As the world’s largest palm oil producer, Indonesia needs a capable and responsible workforce to manage vast oil palm plantations throughout the country.
Whether they partner directly with smallholders, cooperatives or companies, these managers require specific skills and characteristics to produce good quality palm oil efficiently, responsibly and sustainably.
In response to this national and industry demand, Asian Agri – one of the leading palm oil producers in the country with an annual capacity of 1 million tons – established the Asian Agri Learning Institute (AALI) in 2002. AALI aims to train new generations of skilled planters and managers in the sustainable and environmentally-friendly production of palm oil.
Each year, this ISO 9001:2008-certified institute takes in three batches of about 100 students from various universities in the country, including those from the provinces of Riau, Jambi and North Sumatra.
After going through the difficult selection process, candidates undergo a systematic half-year programme evenly split into three months of classroom sessions and three months of on-the-job training.
During the first three months at AALI, students learn about the science and framework of sustainable and responsible management of oil palm plantations. Here, they learn about Asian Agri’s sustainability policy and the company’s commitment to zero deforestation, peatland protection, and positively impacting the socio-economic conditions of surrounding communities.
Once they finish the first phase, the programme then develops candidates’ practical skills as they are sent to the company’s various estates or to partner smallholders. During this period, trainees are expected to identify and resolve on-the-ground issues that smallholders and estate managers face on a regular basis.
This combined approach of the theoretical and practical skills in AALI’s curriculum has been recognized by several prominent Indonesian universities such as Bogor Agriculture Institute (Institut Pertanian Bogor/IPB), Gadjah Mada University (UGM), Brawijaya University, and University of North Sumatra (USU).
Candidates also benefit from the expertise and insights of scientists, industry experts, university professors, and company employees with more than a decade of experience.
Throughout the programme, candidates are also expected to develop their values of discipline and integrity, as well as their skills in working together with colleagues and other stakeholders.
At the end of the six months, trainees are evaluated based on their competence and character. Those who do not pass the first round are given a second chance. While most of AALI’s graduates end up supporting the plantation team of Asian Agri, others move on tor work with smallholders.
One such AALI graduate is Arif Budiman, an estate assistant in Pangkatan, North Sumatra, who was from the institute’s 2014 batch. He joined Asian Agri soon after graduating and currently helps manage about 800 hectares of oil palm plantations, overseeing various processes in a plantation lifecycle including planting, maintenance, and harvesting.
Reflecting on his journey with the institute, Arif said, “When I was accepted at AALI, I was very happy and very eager to learn the fundamentals of managing estates efficiently and responsibly. But I am also grateful to the institute for not only teaching us global best practices in estate management, but also training us to be disciplined as well as to be physically and mentally strong and independent.”
To date, AALI has trained more than 1,620 high quality oil palm graduates in Indonesia. The institute is located in Asian Agri’s operations in Pangkalan Kerinci, Riau, Indonesia.