Smallholder Academy · SNV/WUR Better Management Training Programme

SNV/WUR Better Management Training Programme

  Training on better management practices for oil palm smallholders


Due to limited access to information and technical assistance, independent smallholders typically perform relatively poor in therms of productivity. The yield gap is estimated about 40% compared to a good agricultural practice scenario.This is mostly due to inferior planting material and haphazard plantation management.

In order to address this gap, Molenaar et al. (2013) recommend the following.

“The single, most essential activity to increase smallholder productivity in the long term is technical assistance, including awareness building and training. It should be the foundation of any attempt to increase smallholder sustainability performance.”

Though the quickest way to address the main underlying issue is through replanting using certified seeds, but for the replanted plantations to achieve their potential yield it is critical to provide appropriate technical support on plantation management. Adequate management of fertilisers and other agrochemical inputs is also important to protect the environment, since the misuse of these inputs can lead to serious environmental damage.

SNV Netherlands Development Organisation together with Wageningen University developed a better management practices (BMP) training programme which has been extensively tested in Indonesia. Intended to provide essential information on sustainable oil palm cultivation for smallholders, the programme addresses the following key topics:

  1. Grading, harvesting and transporting
  2. Maintenance
  3. Plantation assessment
  4. Fertilisers
  5. Pests and diseases

The training programme employs a high impact training (HIT) approach which is based on the principle of adult learning, recognising that participants have existing knowledge and experience. The activity-based methods used allow for higher knowledge retention. In recognition to the varied education and literacy levels of smallholder participants and trainers, the materials are designed to be simple and highly visual. These consist of:

  • Trainer handbook: explanation of the technical content of training topics
  • Trainer guide: detailed instructions for training, including the summary of relevant technical information
  • Flip file: visual centerpiece used in the field with page numbers corresponding to the trainer guide headings
  • Tips and tools: participant handout containing guidelines and tools such as fertiliser tables and yield recording sheet
  • Trainer kit: activity cards, flash cards, stationery equipment and tangible examples
  • Online portal: agronomic guidance made available at Akvopedia portal

Using the above materials everyone with limited training experience – especially in oil palm cultivation – could facilitate training for smallholders, with proper guidance in the form of a train-the-trainer seminar. To learn more about this, please contact Hans Smit (hh.smit(at)

Introduction to each BMP module

Module 1: Grading, harvesting and transporting

This module is designed to give participants an understanding of good harvesting, which leads to an instant boost in production. Participants first what happens to oil palm fruits in a mill and what products are made out of palm oil—all the while keeping in mind certain standards that the mills impose on fruit suppliers. During the training, participants learn to recognise the different categories of fruit bunches based on the grading system that oil palm mills commonly use. Steps in applying proper harvesting practices are explained, including checking for fruit ripeness, sorting of fruit bunches at the harvest collection point, and loading of fruit into the truck. Participants also learn to calculate the loss incurred through harvesting of poor quality oil palm fruit. Safety issues are emphasised using local examples of harvesting and transporting fruit bunches.

For a link to the module contents, please click here.

Module 2: Maintenance

This module reveals the importance of regular plantation maintenance for improving fruit production through weeding and pruning. Training participants learn to identify noxious plant species usually found in oil palm plantations, which slow palm growth and production through competition for nutrients and sunlight. The most common, and the most cautiously treated, weeding method for oil palm farmers—chemical weeding—is discussed in detail, highlighting the difference between contact and systemic herbicides, and how they are used depending on the type of weed present. Moreover, to illustrate the importance of working safely—which is often ignored—demonstration of wearing personal protective equipment is included in this module, as well as performing safety measures after chemical spraying. On a more general note, this module also discusses the practice of pruning based on palm age for improved nutrient cycle and yield collection. Training participants will obtain understanding of the benefits of good plantation layout through proper frond stacking, which maximises palm food uptake and water and soil conservation.

For a link to the module contents, please click here.

Module 3: Plantation assessment

This module introduces training participants to what a good oil palm plantation layout looks like, and is especially relevant for smallholders who wish to replant or who simply seek to maximise production given their current plantation set-up. The first part deals with assessment of land features, including land slope and soil type, which are evaluated in terms of soil and water conservation, and suitability for oil palm cultivation. It also touches on simple drainage management for smallholders. The second part of the module discusses good planting material and planting density. Participants will be guided through understanding the reasons for favouring tenera over other palm types and for avoiding planting seeds from loose fruits or uncertified sources. The importance of efficient palm spacing for optimum growth and productivity is also examined. The module concludes with study cases involving the maintenance of mixed palm types and certain planting densities.

For a link to the module contents, please click here.

Module 4: Fertilisers

This module is appropriate for gaining understanding of oil palm nutrient requirements and fertiliser application management. It starts with putting forward the knowledge that the benefits of giving the right amounts of fertilisers outweigh the costs of it, leading to earlier peak output and significantly higher yield, which levels off more slowly compared to putting nominal amounts of fertilisers. Participants will explore the various nutrients needed by oil palm, much like a plate of food is for human. Each essential nutrient is discussed in terms of deficiency symptoms and fertiliser type, suitability, placement and timing. To ease management, tables with recommended fertiliser types and amounts will be provided for participants to use when designing their annual fertiliser application schedule. These tables are differentiated according to the palm age and soil type. Additionally, this module provides participants with a different perspective on how to re-use waste materials as organic fertilisers.

For a link to the module contents, please click here.

Module 5: Pests and diseases

In this module, participants will focus on the management of various pests and diseases commonly found in oil palm plantations using the integrated pest management method, combining pre-emptive measures with mechanical, chemical and biological control methods depending on the severity of the damage. In one activity, participants will learn how building nest boxes collectively for attracting barn owls, which is an economically viable way to ensure long-term rat control. Participants will also learn to identify beneficial plants which could host caterpillar control agents. In terms of disease control, the module focuses on Ganoderma—arguably the most damaging fungal infection for oil palm plantations across Southeast Asia. While there is no cure for the disease, this module offers smallholders ways to slow down its spread, which involves removal of infected palms.

For a link to the module contents, please click here.

1 Molenaar J.W., Persch-Orth, M.,  Lord, S., Taylor, C., Harms, J. 2013. Diagnostic study on Indonesian oil palm smallholders Developing a better understanding of their performance and potential. International Finance Corporation. Indonesia.