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Sime Darby Plantation’s Future Fest ’24 Showcases Palm Oil Industry Transformation

The fest is a platform for like-minded individuals to unite in their commitment to sustainability and the future of agriculture 

Sime Darby Plantation Bhd (SDP) played host to 1,806 participants at its inaugural SDP Future Fest ‘24 on Feb 24 and 25, 2024 at Carey Island, Selangor where the palm oil industry’s transformation was showcased. 

Attendees immersed themselves in oil palm greenery, witnessing flying drones, robotics and scientific innovations shaping the industry while interactive workshops, seminars, and heritage tours provided insights into the sector’s history and cultural significance. 

These experiences provided valuable insights into the history and cultural significance of the palm oil sector. 

Moreover, attendees were treated to countless Instagram-worthy moments as they explored the festival grounds and indulged in delicious local cuisine. 

SDP Future Fest was a platform for like-minded individuals to unite in their commitment to sustainability and the future of agriculture. 

The event layout was divided into five different spaces — the Main Tent, EduPalm Field Demo, Edutainment Lounge, Michigan Technological University (MTU) and Robotics Workshop and Heritage and Biodiversity Tour. 

The Main Tent 

The first stop, the Main Tent, was where most of the exhibitions and booths were located. 

The first two booths showcased sustainability and renewables. As global temperatures are projected to increase by 1.5°C before 2040, it is a well-known fact that urgent action is required to limit temperature fluctuations within this threshold. 

Therefore, SDP acknowledges the imperative for all stakeholders to play a role in reducing emissions. 

Aligned with its commitment to protect and enhance the environment, SDP has set a target of a 50% reduction in carbon intensity by 2030, as part of the nation’s journey towards achieving net-zero aspirations. 

“Our action plan is comprehensive and clearly defined. We are actively engaged in efforts to restore degraded land, safeguard habitats, promote responsible agricultural practices and foster a circular economy through renewable energy (RE) initiatives. 

“A critical aspect of our strategy involves eliminating deforestation from our supply chain, recognizing the complexity of this task within the broader ecosystem,” an SDP spokesperson told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR)

Despite encountering challenges, SDP has made substantial investments to expedite progress towards our climate-positive targets. 

“We have prioritized infrastructure investments to support climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts,” the spokesperson added. 

SDP implements diverse climate-related strategies to mitigate emissions and promote sustainability. 

These strategies involve investing in biogas plants and solar photovoltaics (PV) systems, enhancing operational efficiency globally, and implementing nature-based solutions like conservation areas and tree planting initiatives across multiple countries. 

Additionally, SDP aims to eliminate deforestation from its supply chain by engaging with suppliers and smallholders and ensuring transparency through traceability platforms. 

Collaboration with partners and investment in research and development further reinforce SDP’s commitment to driving positive environmental impact and aligning with global climate goals. 

Upholding responsible agriculture and human rights charters, SDP ensures adherence to No Deforestation, No Peat and No Exploitation (NDPE) principles. 

Collaboration with suppliers is essential in maintaining these commitments throughout the supply chain. 

SDP’s Plant-A-Tree programme, launched in 2008, has seen nearly 1.9 million forest trees planted, including 120 endangered, rare and threatened (ERT) species across various landscapes like orangutan habitats and mangrove areas. 

“With a target of three million trees by 2025, the programme showcased significant achievements, detailed in two guidebooks documenting flora and fauna growth,” the spokesperson said. 

Next to the sustainability booth, the renewables booth showcased “Creating RE and Turning Waste to Wealth for Palm Oil Millers”. 

It highlighted SDP’s commitment to achieving a 42% carbon emission reduction (CER) by 2030 for energy and industrial (E&I), Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions. 

The focus was on the CER Initiative via biogas projects, aimed at moving towards a net-zero ambition. 

Previously, SDP announced its commitment to progressively developing more biogas plants to capture methane emissions from palm oil mill effluent (POME). 

This innovative approach not only addresses environmental concerns but also contributes to RE production. 

By harnessing biogas, SDP aims to convert waste into a valuable resource while significantly reducing carbon emissions associated with palm oil milling processes. 

Moreover, the booth provided insights into the technological advancements and operational strategies employed by SDP to achieve these ambitious sustainability goals. 

It served as a platform to educate stakeholders about the importance of RE and waste management in mitigating climate change impacts within the palm oil industry. 

Digital and Innovation 

Meanwhile, the digital and Innovation area showcased palm oil applications such as confectionery, bakery, frying and dairy. 

Palm oil serves as a dairy fat replacer, widely used in various products, with approximately 90% of supermarket items in Malaysia containing it. 

The spokesperson pointed out that many people are unaware of palm oil’s presence in everyday items, from breakfast to personal care products. 

“Our initiative aims to raise public awareness and provide breakthrough evidence for replication. 

“Innovation is continuous, and we strive to engage the public annually to discover new applications,” he said. 

