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Navigating Challenges: How Drivers Keep the Palm Oil Supply Chain Moving

Striving on the road, drivers have an important role to navigate the delivery of oil palm fruit to mills. These drivers often find themselves working with various stakeholders, including Koperasi Unit Desa (KUD), agents, and independent farmers. The palm oil supply chain is highly diverse, encompassing both plasma estates and independent farms, each with its own intricate operations. For drivers, their income is tied to the tonnage they transport per trip, creating a direct incentive to efficiently manage their deliveries while ensuring the safe and timely transportation of oil palm fruit from the plantations to the processing facilities.


The motivation of the drivers is key to carrying out their daily operations. One of their primary goals is to maximize the number of daily trips they can undertake. On average, they target completing approximately three regular trips each day, assuming there are no unexpected delays or obstacles. This pursuit of efficiency is not solely driven by their personal objectives, but also by their aspiration to earn favor with their employer, such as Koperasi Unit Desa (KUD). Those drivers who consistently exhibit efficiency and dependability are more likely to receive extra driving opportunities, which boosts their income and job stability in turn.


Another aspect of motivation for drivers is the need to maintain trusted relationships with the farmers who rent their trucks. These farmers rely on the drivers to transport their valuable palm oil produce to processing facilities or markets. Building and nurturing these trusted partnerships is essential, as it ensures a steady flow of business for the drivers. Moreover, it enhances their reputation within the close-knit community of farmers and transporters, further solidifying their position in the industry. In this fiercely competitive environment, the motivation to excel and maintain these vital relationships is a driving force behind the success of drivers in the palm oil industry.



Let’s Meet Real-life Driver: Nurcholis


Nurcholis, the dedicated driver for a particular KUD (Koperasi Unit Desa), follows a precise 10-day rotation schedule–ensuring that every 10 days, he returns to the same area. Begins promptly at 8 am to commence at the initial harvesting points with fixed workdays (every Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays) with the remainder of the week off-duty. Remarkably efficient, Nurcholis manages to complete his route within a span of 1.5 to 2 hours, collecting an impressive 7 to 8 metric tons of produce.


To optimize his route and stay informed, Nurcholis relies on a WhatsApp (WA) group for drivers. This group serves as a vital source of information, offering updates on mill queues and road conditions. Over time, Nurcholis has honed his expertise in understanding the unique characteristics of each mill he delivers to, such as road conditions and queue times. This wealth of experience equips him with the knowledge needed to anticipate the time required for each delivery, ensuring the fruits reach its destination effectively.


His income as a driver reflects his dedication and versatility. The revenue depends on several factors, primarily the distance he travels and the type of materials he transports. However, Nurcholis doesn't limit his income solely to these standard rates. On his days off, he seizes opportunities to generate additional revenue. He utilizes his truck to transport building materials, tapping into a different sector of the transportation industry.


It's important to note that Nurcholis's revenue isn't entirely his to keep. Like many drivers, he operates within a system where he pays a portion of his earnings to the truck's owner. In Nurcholis's case, he hands over 18% of his revenue to cover expenses such as fuel and maintenance, which are the responsibility of the truck's owner. This arrangement ensures that both Nurcholis and the truck owner share in the operational costs while also benefiting from the revenue generated through their joint efforts.


Drivers: Facing The Challenges


Drivers in the palm oil industry face a multitude of pains and challenges that significantly affect their livelihoods. Lengthy delays stemming from queues at processing mills or adverse road conditions can have a severe impact on their income, as time spent waiting can result in lost opportunities for additional deliveries. Moreover, the risk of getting stuck on poorly maintained roads is a constant concern, especially for overweight trucks tasked with transporting vast quantities of palm fruit bunches (FFBs).


Additionally, drivers must contend with malpractices within the industry, where powerful agents can exert their influence to manipulate prices at processing mills, further eroding the already fragile income of these hardworking individuals.


Thus, any helpful forms of support are needed for drivers to overcome the challenges they face, such as assistance in optimizing FFB collection route efficiency and optimizing FFB truck capacity based on road conditions (for example, when trucks get stuck in mud). Therefore, it is hoped that there will be relevant parties willing to help improve the well-being of drivers in the future. Cheers to the drivers!


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