KOTA KINABALU 6/11/2012: Mechanisation and automation process can reduce dependency of planters in Malaysia on foreign labour, Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Tan Sri Bernard Dompok said.
In his keynote address at the third International Plantation Industry Conference and Exhibition (IPiCEX 2012), Dompok said he was optimistic that these two processes, would in the long run, be a practical solution in the issue of foreign labour in Malaysia.
According to Dompok, it is a known fact that Malaysia in general and the plantation industry in particular are facing manpower shortage.
“As a result, there is high dependency on foreign workers, including in the plantation sector. As of July 31 this year, there was a total of 1.58 million registered foreign workers and about 306,000 are working in plantations.
“Given the lack of interest among local workers to work in the plantations and the difficulty in employing foreign workers in the near future, the way forward for the plantation industry is to undertake greater mechanisation efforts,” he stressed.
Dompok said he was pleased to note that the ministry’s agencies such as the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) has made a breakthrough in developing more than 30 farm machines to be utilised in the plantations and among the innovation are Cantas, Grabber, Motorcycle-trailer and Beluga.
In the case of using Cantas, Dompok disclosed that it had been proven it could increase workers’ productivity by almost two-fold from 1.5 tonnes to 2.8 tonnes per day.
By using Cantas, a harvester can cover an area of 35 hectares per day compared to just 21 hectares using sickles, an improvement of nearly 70 per cent, he added.
Apart from that MPOB has also come out with a new invention, namely Rhyno, a multi-purpose wheel type transporter introduced and launched during the fifth National Seminar on Oil palm Mechanisation 2012 in October last year, he said, adding that the usage of the new machine in combination with the Beluga further enhanced workers’ productivity rather than using Beluga alone.
“While I am optimistic that in the long run mechanisation and automation process will be a practical solution to reduce high dependency on foreign labour, a well-planned and coordinated programme as well as strong commitment of the companies’ management are the prerequisite to a successful mechanisation of the plantation sector,” he opined.
Dompok added that with greater uptake and adoption of mechanism, the plantation industry inadvertently has to restructure its operations as it does not need to employ as many low-skilled workers as before.
Instead, high skilled workers who would naturally fetch higher income are required to operate the machinery, he said.
“Another contentious issue faced by the industry is the growing concerns of the consumers on the impact of plantation industry towards the environment. More often than not, as a result of mis-perception and wrongful information, green lobbyists in developed markets have managed to influence the introduction of new trade regulations which are adversely affecting market access for Malaysian commodity products.
“Therefore it is pertinent for the plantation industry to practise a balanced development approach, providing equal emphasis on the welfare of the people, economic prosperity and environmental sustainability.
“On the part of the government, engagement programmes to disseminate factual information on commodity development in Malaysia to respective parties, locally and abroad will continue to be undertaken,” Dompok assured.
He added that he strongly believed that the plantation sector would continue to contribute significantly to the national economic growth as well as assume a pivotal role in achieving such aspiration.
However, considering business is no longer as usual and given the uncertainty in the global economy, it is certainly important for the plantation industry to be dynamic and undertake necessary transformation measures including the need to do things differently, he stressed.
“I am of the view that in order to progress further, the plantation industry has to move up the value chain by venturing into the production of high value-added products. In this regard, plantation industry players are encouraged to adopt new technologies, undertake innovations and enhance commercialisation of research and development efforts, including those developed by the various research institutions.
“If such efforts are undertaken, it is strongly believed that the target of achieving RM242.6 billion of export earnings from commodity based products by 2020 as the National Commodity Policy envisaged will be realized,” Dompok said.
At the event yesterday, the Honorary Fellowship of International Institute of Plantation Management was conferred on Dompok.