Article | The Story of the Oil Palm Farmer: Divine Seeds and Earthen Womb

Sarkawi had gone crazy. His decision to cut down the durian trees in his field was preposterous. The people in his village had always believed that durian trees were sacred, the source of bounty and life. So when he decided to replace them with oil palm trees, people were quick to denounce him as mad.

“When has God ever held any tree less worthy than another?” Sarkawi replied when people sneered at his decision. “Before Him, this tree has the saem value as the durian tree. Besides, I didn’t cut them all down. I left some behind, as my respect to the farming tradition in our village.”

His answer did stop people from talkin, but some villagers still fetl that it was a regrettable decision. They thought  he was too bold. If he were gambling, then cutting down the durian trees was the most foolish gamble he had ever taken.

Before he became an oil palm famer, Sarkawi worked for PT Sawindo Permai Palm Oil, which was located in Penyandingin village, Tanjung Agung District, Muara Enim Regency. For seven years he held various positions there, from the supervisors for the CPO processing, to joining the fruit soring divisions, and lastly in the plantation sector. It was in this sector that he first got the idea of becoming an oil famer.

So he had actually thought long and hard about what he was doing to his durian field. He had and intimate understanding about the durian farming cycle in his village. It was far from enough to live on. Durian is a seasonal fruit that can only be harvested once a year. Even then, harvest in never certain. If you are out of luck, your harvest may be rampaged by a troop of leaf monkeys or gone with the whirlwind blowing off the pistils. If that happened to you, you had no other way to earn a living other than becoming a worker in the coal mine or a porter at the district market. This was the fate Sarkawi was trying to avoid.

So he first mad a 100 meter-long grid of holes for the palm oil seedlings that he had grown in the nursery. As the seedlings grew, he always cared for them and fertilized them. Whenever he watered them, he slipped in a prayer so that they would grow into oil palm trees that bore the best fruit bunches.

“The soil is our mother and the seedlings I’m growing are also God’s creation. The soil will grow the seedlings that  planted in its womb with prayers.” Sarkawi said when his wife Ineh repeatedly expressed her doubts about his decision.

It took four years to convers the five-hectare land and to change the doubts in her heart. Now the filed was lush with oil palm trees. Heavy and dense fruit bunched emerged in the axils. Each bunch consisted of fresh fruits and good hopes waiting to come true.

Thanks to is tenacity, Sarkawi now had around siz hundred healthy and productive oil palm trees. They produce twelve to fourteen fruit bunches in each harvest. He once sold them at 1,700 to 1,800 rupiahs per kilogram, the highest price he had ever gotten for twelves tonnes of fruit in a period of one month.

Sarkawi partnered with PT Sawindo Permai Palm Oil, which collected the fruits and set the price for private palm oi farmers like Sarkawi. The profit he made from seeling his harvest to the mill was higher than if he sold them at the prices set by collectors, which was why he always sold them to the company.

Nothing made him appier now than seeing his lovely, verdant plam trees. His hard work was able to send his children all the way to the university. His life, so chaotic when he set out to realize his dream, he had begun to improve and stabilize. He was even able to buy a dump truck to transport the plam fruits from his farm.

In 2019 Sarkawi ran for the village head in Tanjung Agung, but he was unsuccesful. At the time, he was feeling a little frustrated about how difficult It was to propogate oil pal

m farming in his village. He realized that whithout a position in governance, he had no hope of changing people’s view on oil palms.

“It might be impossible to reduce poverty in this village if every family had one or two hectares of oil palms as a source of income. “ he said one afternoon.

“You’re still upset about your loss.” Ineh replied, putting a glass of tea on the porch of the hut. “Just forget about it. Good intentions will always find a way.  Isn’t that what you always said to me?”

He gave a short laugh. “I just want to share my good fortune. Is that wrong? Besides, that loss never mattered to me because I already won here. In this farm. That’s good enough for me.”

Sarkawi sipped the hot tea his wife served him. His eyes misted over. From the top of the ladder of his hut to the far distance, the lust oil palm trees rusteld in the afternoon wind.

By Adam Yudhistira

(source from book: Oil Palm Farmers: Our Stories, Our Lives, Our Future.)

credit photo: Kosmo

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