Gender inequality in agriculture is widely recognised as an issue that must be addressed urgently and globally. In the palm oil industry, although women have contributed significantly to the work and operations on oil palm plantations, employment has long been male-dominated. This lack of employment might stem from traditional gender norms and the lack of a balanced view, according to a 2017 Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) study.

Rob Nicholls of the Independent Smallholder Division at PT Musim Mas, a palm oil producer and processor explains that in the palm oil sector, women are often seen as primary caregivers that don’t need to be involved in training, etc.

In order to support independent smallholders and to ensure that women get equal opportunities in training and increase their involvement in palm oil production, since 2015, PT Musim Mas has collaborated with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) on a programme called the Indonesia Palm Oil Development for Smallholders Project. To date, it has trained over 30,000 independent smallholders in Sumatra.

The structure of Indonesia Palm Oil Development for Smallholders Project deliberately incorporates a strong gender component where female farmers and smallholders’ wives also receive training across a variety of topics including strengthening the group’s organisational capacity, good agricultural practices to increase productivity, occupational health and safety, environmental management, financial management, and access to markets.

“This strategy of involving women breaks down the gender stereotypes, especially in rural areas,” Rob said. "It’s empowering and gives many of the women confidence and further recognition from their husbands," he added.

One of the trainees, Delfrida Marbun, who serves in the Internal Audit Division at APSKS Labuhan Batu, said that she saw an increase in palm oil production after applying the practices taught in the training programme. Her smallholder group is dominated by women, where out of its 21 members, only seven are men.

“We learned how to care for the palm oil; whereas we used to do our work without thinking. Since joining [the smallholder group], we also understand how to use fertiliser and how to spray,” Delfrida said.

For more information on how RSPO is supporting smallholders and working to improve gender equality in the sustainable oil palm sector, visit 

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