As a child or teenager, how many times were you asked, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Perhaps you had dreams of becoming a doctor, a policeman, a teacher, or a scientist? For many children, fulfilling their dreams requires some form of higher education or university study.
For 26-year-old oil palm smallholder and Wild Asia field worker, Hassan, his ambitions of attending university and following his dreams took a turn at just 17 years of age. Hassan was met with a difficult situation. Either he stepped in to help his father manage their oil palm plantation or his father would have to sell their land. He chose to support the family’s plantation.
Hassan’s father was an indigenous Sungai, and his mother, although born in Sabah, was of mixed heritage- indigenous Suluk of the Philippines and Sulawesian. In the 1970’s, prior to farming oil palm, his father owned a shop by the ferry crossing on the Kinabatangan river which was very successful, until a bridge was built. He also maintained contracts with loggers. Combining the income from the shop and contracts allowed him to save enough money to buy land and start growing oil palm.
Remembering a time when conservation concepts were once unheard of
His father explained to him that the process of applying for land in the 70’s and early 80’s was very different in comparison to recent times. He said many of the rules and regulations that exist today or that were established in the last 10 years, were not even considered back then. Land was not only remote but people didn’t have transportation. Even in other industries, such as fishing, there was no regulation whatsoever and it was common to see boats full of fish- unlike today.
It took quite some time for Hassan’s father to be granted land to cultivate, as some plots were part of a large concession, forest reserve, wildlife sanctuary or were earmarked for government planning. His father applied for a total of 20 plots and was eventually granted 8. Hassan sadly lost his father at the age of 23, just six years after he began helping on the farm. He then took over the family business, managing four plots altogether; 2 x 11 and 2 x 5 acre plots, including his sister’s plot.
WAGS offers new outlet for smallholder ambitions
Hassan was first introduced to Wild Asia in 2015 through an old schoolmate, who is now a Wild Asia worker. He became certified in early 2016 and says he initially joined RSPO just to learn more about farming and improve his management, but after learning about sustainability and sustainable practices, he became more interested in the environmental aspect. He loves his work with Wild Asia and shares that he was getting bored of his old routine; going from farming, to football, then home. Instead, he now enjoys the social aspect of WAGS and in addition to being certified. He says that being a part of this group means he’s involved in discussing methods, meetings and training sessions, and helping out other farmers.
Hassan admits the program is still a work in progress and has some challenges but the benefits outweigh these. He says, for him, it’s not about the premium but the empty fruit bunches (EFB) and decanter cake (DC) that he has learned to use as fertiliser, that’s most attractive. While he did not have the opportunity to go to university when he was younger, the future does seem bright for Hassan with work and regular trips to Sandakan with his girlfriend.
When asked about his vision for the future, Hassan says he wants to run a profitable, sustainable farm, balancing income and environmental welfare for his family.