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Independent smallholders transform swamp into popular tourism destination

The Tani Subur Village Cooperative (KUD), a group of RSPO certified independent oil palm smallholders, has turned an unproductive swamp in the middle of oil palm plantations in West Kotawaringin District in Central Kalimantan Province, Indonesia, into a popular tourism destination.

According to Sutiyana, Head of KUD Tani Subur, the initial idea was to transform the swamp into fish ponds for Pangkalan Tiga VIllage. In 2016, smallholder members of the cooperative built a dam in the river to revitalise the swamp. The dam, named Situ Berkah (Blessing Dam), became a favourite swimming spot for the local children.

Aside from a swimming pool, the complex, now known as Agrowisata Education, also has a fishing pool, a playground and rides, an outbound course, a restaurant, and a hall for holding large functions.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), it is important to have sources of additional income outside of agricultural production to protect smallholders’ income from various risks. On-farm activities for the average smallholder families only contribute 49% to their annual income, while income from non-agricultural sources or self-employment, including entrepreneurial efforts, account for 30% of their gross annual income, according to FAO.

In Indonesia, smallholders control more than 5.8 million hectares of oil palm plantations, or around 40% of the total oil palm area, based on 2019 data from the Ministry of Agriculture. KUD Tani Subur currently has 1,400 members with a total area of 1,420 hectares of oil palm and about half of its members have been RSPO certified since 2017.

The independent smallholders and residents of Pangkalan Tiga Village worked hand-in-hand in building the Agrowisata Education in 2017, from funding and planning to construction. The total cost of Rp5.6 billion (USD360,000) was covered by KUD Tani Subur’s budget, loans for plantation rejuvenation, and bank loans. The cooperative has also set aside a portion of RSPO Smallholder Credit sales, which reached Rp1.8 billion in 2019, only three years after obtaining RSPO certification, to be used for the maintenance and further expansion of the tourism complex.

Agrowisata Education provides additional income not just for KUD Tani Subur, but also local villagers: “The communities here can sell goods in the agrotourism area. Visitors who stay at the village can shop at the UMKM (Small, Micro and Medium Enterprises) built by the locals,” explained Sutiyana.

Opening its doors on 1 January 2018, within one year, Agrowisata Education has become the second most popular tourist destination in West Kotawaringin District. Total visitors reached 139,000 in 2019, recording annual revenue of Rp2.27 billion.

“There are even visitors who come all the way from West Kalimantan, travelling 12 hours to get here,” said Dedi Firmansyah, supervisor of Agrowisata Education. “They found out about Agrowisata from social media,” Dedi added. KUD Tani Subur uses Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram to promote Agrowisata Education and to reach those from other districts.

Agrowisata Education is unique as it is located in the middle of oil palm plantations. Spanning across 23.5 hectares, it also provides agricultural tourism facilities, such as livestock and plantation gardens. It is in constant development, with the construction of a lodging complex reaching 80% completion.

"Drivers of tank trucks transporting crude palm oil often bring their wives and children here. In a village, any comfortable means of transportation will be used," said Dedi.

The once swamp in the middle of oil palm plantations now provides financial benefits for independent smallholders and local villagers. It not only boosted the local economy, but also helped improve the community’s access to the district, as some of the roads connecting the village to trans-provincial roads have now been turned into asphalt roads by the district’s administration.

For more information on RSPO smallholders, visit www.rspo.org/smallholders