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by Mahbob Abdullah. Posted on November 6, 2011, Sunday

Behind the gate and the se-curity guard the estate is seen by most readers as a closed area and
many may won-der what life is like in there.

We can follow an estate man-ager to see what he is doing. He runs the oil palm estate of
3,000 hectares. Rather than to think he is the lord of the place and no one is allowed in, he
might even welcome you if you are a young person keen to work as a management staff, such
as a cadet planter.

Usually the Tuan Besar lives up the hill and before dawn his driver is ready and the land
cruiser would take him from his bungalow to the muster ground. Precisely on time, the lines
of workers would have their names called, and their attendance taken.

The estate manager stands behind the three assistant managers and the six supervi-sors, while
the twenty mandors read out the names as he looks at the workers in several lines to see if
they have turned out with the right shoes and equip-ment. After quick instructions the
workers spread out to their areas of work.

The estate manager needs to get his crop estimate; he cannot afford to allow too much
absen-teeism. There in the silence of the muster ground, now empty, he has a quiet chat with
the remaining assistants and su-pervisors, judging who among them would be fit for
promotion. He always tries to strengthen his team.

In the morning air as the sun begins to rise, he goes to see the new planting, where the dew is
still heavy on the low fronds of young palms. The rows stretch to the far end and he takes a
walk, checking on circle weeding done some days ago.

Then he is off to see the har-vesting. He watches a harvester with a sickle at the end of a long
aluminum pole raising it to reach a bunch over twenty feet above the ground. The harvester
slips the blade to the bunch stalk, and stepping back, yanks twice and the big bunch detaches
from the trunk, crashing and rolling on the ground.

It would be ripe, about twenty kilogrammes and worth today around ten ringgit. That man
would cut about 120 bunches that day. That is skilled work. The turnover he would bring in
three years of work would be about a million ringgit.

You can follow the manager after he has had a quiet word with the assistant who would be
there too to take notes and carry out further instructions, which might be to go and find more

He is back in his land cruiser, to see the application of ferti-liser. If the work is bad, the
assistant manager would be the first to hear about it and he would pass his anger to the
supervisor, and so on down the line.

There is a technique in apply-ing the fertiliser, with the con-tainer of about one kilogramme,
swung from the waist outwards, and to the back, so that the ferti-liser granules spread in an
arc. The root hairs would take up the nutrient, promote the growth of the trunks, leaves,
flow-ers, and bunches that the crop would increase in a matter of weeks with improved
average bunch weight.

With enough food, the palms can bear more fe-male flowers. They turn to bunches ready for
harvest in two years time. Conversely of course, without enough food, the palms would
produce less crop.

That would be on his mind even as he goes home for a mid-morning break, for a cup of
coffee and some bread and papaya for breakfast.

Yet it would be only nine oclock with most of the day still ahead of him. He would again go
to the harvesting area and as the sun goes up, it is not the time to scold, but he might meet
some of his supervisors along the way, and perhaps listen to what they have to say on raising
the crop production.

On the way to the office he would be thinking of how the costs of production could go down
if he got a higher tonnage than his budget. The figures work in his

head, even as his eyes miss nothing.

If something is wrong, such as a bridge was showing signs of erosion, he would tell the driver
to stop, then get down, go close to the bank and peer under the bridge to assess what would it
take to repair it. He would speak to his assistant in the afternoon.

He would be calling a meeting, due once a week and together with the assistants and the chief
clerk they would review the work done, and how the crop would go for the rest of the month.

On top of that they would review the progress of capital expenditure on new labour houses,
and the purchase of a road grader and a roller, al-ready in the budget. The order is already late
and he has to do some stretches before heavy rains set in.

The Casio calculator would be close to the chief clerk who would do the calculation on costs.
They would discuss the date of the next payroll kept confidential, so few outsiders would
need to know.

After the meeting there might be a football match going on between divisions, or estates and
the teams might be even waiting for him to do the kick-off. He would stand at the sidelines,
always spotting who among the players have the fighting spirit or a sign of leadership and
make a mental note on their names.

By the time he heads up the hill, it would be near to dusk, and he would then take his bath,
and get ready for a quiet dinner, and read the newspapers or the Planter magazine if it had
arrived from the Incorporate Society of Planters.

He could find technical arti-cles, together with change of address of some planters he would
know. Sometimes in the evenings he and his wife would have to attend a wedding, at the
dinner he could get a sense of the atmosphere if there is any tension in the air. He would
worry about that and make plans for improvements, for if many workers left, he would never
get his crop estimate.
That would be the thought in his mind, before getting into bed, watching what he could pick
from the late night Bloomberg news. Palm oil prices are moving again. He checks his
handphone one last time and there is a request from marketing for his crop forecast.

He notes the urgency and he would reply first thing in the morning. After all it is a business.

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