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AI Technology Can Be Game Changer for Palm Oil Industry

Increasingly, agriculture is also looking to AI to resolve many of its challenges. The palm oil industry has been eyeing AI for some time now to resolve its productivity and marketing issues. - NSTP file pic

Technology drives much of the world. Artificial intelligence (AI) is one technology now making waves. The power of AI can no longer be ignored.

Together with the other technologies, including the Internet of Things and robotics, AI is changing the game of business and industry. Global businesses look at AI as a panacea of sort, as the world continues to digitalize.

AI refers to a technology that can match human intelligence, making machines perform tasks almost like humans. Software algorithms are behind the technology.

AI has become attractive as it can help deliver business growth, improve complex decision-making, and transform businesses to become more intelligent.

The words "artificial intelligence", coined by John McCarthy in the 1950s, essentially refers to the ability of a computer program to learn and think.

Many problems of the world now look to AI for answers. The global waste issue, which has grown increasingly complex, deploys AI to better organize collection and eventual treatment at waste-processing facilities.

The monitoring of pollution, especially of rivers and waterways, uses remote sensing technology to capture images which are then deciphered using AI.

The same satellite imaging technology is used to monitor the forests, looking for cases of illegal logging. Manufacturing deploys AI extensively to increase productivity as well as improve product quality.

The other area which deploys AI extensively is data analytics. This involves analyzing vast amount of data to better understand market trends and consumer choices.

The social media is a major source of such data. Retail businesses are actively using AI to make business sense of the data.

Increasingly, agriculture is also looking to AI to resolve many of its challenges. The palm oil industry has been eyeing AI for some time now to resolve its productivity and marketing issues.

Palm oil's consumer perception issue continues to linger on despite the many steps taken by the industry.

The industry remains preoccupied with the battle to neutralize the spread of fakes and untruths about palm oil.

It is good to hear that the Ministry of Plantations is going on an offensive to deal with the challenge. It is about time too, as the industry has been defensive for far too long. Kudos to the ministry.

Productivity has emerged as a more daunting challenge in recent times for the palm oil industry. We are talking about crop losses which have denied the industry of much revenue.

At the current high price of palm oil, touching RM5, 000 per ton, unharvested oil palm fruits have resulted in billions of ringgit in losses.

Labor shortage has been largely the reason why huge tracts of oil palms have not been harvested. But, it is not just labor that has contributed to the losses.

It is also about harvesting at the right time when the fruits are optimally ripe. The loose fruits technique which is widely used to decide harvesting time is not fully reliable.

One can see evidence of a high percentage of unripe fruits at the mills. Unripe means low oil content. AI can definitely play a role here.

The issue of labor is not recent. For a long time, there has been concern that the industry has been over dependent on foreign labor.

The pandemic has exacerbated the situation. This is where AI together with robotics and drones can help. The palm oil industry needs the right strategy to effectively embrace AI. Research and development are central to the strategy.

Through the Malaysian Palm Oil Board, the industry should invest in a center dedicated to the development of AI in the entire spectrum of palm oil production, from plantation down to processing and the manufacture of value added products and logistics.

Through the use of AI, the industry can better monitor the sustainability performance of the industry, including the impact on greenhouse gas emissions and capture. As pressures of climate concerns continue to bear on the industry, AI can help positively position the environmental image of the industry.

In fact, with the adoption of AI and other related digitalize technologies, more young people may be attracted to work in the industry.

In this regard, AI is seen as a real game changer for the palm oil industry.

The writer is a professor at the Tan Sri Omar Centre for STI Policy, UCSI University


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