Many of Malaysia’s oil palm plantations are cultivated by family farmers who tend the trees on small parcels of land, no larger than 40 hectares. These smallholders work hard, producing more than 17 tons of fresh-fruit bunches per hectare per year. They also dream big. These oil palm farmers are the unsung heroes of Malaysia’s palm oil industry.
Acclaimed photographer Amri Ginang highlighted these workers in his photography series, Faces: The Farmer’s Odyssey. “My original idea was just to have faces of people because I believe the face of a person can tell you lots of stories,” said Ginang in an article published in the Malaysian newspaper, The Star. “When you see their eyes, the wrinkles or the sweat, there are many stories there.” In some photographs, Ginang pulled back the frame to show the farmer’s environment.
The Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) supported this series. “The small farmers of Malaysia are the quintessential small farmer: relentless in making a living and undaunted by challenges thrown in their way,” said MPOC CEO Tan Sri Yusof Basiron. “They are the real people of Malaysia; the strong ones who have improved their prosperity and helped to lift millions out of poverty and toward a better future. That is the true story of palm oil in Malaysia, and these farmers are the faces that tell the story.”
One photograph shows Wak Guruh, a proud and confident middle-aged man with an albino cobra draped around his neck. He has a special affinity for the venomous animal. Ginang explains that there are many snakes in the plantation. Guruh takes care of them and also educates other plantation farmers about them because those who don’t know about the snakes may kill them. “What’s fascinating about this man is that he has made a living out of this,” stated Ginang. “He is simply a worker in the plantations. Now he is earning additional income by selling the snake’s venom.”
Ginang took two months to complete the photo shoot, visiting plantations throughout the country. He shared his observations: “The plantation sites are clean. There aren’t any burning areas and the people are not suffering. This was one of the main ideas behind the show as well, to show the sustainability of the oil palm industry, but in an artistic way.”