The RSPO Secretariat recently visited Perkumpulan Pekebun Swadaya Kelapa Sawit Rokan Hulu (PPSKS-Rohul) in the Riau Province of Indonesia and was delighted to see such a high number of female field facilitators working compared to other certified groups. Out of the 16 field facilitators, half are women.

PPSKS-Rohul is a pilot project established in 2016 by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), together with the Government of Canada and RSPO member, Musim Mas Group, to help farmers learn about best management practices to improve productivity and sustainability. Certified in October 2019, the group has grown to 319 smallholders who manage a certified area of 534 hectares.

Working together with PPSKS-Rohul, RSPO has been actively involved in RSPO Principles and Criteria (P&C) training. Throughout the three-year (2015-2020) programme, RSPO has financially contributed through the RSPO Smallholder Support Fund (RSSF) for their first final audit cost. The total funding for the project is about USD6.5 million to USD7.0 million for the period of 2015-2020 to cover 37,500 smallholders. The PPSKS-Rohul group has received approximately USD8,900 via RSSF to cover audit costs for 319 smallholders. 

Before PPSKS-Rohul was rolled out, no smallholder group has been established and there was a concern that women were not well represented in the smallholder cooperatives, that the monthly income from the sale of the oil palm fruit was paid to men, and that women were also denied independent access to agricultural inputs, training, and credit.

Gender equality is a core principle of the project and actively supports the participation of women, recognising their importance in managing farms and household finances, as well as family well-being. By conducting baseline surveys that include gender mapping, it has been possible to better understand the roles of men and women in oil palm farming, and identify the differences and gaps across the areas of farming, household, and community.

Using results from the mapping, the project has developed interventions that address gender issues and challenges, such as women’s access to training and capacity building based on women’s involvement in farming activities. It has also encouraged women’s involvement in organisations such as Farmer Group Associations for RSPO. 

Additionally, the project has also developed a Health and Nutrition Training for women farmers and farmers’ wives. The training aims to improve their knowledge on balanced diets; to encourage home gardening and animal rearing as a way to improve food accessibility and nutrition intake, to increase their knowledge on financial planning for the family, and to enhance their role and active participation in adopting safety and first aid practices.

As oil palm production replaces other forms of livelihood, the lack of secure access to land and information on farming processes have reduced women’s freedom and security in instances of marital breakdown or the death of the male household head.

Pilots such as PPSKS-Rohul and strengthened social criteria in the 2018 RSPO P&C are helping to deliver improved opportunities and rights for women in the sustainable oil palm industry. Through the 2018 P&C, RSPO seeks to empower women by promoting female participation and advancement in the workplace, prohibiting discrimination and sexual harassment, protecting reproductive rights, etc.

RSPO’s smallholder unit has also encouraged and welcomed participation from the IFC in developing the curriculum for the RSPO Smallholder Trainer Academy. It continues to work closely with the group to bring greater independence, confidence and inclusion for women in the production of sustainable palm oil.

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