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Collaborating with government, NGOs and business to strengthen the resilience of smallholders in Sabah

Collaborating with government, NGOs and business to strengthen the resilience of smallholders in Sabah

Rurality project in Sabah, Malaysia

The state of Sabah is the 2nd largest oil palm planted area in Malaysia.

An estimated 1.54 million hectares from the total area of Sabah is covered with oil palm plantations (an estimated 26% of Malaysia’s total oil palm planted area). The oil palm sector is one of the largest contributors to the economy of Sabah. The state of Sabah also has about 3.9 million hectares of forest reserve – home to Orang Hutan, Pygmy elephant, Pangolin and etc.

There is an estimate of 34,000 independent smallholders in Sabah, who account for about 13% of total oil palm planted areas in Sabah. These smallholders are facing challenges in terms of conflict with elephants, low yields, higher dependence on monoculture as income, and meeting sustainability requirements of the palm oil sector.

Since 2015, The Rurality programme has been focusing on addressing these challenges in the regions of Beluran - Kinabatangan - Lahad Datu.

Key objectives

To improve the relationship between smallholders, mills, plantations owners, and other stakeholders, Rurality organizes meetings, and working groups to discuss challenges and find joint solutions.

To improve livelihoods, Rurality provides training and support on-farm management practices and diversification. This includes the facilitation of access to farming tools and inputs from local agri-input suppliers.

The protection of key habitat areas in Sabah implies a Rurality initiated collaboration between smallholders, plantations, and the government to monitor and manage co-existence space between elephants and plantations.


In Sabah, Rurality has managed to close gaps and establish an articulation and collaboration of various stakeholders that are relevant to the palm oil sector, all with the objective to collectively address the main challenges faced by smallholders that ultimately impact the entire region. A great variety of outcomes has been achieved such as a common response to the human-elephant conflict and a greater training and support network for smallholders.


Key activities include:

  • Field coaching & group sessions to raise awareness and empower smallholders on-farm productivity, income diversification, wildlife conflict management, and sustainability.
  • Facilitating access to - and participation in - government and private sector support schemes, access to agri-input suppliers, and buyers.
  • Strengthening smallholder - first buyer (mill/cc) relationships through gatherings, formal working groups, and digital communication.
  • Capacity building and support for smallholders, communities and plantation owners to plan and undertake long-term human-elephant coexistence strategies (community patrolling, wildlife corridors, etc.)


750 smallholders

reached & engaged to improve farm productivity, uptake of sustainability practices, increase income diversification, and protect wildlife.

7500 Ha plantation & forest borders

are being monitored and managed by smallholders and plantation owners for the protection of elephants and reduction in crop loss.

More than 200 smallholders

are facilitated in the process of implementing sustainability practices as per Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil Certification requirements.


Palm oil mills & plantations

  • IJM Plantations

Local NGOs

  • Project Seratu Aatai

Local governments

  • Sabah Wildlife Department

Collaborating members

Members make far-reaching commitments to respect people and nature in their supply chains. They work with us on an ongoing journey of improvement and innovation.

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