Unlocking Potential: How SISKA created a symbiotic partnership between farmers and companies on palm oil plantations

Kalimantan is the Indonesian part of the island of Borneo, the third largest island in the world. In South Kalimantan cattle herding remains integral to local farmer livelihoods. However, the smallholder cattle breeders face the challenge of tracking and managing their cattle, resulting in cow and calf losses.
  • GMK and Kebun Tengah Cluster members installing an  electric fence (Photo: Partnership).

“The cows used to graze on community land outside the palm plantation. They walked anywhere they wanted, so we often had difficulty finding them. Often, we needed to hire locals to catch them, and it could cost us more than AU$95 per person per cow. So, in addition to wasting a lot of time, we also had to pay a lot of money.” - Thalib, a cattle breeder from Jorong Maju Cluster.

Thalib’s story is not uncommon and represents a snapshot of the shared problems faced by other cattle breeders in the province. SISKA has helped many of these farmers overcome their challenges. SISKA is an innovative model which brings together palm oil companies and smallholder farmers to form a mutually benefiting commercial partnership, or ‘cluster’, to manage cattle within palm oil plantations. 

Jorong Maju is a cluster in South Kalimantan that is successfully implementing SISKA. They and other SISKA clusters have been supported by the SISKA Supporting Program (SSP) that is funded by the Indonesia Australia Partnership on Food Security in the Red Meat and Cattle Sector.

Left photo: Thalib (green t-shirt) and farmers from Jorong Maju Cluster on their daily task of monitoring their cattle herds.
Right photo: Cattle grazes in an area surrounded by an electric fence (Photo: Partnership).

Since 2021, the SSP has supported provincial governments in four provinces to develop their own SISKA sectors. To date SSP has supported the development of 22 clusters in South Kalimantan, 13 in West Kalimantan, 8 in East Kalimantan and 7 in Riau that support the livelihoods of 800 smallholder farmers who managing 6,800 cattle.

SSP’s predecessor, the Indonesia Australia Commercial Cattle Breeding program (2016 to 2021), proved that the SISKA model was commercially viable, and as a result offered an opportunity to expand cattle breeding within suitable areas of oil palm plantations. Oil palm currently covers 16 million ha. of Indonesia, so the growth opportunities for SISKA are very large.

In driving the expansion of SISKA, the SSP focuses on supporting the establishment of SISKA partnerships or clusters, capacity building to develop a SISKA workforce, and promoting private and public sector partnerships through advocacy by the SISKA Actors and Observers Association (GAPENSISKA).

SISKA required rotational cattle grazing from one designated area of a palm plantation to another. Cattle return to areas previously grazed once the understory grasses have regrown. Each area is surrounded by a portable electric fence and cattle movement is dictated by a schedule agreed between the farmers and oil palm managers.

Now, it is easier and more efficient for us to monitor our 80 cattle. We can quickly identify if a calf is born. Previously, it took up to a week to count the total number of cattle because we had to search a very wide area. With the electric fences we save a lot of time and costs.” - Thalib.

Kebun Tengah in Tanah Laut District is a SISKA cluster that manages more than 80 cattle and has 27 members, 18 of whom are palm oil company employees.

GMK and Kebun Tengah Cluster members installing an electric fence
(Photo: Partnership).

Mulyadi Hasan, the head of Kebun Tengah cluster, highlighted the financial benefits for farmer members from implementing the SISKA model.

The rotational grazing system with an electric fence makes it easier for us to control our cattle herds. We are now saving fuel costs needed to monitor cattle and time and energy. Also our cow’s dung and urine are helping fertilize the palm oil trees. Our cattle is an investment for us. We plan to sell some next year for the Eid al-Adha where demand and cattle price is always the highest.” – Mulyadi Hasan, Head of Kebun Tengah Cluster.

Mulyadi Hasan, Head of Kebun Tengah Cluster, (second from left)
and Surahman, Head of Lembu Jaya Makmur Cluster, (second from right)
monitoring the cattle grazing with GMK representatives (third from right).

The rotational grazing model has also reduced conflict between companies and farmers. Previously, farmers could be subject to large fines when cattle damaged young palm trees.

The positive impact of SISKA is acknowledged by participating companies, including Gawi Makmur Kalimantan (GMK) which partners with two clusters with 27 smallholder farmers who manage 150 cattle.

“SISKA has been great for GMK. It has helped protect our palm oil trees when cattle are grazing and has reduced our costs by reducing our herbicide use by AU$ 15-19 per hectare. It has also allowed us to diversify GMK business from just palm oil. For next year’s Eid al-Adha we are encouraging our employees to buy the cattle from the clusters. GMK will also buy some cattle for the Eid al-Adha celebrations. We keep working with farmer clusters to encourage other farmers to join the clusters as we have seen a mutually benefiting relationship from SISKA. Farmers are able to manage their cattle and cows more efficiently and their farming systems are better structured, while the company’s palm oil trees are protected.” – Suwito, GMK Kebun Tengah Area Estate Manager.

For more information on SISKA watch https://bit.ly/IACCB-SISKAModel