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In photos: Fresh fruit bunch (FFB) transportation in peatlands

Posted: Jun 07, 2021 4 minute read Audityo Perdana 0 Likes

Did you know that in palm oil processing, transportation is one the most important aspects to manage? Delays in the admission of FFBs to a palm oil mill will affect the quality of oil produced. At Golden Agri-Resources (GAR), all FFBs harvested in the plantations are delivered to the mills within 24 hours. Doing so results in a higher oil extraction rate (OER) and better quality of crude palm oil (CPO).

PT Bumi Palma Lestari Persada (PT BPLP), a company under GAR, manages three plantations: Bumi Palma, Bumi Lestari, and Bumi Sentosa. They are located in Indragiri Hilir, Riau. These three plantations have a unique landscape feature―they are located in peatlands, which requires a different FFB transportation system.

Peatlands are a type of wetland, formed through the accumulation of partially decayed vegetation or organic matter in waterlogged conditions. Indonesia, where most of our operations are based, is home to large swathes of tropical peatlands. These plantations in Indragiri Hilir are situated in these marshy areas, which are not easily accessible through land.

PT Bumi Palma Lestari Persada (PT BPLP)

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to visit PT BPLP to supervise a videography project. I was amazed at how the operations team manages the FFB transportation in the peatlands. It is so systematic even though it is considered a traditional transportation system. They are using water transportation to move FFBs from the plantations to the mills―the system uses barges that are pulled by tugboats (pon-pon) through canals in the plantations.

A barge being towed by a tugboat (pon-pon).

These tugboats can pull up to 4-7 barges and one barge can carry up to 10-15 tonnes of FFBs. It takes around eight hours for these tugboats and barges to make their way from our plantation to the mill. Usually, the journey of these tugboats and barges starts at night and will arrive at their destination at dawn. The operations team needs to ensure that this whole process including from the time the FFBs are harvested takes less than a day.

There are two ways for the FFB collectors to load the FFBs into the barges:

  1. Using manpower (manually) – Three collectors keep the barge stable on the edge of the canal and two others load the FFBs into the barge using metal poles (tojos).
FFB collectors using metal poles to load FFBs into the barge.
  1. Using boat crane grabber – This method is new and still undergoing testing. The crane grabber is a new tool for the company. Its usage is similar to a truck crane grabber; the only difference is that the boat crane grabber is used on canals.
A boat crane grabber loading FFBs into the barge.

The operations team has developed a good system for managing water in the peatlands too. When peatlands are not managed well, they will degrade through exposure to oxygen which results in peat subsidence. If peatland is drained, it becomes especially prone to fire.

The team built seven water gates surrounding the plantations in the peatlands. The water sources identified in the AMDAL (environmental and social impact assessment) and High Conservation Value (HCV) reports are from surface water in peatlands. They are channelled into canals and then into the plantation areas. These water gates control the water levels and flow rates in the canals to avoid overflowing or draining peatlands.

Water gate
Water gates along one of the canals.

When the water level falls below a certain level, the operations team will raise their fire detection and response readiness. Measures include the manning of watchtowers, permanent patrols, and closure of water gates to adjust the water levels inside the peat areas. PT BPLP also has water pumps to increase water levels in the canals, especially during the dry season.

Water pumps

Although delivering quality palm oil products to the market starts at the oil palm tree, transportation plays an important role in that delivery. The operations team has a big responsibility to not only maintain the machinery and equipment but to ensure the transportation system runs like clockwork. Hats off to them for doing such a great job!

Now that you know how we transport fresh fruit bunches from the plantation to mill in peatlands, find out how oil palm is grown or read about our peat rehabilitation project.

About the writer:
Audityo Perdana is the Art Director in Sinar Mas Agribusiness and Food’s Group Corporate Communications team. When he is not designing at the office or working on new creatives, you can find him capturing candid moments and telling stories through images and videos, set against the backdrop of beautiful plantations.
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