Growing up in a city like Singapore and having no exposure to the agricultural industry previously, I had never imagined the growing of oil palm trees and the harvesting of its fruits to be a complex process. That all changed when I joined GAR and had the opportunity to visit our operations in Riau, Indonesia.
From nursery to plantation, mill to biogas processing, what I was most astonished by was the precise conditions needed for optimal yield. Right from the start of planting, every step’s duration, distance, amount, volume, temperature, pressure, flow rate, etc, would affect the quality and amount of palm oil extracted at the end. That meant every employee’s role was important in ensuring the palm oil production process moved like clockwork.
To improve productivity, the employees also work on initiatives that help simplify processes and reduce time taken from plantation to mill. One example – they’ve started using smart devices to capture information about each truckload of fruit, which can be transmitted easily from one location to another. This data can then be easily analysed to help us understand certain trends and make better-informed decisions. Being trained in the use of these tools also helps our employees improve their technical abilities.
Our work in sustainability was a very evident theme this trip. Besides seeing our environmental and safety posters in almost all our sites, I got to see the schools and clinics that we operate to help improve the lives of these rural communities. Our team at SMART Research Institute (SMARTRI) also evaluates the impact of plantations on the environment, in order to develop assessment tools for new best practices. One such sustainability project is RERTA, which aims to restore riparian zones within our plantations to support biodiversity.
One of my favourite stops during the trip was at our seed business – the Dami Mas Seed Estate. It was interesting to learn the history of the first oil palm trees in Indonesia, up until today’s specially selected trees which produce Dami Mas Seeds to be used in our plantations and for sale to external farmers. The team explained to us the delicate process of attaining these seeds – from pollinating the flowers manually, to ensuring the seeds were just in time for planting when customers received them, each step required a great deal of attention.
The world is bigger than we imagine it to be
Heading to the airport that Friday afternoon, I remember glancing out the car window, and despite having been on the road for about an hour, there were still endless rows of oil palm trees outside. This was one of my biggest takeaways – that the world is bigger than we imagine it to be. Despite GAR being one of the largest companies in palm oil, the extent of the industry is beyond my imagination. On top of our own agricultural practices, we also have to consider our plasma farmers, whom we provide agronomy support to, and other third party suppliers, whom we have to make sure are operating in accordance to our guidelines (especially our GAR Social and Environmental Policy) because of our commitment to responsibly produced palm oil.
Although I have been with the company for a couple of months now, I work from the comfort of the office in Singapore, and it typically involves analysing reports from my Internal Audit counterparts, who investigate areas of improvement from different parts of the business. Without having been in the field, I would’ve never been able to appreciate many of these aspects of the industry. I am very thankful for the invaluable experience. I take home with me new friendships forged with colleagues from across the ranks, a new appreciation for the industry, fond memories, and of course, 16 gigabytes of oil palm trees on my camera.
Lucas Ho works in the Corporate Audit Department. Joining GAR in October 2018, his primary responsibility is to support the Chief of Internal Audit in quarterly reports to GAR’s Audit Committee. The objective of his trip was to gain a better understanding of the Company’s upstream operations.