulus, has had an interesting journey as an oil palm farmer. Hard work and the courage to take on new challenges have seen him go from being an employee to owning his own oil palm plantation in Indonesia’s Riau province.
With that plantation, Tulus has been able to send his children to university. He is also currently trusted as Head of KUD Bina Usaha Baru, a farmer’s cooperative in Ukui district that comprises 16 farmer groups.
Prior to becoming a successful self-employed oil palm farmer, Tulus was an employee at Asian Agri for almost 10 years. Here, he was involved in the production of fresh fruit bunches and weighing them, and also worked in the company factory.
A lot happened during this time, and Tulus received a lot of feedback from his superior. When he became a farmer, Tulus realized that all that his manager had told him was for his own good. He learned how to work efficiently - a skill which came in particularly handy when he later started his own oil palm plantation.
In 2004, Tulus decided that his main responsibility should be to fulfill his family’s needs. Feeling that he would do better financially working as his own boss, he decided to stop working for Asian Agri. Then, he took an IDR 75 million loan from the bank and purchased two hectares of oil palm plantation. His next decision was to partner with Asian Agri.
Partnership with Asian Agri
Tulus is one of the many Indonesian oil palm farmers who has now found success after partnering with Asian Agri. The company, which is currently partners with 30,000 farmer families through Indonesia, prioritizes the welfare of oil palm farmers by regularly providing training activities to them.
Farmers are guided from the initial planting of the oil palms until they become well-grown and sustainable trees, as well as in raising the productivity of their plantations.
They are additionally provided with knowledge on seed selection and organic fertilizers, assistance on how to get bank loans as well as guidance on obtaining certifications such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certification. Such certifications grant farmers access and assurance when it comes to exporting their palm oil domestically and internationally.
Meanwhile, Asian Agri as a partner company receives guarantee that all palm oil produced by the smallholders is traceable and in line with sustainable policies and regulations. Transparency of oil palm traceability is substantial as Asian Agri is strictly committed to obtaining fresh fruit bunches which are not derived from protected areas.
Antonius Tulus one of Asian Agri's Successful Smallholders
Natural Pest Management
One problem which farmers frequently face is a lack of understanding about sustainable plantation practices. Asian Agri rectifies this by providing its partner smallholders with routine training and tutoring activities with oil palm plantation experts.
The farmers are also given the chance to carry out comparative studies of their peers’ experiences. In this way, they are not alone in overcoming oil palm growing issues, one of which is how to overcome oil palm pests.
In Tulus’ case, he learned about the usefulness of owls and now uses an owl of the Tyto alba species to assist him in keeping his plantation free from rats. Each owl is capable of protecting 25 hectares of plantation. Before being aware of the Tyto alba’s effectiveness in dealing with rat pests, Tulus had to resort to using pesticides and rat poisons to keep rats away from his plants.
Rats are not the only pests which can be handled naturally. The farmers are also assisted by Antigonon flowers which help young oil palm trees to combat against caterpillars. The farmers also plant Turnera subulata and Cassia cobanensis flowers. These beautiful flowers, positioned around farmers’ oil palm plantations, act as hosts for Sycanus insects – natural predators of caterpillars.
Sycanus are also cultivated inside Asian Agri’s Research Centre. The application of natural predators against pests in this way without the use of any chemicals is a sustainable plantation practice that Asian Agri’s partner smallholders are encouraged to learn and adopt.
Currently, Tulus is entering the replanting period for his matured oil palm plantation. After 25 years, oil palms naturally decrease in production. If neglected, the yields from these mature trees will remain unsatisfactory.
Asian Agri assists the farmers with replanting their mature trees with the provision of superior Topaz oil palm seeds. Topaz seeds are known for their higher productivity when compared to others. They also offer farmers two main advantages – adaptability to marginal soil conditions and high yields.
Even so, young trees take around 36 months to grow and mature. During this replanting period, farmers lose their primary source of income, resulting in the need to find alternative incomes.
However, Asian Agri has prepared alternative sources of income for its partner smallholders since 2012. While waiting for their oil palm trees to mature, farmers are able to make money by raising livestock such as cows and goats, farming fish, or growing secondary crops.
With consistent and intensive training, Asian Agri believes that the welfare and productivity of its partner smallholders can increase – similar to what happened to Tulus. It is hoped that his enthusiasm and perseverance can serve as inspiration to other oil palm farmers in Indonesia.