Thailand is the third largest producer of palm oil in the world, behind Malaysia and Indonesia. One aspect that distinguishes the Thai palm oil industry is that it is driven by smallholders who manage over 75% of the country’s oil palm plantations, covering over one million hectares in the southern provinces of Krabi, Surat Thani and Chumphon. Over the last decade, the number of palm oil farmers in Thailand rose significantly from 10,000 households in 2009 to over 290,000 households in 2019.
Yet one major challenge in steering Thailand’s sustainable palm oil production has been the lack of sustainable palm oil experts in the country. Responding to this challenge, the RSPO Smallholder Trainer Academy (STA) recently carried out the very first STA Master Training Session from 28 March to 1 April 2022 in Ao Nang, Krabi. The four day course aimed to increase the number of RSPO experts who can disseminate accurate RSPO-related knowledge and standards to smallholders nationwide.
The pioneer session gathered a Thai RSPO-STA Senior Master Trainer, Thitinai Pongpiriyakit, from the GIZ-SCPOPP project, along with sixteen participants from seven smallholder groups in Krabi, Suratthani, Nakorn Sri Thammarat, and Kasetsart University and Ratchapat Suratthani University.
“This Smallholder Trainer Academy's Master Training aims to improve smallholders' knowledge of sustainable palm oil practices,” said Radda Larpnun, RSPO Technical Manager of Thailand. “The increasing number of master trainers in Thailand is crucial for disseminating proper information and expertise on sustainable palm oil to growing smallholders in Thailand.”
Asst. Professor Anuman Chanthawong, Suratthani Rajabhat University, said “The course focuses on increasing knowledge of sustainable palm oil cultivation and the role of the Master Trainer, which was flexible enough to tailor activities to the local context. We can adapt and expand the impact in developing smallholder farmers' competency and understanding of sustainable palm oil cultivation.”
Surasit Pisadsin, President of Nueakhlong-Khaophanom Community Enterprise, said, “I feel more confident after joining RSPO's Master Trainer course. I changed the training by using the Adult Learning method, in which participants became more involved. As a result of this training, I am allowed to work with the Office of Agriculture Extension at the district level to become the Master Trainer for the other smallholder collaborative farming groups."
"I think this is an important mechanism to help Thai palm oil growers – most of whom are smallholders – increase knowledge and understanding of quality palm oil production in the whole system from planting to maintaining, harvesting, and marketing. As a result, there is leverage for smallholder farmers in Thailand towards making sustainable palm oil the norm both economically, socially and environmentally," added Professor Chanthawong.
Supporting Thai smallholders
RSPO continues to support Thai oil palm smallholders in their sustainability journey through various avenues of inclusion. The RSPO Smallholder Training Academy aims to enable more sustainable livelihoods of smallholders around the world through capacity building reinforced by high quality training, training guides and materials. Since the Academy started in 2019, it has carried out a total of 182 training sessions globally. A total have 95 Master Trainers have been trained, including 17 in 2022.
Thai smallholders in recent years have increasingly reaped the benefits of RSPO certification in terms of increased profit, alternative sources of income, lower costs, and high productivity yields. They demonstrate economic prosperity is closely linked with sustainable farming management and environmentally-friendly methods that help to overcome persistent plantation issues.