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Mechanisation and Automation Vital For Smooth Operation of Nation's Oil Palm Plantations

Technology and innovation are crucial to ensure the competitiveness of the nation's oil palm industry in the global market. Hence, the adoption of mechanisation and automation is vital for the smooth operation of the oil palm plantations, which currently faces a critical labour shortage.

The oil palm plantation sector is among the economic sectors which is dependent on labour to carry out the operations which include harvesting and collecting the fresh fruit bunches (FFB).

MPOB's research in mechanisation has developed more than 40 machines for adoption by the oil palm plantation sector for its operations such as harvesting.

Among the mechanisation technologies adopted by the sector are the harvesting machine called Cantas, in-field transporter (Grabber, Motorcycle Trailer, Beluga) and loose fruit collectors.

The emphasis on mechanisation is also meant to encourage the involvement of the locals in the oil palm plantations, which has been associated with the 3Ds stigma - dangerous, dirty and difficult.

Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) continuously collaborates with the industry players to prioritise research to ensure that it caters to the needs of the industry and addresses global issues.

In line with that, MPOB and the local industry players has proposed the formation of the Mechanisation and Automation Research Consortium of Oil Palm (MARCOP).

The objective of the consortium is to enhance the industry's research and development (R&D) and commercialisation at the national level.

The new entity, which was highlighted by Honourable Minister of Plantation Industries and Commodities Datuk Dr Mohd Khairuddin Aman Razali recently and to be launched soon, aims to improve the technology of mechanisation and adoption, which will optimise the operational efficiency and harvesting of oil palm fruits and address the issue of labour shortage in the oil palm plantations.

These will be implemented by sharing resources and producing technologies for the country's oil palm industry.

The consortium will focus on the latest technologies and may also include advanced technologies that embraced industry revolution 4.0.

It will transform the operations in the oil palm plantations by adopting the latest technologies such as drones, robotic, augmented reality, sensors and big data for integrated and systematic operations.

MARCOP will be mandated to develop viable technologies to resolve the oil palm industry's prolonged issues and challenges.

Its main focus area is on harvesting technology especially on tall palms. This technology will also help to reduce dependence on labour and may attract local talent into the plantation businesses.

In line with the industry's demand, the additional cess collection of RM2 per tonne imposed on the manufacturers of crude palm oil and crude palm kernel oil effective March 1 this year, will be channelled first to MARCOP until it reaches RM30 million before channelling it for its existing purposes of R&D activities and promotional activities which involved agencies such as Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) and Malaysian Palm Oil Certification Council (MPOCC) as well as commitment for Council of Palm Oil Producing Countries (CPOPC).

The allocation of RM30 million for MARCOP will complement the allocation of the RM30 million provided by the government through matching grants to encourage the industry's investment in mechanisation and automation as announced in the 2021 Budget.

Hence, the government's move to impose the additional cess of RM2 to RM16 per tonne should be well received by the industry players as it will enhance the technological competitiveness of the country's oil palm industry.

The implementation of the new cess rate is apt in view of the bullish performance of crude palm oil price (CPO) this year.

The price of CPO was above the RM3,000-level per tonne early this year and is projected to be on the uptrend due to the favourable market sentiment.

On March 15 2021, the price of CPO broke its record when it surged to RM4,247.50 per tonne, the all-time high in the history of the Malaysian palm oil industry and has potential to continue its uptrend based on the favourable market sentiment, declining stock, increasing exports and the strengthening of soybean oil price.

The writer is the director-general of Malaysian Palm Oil Board

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