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Timing is everything when it comes to harvesting


Suranto, Harvester, 23 years old, West Kalimantan

“The trees only bear fruit about three to four years after planting. When individual fruits start falling off the main fresh fruit bunch (FFB), it means it is ready for harvest. My job is to harvest the oil palm trees at the “right” time. If you cannot pick the fruits at the right moment, it becomes too ripe, and many clusters will drop and the quality of the fruit will be less good. Harvesting the fresh fruit bunch at the precise moment maximises the quality and the quantity of palm oil that will be extracted later at the mill.

I’m part of a team of 10-15 harvesters, and there are three to four harvesters for each 100 hectares of plantation, working throughout the year. Each tree is harvested every 10 days, because the fresh fruit bunches (FFBs) ripen at different times. The fresh fruit bunches are collected daily and must be delivered to the mill within 24 hours of being harvested.

My personal goal is to harvest between 300 and 500 trees a day, over an area of three to four hectares. To do this, I prune the outer branches of the oil palm tree and dislodge the fresh fruit bunches with a sickle. I have to be careful not to get hit when they fall to the ground, as each bunch can weigh up to 25 kilogrammes.

Suranto saat bekerja.
Suranto at work.

The work is physically demanding. I stay in shape by exercising and playing volleyball with my co-workers in the evening. Most of us live together at the staff quarters and there is a strong sense of community, which is good.

Everybody’s role at the plantation matters and the work is interconnected. The maintenance crew that tends the plantation makes my job easier, while the truck drivers make sure the fresh fruit bunches we harvest reach the mill within 24 hours. Together we work towards production targets, and when we meet them, everybody wins, and everybody makes more money.

I’m happy I’m able to help my parents back home in East Java, especially when I get a bonus. I’m also saving to get married, and maybe start my own business one day.”

Click here to discover more stories behind the extraordinary, everyday lives of the people transforming palm oil.

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