By: Syamimi Binti Shahri and Nur Nazifah Ahmad Rosland

Alongside the RSPO Smallholder Trainer Academy (STA), Forever Sabah carried out capacity building for smallholders across Sabah toempower local communities and promote sustainable practices in the oil palm industry.

Smallholder training plays a crucial role in fostering sustainable practices within local communities. The recent Sustainable Farm Management Training held in Kampung Mananam, Tongod District in Sabah, East Malaysia, served as a vital initiative organised by the Forever Sabah (FS) Team, with significant collaboration and financial support from the RSPO Smallholder Trainer Academy (STA). The Academy is an RSPO initiative that is part of its roadmap to empower smallholders, focused on improving sustainable livelihoods of oil palm smallholders worldwide. 

We had the privilege of joining and witnessing the training sessions, where 17 smallholders from Kampung Mananam actively sought knowledge, regardless of their age. The positive atmosphere reflected their eagerness to learn about sustainable farm management. Being part of this initiative was a valuable experience, as we witnessed firsthand the positive impact and commitment to sustainable practices within the local communities of Sabah. Through comprehensive training, participants became better equipped to contribute to environmentally friendly and socially responsible plantation management practices. The training was attended by representatives from RSPO and STA, realising a collaborative commitment to foster sustainable practices within smallholder communities in the palm oil sector.

Taking place in November 2023, the training covered various topics, including guidance for farm management, best management practices, financial literacy, documentation training, occupational safety and health (OSH), environmental management, an introduction to Rare, Threatened, and Endangered (RTE) species, and social training. 

Training the trainers

Five experienced trainers from the Village Coordinator Team led the smallholder training sessions. Mildeh Bin Maidin, one of the trainers, shared that prior to the training, there was notable curiosity among smallholders regarding the purpose and content of the initiative. Many were eager to understand how they could engage in the RSPO/MSPO (Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil) certification programme. As the training unfolded, participants acknowledged that such initiatives should have been introduced much earlier, when oil palm cultivation was initially introduced in the area.  

Mildeh added that the smallholders conveyed a keen interest in future training sessions and specifically requested topics such as how to choose the best fertiliser, selecting high quality seedlings, and effective pest management. The positive feedback highlights the need for ongoing educational initiatives for long-term community benefits.

Elisna Latik, FS Assistant Technical Coordinator, emphasised that this initiative not only enhances smallholders’ knowledge of Good Management Practices (GMP) in oil palm but also provides them with the opportunity to enhance their capacity as smallholder trainers. 

Leveraging their “Training the Trainers” programme and prior experience in oil palm estates, the trainers, selected from within the smallholder community, effectively delivered interactive sessions, ensuring content comprehension among participants. The participants were actively engaged throughout the session, expressing their desire for the continuation of such programmes in the future, covering topics relevant to smallholders and agriculture.

Self-reliant communities

The FS initiative encompasses multiple objectives, including promoting good agricultural practices through the RSPO certification programme, establishing a self-reliant community by training local individuals as trainers, increasing the capacity of smallholders in oil palm farm management, raising awareness about worker, women, and children’s issues in oil palm plantations, and exposing smallholders to sustainable environmental management.

Tackling such a diverse range of topics related to social, environmental, and safety aspects, the training enables participants to gain insights into workers’ rights, environmental sustainability, and financial literacy. The project with Forever Sabah aspires to benefit 1,463 Smallholders in 20 villages spread across Telupid, Tongod, Beluran, and Kinabatangan districts.

With the overarching goal of implementing and delivering Academy training programmes for the benefit of smallholder farmers, the Sustainable Farm Management Training initiative seeks to empower local communities, being meticulously designed to equip smallholders with the essential skills and knowledge to manage their plantations sustainably. FS aims to enhance the capacity of oil palm smallholders in the Telupid, Tongod, Beluran, and Kinabatangan districts of Sabah through modules on good agricultural practices.

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