Johor Bahru, Malaysia — When palm oil farmer Isnin Kasno eventually retires, his three children will turn their backs on the family’s small plantation in Malaysia’s southern state of Johor. Like many aging oil palm growers in Southeast Asia, he struggles to make ends meet from his 2ha piece of land, and his adult children have little appetite for the physically demanding work and dwindling financial rewards. "It makes me very sad," says Kasno, who planted his land in 1983 after working in Singapore’s construction industry. "Soon, when I no longer have the energy to help with the harvesting, my only option will be to lease my farm." There are more than 2-million smallholders tending 5.6-million hectares of land in Malaysia and Indonesia — the two countries that dominate the world’s supply of the vegetable oil used widely in food, household products and biodiesel. This army of farmers produces about 40% of palm oil from those two countries. Over the past decade, growing pressure from ...

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