Dodging falling fruit and venomous snakes: A day in the life of an oil palm harvester

Palm oil frequently makes headlines, but the faceless workers harvesting the fruit of the oil palm less so. What are the challenges of the job and how can their rights be safeguarded?

Harvesting oil palm is backbreaking work; it means waking up before dawn and risking exposure to venomous snakes or falling fruit.

But for workers at Cargill Tropical Palm like Heri and Taufik Ismail, it is also work that is rewarding and respected.

At the company’s plantations in Kalimantan, Indonesia, where the duo are employed, the day begins with briefings by their supervisors, morning exercises, breakfast, and strapping on protective equipment such as face shields and safety boots before they get down to work. 

With wheelbarrows and sickles, the harvesters look for trees that have shed at least 10 loose fruits to identify the ripe fruit bunches for harvesting. 

They also keep a lookout for venomous snakes—the main job hazard, according to Taufik Ismail—and maintain a distance of 1.5 to 2 metres from the trees to stay out of range of falling fruit.

“The work of a harvester is very tiring, but we work together as a team. And our hard work is rewarded, which brings better opportunities for my family,” said Heri, who has worked at Cargill for six years and like many Indonesians goes by one name only. 

Watch the video to walk in the shoes of an oil palm harvester for a day, and learn how sustainable palm oil can provide meaningful employment for local communities. 

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