Solos Dechmanee is a 61-year-old small-scale oil palm farmer who has become the role model for sustainable oil palm production. He is the owner of a 44-rai oil palm plantation in Surat Thani province in southern Thailand.
He used to be a livestock farmer raising chickens, ducks, pigs and prawns and never thought about making a living out of this crop.
“It was a fast way to earn an income. I never liked the idea of an oil palm plantation because it took a long time to make any money,” he says.
Solos, however, eventually failed in the livestock business. He then turned to the oil palm industry but had little clue about the crop or the skills needed to make the new business grow.
“In my area, everyone planted oil palms, so I followed them. But I did it without knowing anything about oil palm. But despite my lack of skill, I wasn’t afraid of failing. I am keen to learn, and I know that learning is the key to success,” Solos says.
In 2012, he joined the Sustainable Palm Oil Production for Bioenergy Project with GIZ Thailand and quickly acquired knowledge and skills in sustainable palm oil production. “I took many training sessions through the project and enjoyed learning. At first, I did not have questions about the oil palm because I knew nothing about it. Later, when I adapted the knowledge from the training to my plantation, I realised that I had a lot of problems. So, I asked the project officers many questions about planting, harvesting, using fertilisers and analysing nutrients, all of which affect the investment cost and efficiency in nutrient management. Most importantly, I have continued to maintain and upgrade my skills.”
Solos has so successfully managed his oil palm plantations that it has been turned into a learning centre for other small-scale oil palm farmers as well as government agencies working towards sustainable palm oil.
Today, Solos realises that the key to crafting a successful and sustainable career is putting the knowledge learned into practice.
After 18 years working as a bank officer, Pornsiri Raknukul decided to turn her back on a full-time job and choose a life that would allow her to spend more time with her children in their hometown of Krabi while earning enough money to support herself and her family.
Pornsiri is now a happy small-scale oil palm farmer but her journey has not been an easy one.
At the beginning, she knew nothing about oil palm farming and thought that asking around and following advice given by her neighbours who also grow oil palm was the best way to gain knowledge. That turned out not to be the case.
She realised that self-learning through practice was the best solution. “I could have delivered a better quality of oil palm fruit at that time, but I did not have the right knowledge or the skills,” she says.
In 2009, Pornsiri joined the Sustainable Palm oil Production for Bioenergy supported by GIZ Thailand and gained the knowledge and skills needed for making an oil palm plantation sustainable. She learned how to use appropriate fertilisers and manage her oil palm field. “Before, I misused fertiliser and did not apply it at the right time. I just followed other neighbors and that was not good for my fields,” Pornsiri recalls.
By attending the classes offered by the project, Pornsiri equipped herself with the management skills she needed to plant and manage her oil palm plantation in a more sustainable way, while reducing production costs and producing better-quality oil palm fruits. Above all, she regularly records her income and expenses. “It is very useful and important to keep records about the farming practices, yields, production cost, profit and average price each year. In the past, I did not do it, so I never knew my actual income. Now, I have both knowledge and the records and these translate into better management and lower production costs,” Pornsiri says.
Today, Pornsiri happily shares her experience with and passes on her knowledge about sustainable oil palm management to fellow farmers. “I am very happy. I enjoy myself walking into my field every day. If I do not visit my field, I feel unhappy,” says a smiling Pornsiri.
Although Sustainable Palm Oil Production for Bioenergy ended in June 2012, the two oil palm growers have become role models. Their sustainable management skills and oil palm plantations continue to inspire many other growers to follow suit.
The Next Move
Palm oil is used in many everyday products from packaged food, cosmetics and personal hygiene products to biofuels and bread. Sourcing palm oil from sustainable oil palm plantation is the only answer to saving the planet and at least 3,000 small-scale oil palm farmers in southern Thailand are doing it with the support of the Sustainable and Climate-Friendly Palm Oil Production and Procurement (SCPOPP) project.
About the Sustainable and Climate-Friendly Palm Oil Production and Procurement (SCPOPP) in Thailand project
Sustainable Palm Oil Production for Bioenergy, a joint project between the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives and GIZ Thailand, was implemented from 2008 to 2012 with the aim to push for wider adaptation of the RSPO standard among oil palm small-scale growers in the South. The project has supported Thai farmers in four provinces – Krabi, Surat Thani, Trat and Sa Kaew. From 2008 – 2012, the project also supported the RSPO manual, RSPO memberships for farmers, audit assessment and markets for RSPO certified growers