2 Souls from the South: making oil palm plantations sustainable is the ‘only way forward’

Writer: Naylinya Chappanapong, Senior Communication Officer, GIZ Thailand’s Agriculture and Food Cluster

Solos Dechmanee, a 61-year-old oil palm small-scale farmer and now role model for sustainable oil palm production. He is the owner of 44 rai of oil palm plantation in Surat Thani province in southern Thailand.

He used to be a livestock farmer raising chicken, ducks, pigs and prawns and never thought about making a living out of this crop.

“It was fast to earn an income. I never liked working in oil palm plantation because it took a long time to make any money”

Solos Dechmanee
(Photo credit: GIZ Thailand)

Solos, however, eventually failed in the livestock business. He then turned to oil palm industry, but he had no clue about it and the skills needed to make the new business grow.

“In my areas, everyone planted oil palms, so I followed them. But I did it without knowing anything about oil palm. Even though I had no skills in this field, I had no fear of failure. I am keen to learn, and I know that learning is the key to success,” said Solos.

He finally joined Sustainable Palm Oil Production for Bioenergy Project in 2012 with GIZ Thailand. He gained knowledge and skills in sustainable palm oil. “I took many training sessions through the project and enjoyed learning. At first, I did not have questions about the oil palm because I knew nothing about it. Later, when I adapted knowledge from the training into my field, I realized lots of problems in my oil palm field. So, I asked project officers so many questions about planting, harvesting, using fertilizers and analyzing nutrients which would affect the investment cost and efficiency on nutrient management. Most importantly, I maintain these skills continuously.”

Solos has successfully managed his oil palm plantations. His field has turned into a learning center for other oil palm small-scale farmers as well as governmental agencies that work towards sustainable palm oil.

Today, Solos realized that the key to crafting a successful and sustainable career is putting the knowledge learned to practice.

Pornsiri Raknukul
(Photo credit: GIZ Thailand)

After 18 years working as a bank officer, Pornsiri Raknukul decided to turn her back on a full-time job and choose new path of life that allows her to spend more time with her children in their hometown in Krabi while earning enough money.

Pornsiri is now a happy oil palm small-scale farmer but the journey she took has not been an easy one.

At the beginning, she knew nothing about oil palm farming and thought that asking around and following advice given by her neighbors who also grow oil palm was the best way to gain knowledge, but it turned out that it was not.

She realized that self-learning through practice was the best solution. “I could have delivered a better quality of oil palm fruits that time, but I did not have the right knowledge and skills in oil palm farming”.

Pornsiri later joined the Sustainable Palm oil Production for Bioenergy supported by GIZ Thailand in 2009 and gained knowledge and skills needed for making oil palm plantation sustainable. She learned how to use appropriate fertilizers and manage her oil palm field. “I misused fertilizer and did not apply it at the right time. I just followed other neighbors and it was not good for my fields, Pornsiri recalled.

While attending the classes offered by the project, Pornsiri had equipped herself with farm management skills that she has finally planted and managed her oil palm plantation in a more sustainable way, reduced production cost, produced a better quality of oil palm fruits. Above all, she regularly records her income and expenses. “It is very useful and important to keep the records about the farming practices, yields, production cost, profit and average price each year. In the past, I did not do it, so I never knew my actual income. Now, I have both knowledge and the records which lead me to better management and lower production cost,” Pornsiri emphasized.

Today, Pornsiri happily shares her experience and passes on her knowledge about sustainable oil palm management to fellow farmers. “I am very happy. I enjoy myself walking into my field every day. If I do not visit my field, I feel unhappy,” Pornsiri said with a smile on her face.

Although Sustainable Palm Oil Production for Bioenergy ended in June 2012, the two oil palm growers have become role models. Their sustainable management skills and oil palm plantation inspire many other oil palm growers to follow suit.

The Next Move

Sustainable and Climate-Friendly Palm Oil Production and Procurement (SCPOPP) in Thailand

Palm oil is used in many everyday products from packaged food, cosmetics and personal hygiene products to biofuels and bread. Sourcing palm oil from sustainable oil palm plantation is a sole answer to save the planet and at least 3,000 oil palm small-scale farmers in southern Thailand are doing it with a support of the Sustainable and Climate-Friendly Palm Oil Production and Procurement (SCPOPP) project. 

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