In a recent development, Sime Darby Plantation Seeds & Agricultural Services Sdn Bhd (SDPSAS), formerly known as Guthrie Plantation & Agricultural Services Sdn Bhd (GPAS) have produced GenomeSelectTM. 

As the commercial arm of the research and development (R&D) center, SDPSAS has taken on the responsibility of marketing products and technologies developed within the R&D center, while also offering management expertise in plantation crops to external customers of the Sime Darby Group. 

With a wealth of over 80 years of research in plantation crops and a team of more than 100 scientists and technologists, SDPSAS is committed to delivering innovative solutions and services to the agricultural sector. 

The GenomeSelectTM oil palm seed received the Edison Award (energy and sustainability category) in April 2017, making it SDPSAS’ most successful planting material to date in terms of yield per ha. 

Demonstrating exceptional performance, GenomeSelectTM was planted across 4,728ha from 2016 to 2022, yielding impressive results. 

Notably, GenomeSelectTM recorded significant improvements in oil extraction rates (OERs), with a 25% to 31% increase across all soil types. 

Furthermore, routine genetic testing ensures over 99% genetic purity for both GenomeSelectTM and calixQ6TM. 

According to data from September 2023, GenomeSelectTM achieved a 22.2% OER and a 25.1% of total OER, showcasing its remarkable effectiveness in boosting productivity. 

Guthrie Agri Bio 

Moving on, the Guthrie Agri Bio booth showcased products and services that are the result of rigorous R&D efforts. 

These products undergo comprehensive field testing to ensure effectiveness and efficiency before being released commercially. 

The range includes various tools such as harvesting poles, sickles and rat baits. Additionally, they offer fertilizers like NK Compact (NKC) and Muriate of Potash (MOP), tailored for optimized crop growth. 

The company also provides ago-chemicals including herbicides for weed control and rodenticides for pest management. 

Innovative Mecha-Tech solutions like the battery-powered ePangkas, eSorong, and eGagah series offer mechanized assistance in agricultural tasks, catering to the evolving needs of modern farming practices. 

EduPalm Field Demo 

Outside of the main tent, the attendees at the EduPalm Field Demo were treated to a glimpse of the future of plantation management. 

Drones, mechanized wonders and autonomous machines took center stage, offering solutions tailored to various terrain challenges. 

Among the star attractions were the laser ripeness sensor prototype and an autonomous robotic arm, promising precision and efficiency in fruit assessment and handling. 

One standout was the mechanical buffalo with scissors lift (MBSL), a marvel designed to swiftly evacuate fresh fruit bunches into sizeable 10 metric-tonne (MT) bins. 

Rigorously tested and approved by the Standard and Industrial Research Institute of Malaysia (SIRIM), the MBSL boasts a capacity of at least 600kg, ensuring stability across diverse surface conditions while covering 18ha per day. 

Not to be outdone, the mechanical buffalo with grabber (MBG) showcased its prowess in the ground-to-bin evacuation of hefty fruit bunches. 

With its integrated grabber arm, the MBG eliminates the need for manual intervention, directly transferring fruit bunches into the 10MT bin, covering up to 20ha per day. 

In addressing herbicide application, the herbicide sprayer (ImHS) emerged as a game-changer, significantly reducing labor demands by five individuals per day. 

Its efficient circle spraying method covers 15ha daily, resulting in estimated cost and labor reductions of 38% and 67% respectively. 

For mature areas, the Azman Sri Pulai herbicide strip sprayer stole the spotlight. 

Developed in-house, this machine caters to terrains with less than 15-degree slopes, reducing manpower needs by three workers daily while covering 8ha to 9ha a day. Its implementation promises a staggering 63% reduction in costs. 

Meanwhile, the Hasrul fertilizer lift (HFL) and mechanized terrace fertilizer applicator (MTFA) showcased their prowess in fertilization, each slashing labor requirements by four workers daily while efficiently covering 8ha per day. 

ST101 GEO 

Lastly, the ST101 GEO strip sprayer was unveiled as a lifeline for upstream Malaysia estates grappling with acute labor shortages, of which 71 units have been deployed. 

Designed for strip spraying in mature areas, its deployment has the potential to slash labor needs at a ratio of 1:5. 

In a separate presentation, SDP chief digital Aditya Tuli shared with the audience a transformative initiative that began nearly three years ago, aiming to reshape the future of the plantation industry. 

Despite over a century of existence, the Malaysian palm oil sector has seen minimal evolution, with labor-intensive practices persisting. 

The industry, boasting over 5.6 million ha of planted land and employing over half a million workers, faces challenges in adapting to changing times. 

Recent events like the Covid-19 pandemic further underscore the need for innovation, prompting SDP to launch Project Infinity, he explained. 

“This initiative seeks to revolutionize plantation operations by embracing advanced technologies like drones and robotics. 

“By introducing mechanization and automation, the project aims to enhance productivity and reduce reliance on foreign labor,” he said. 

Through collaborations with technology partners worldwide, including startups and research institutes, he affirmed that SDP is at the forefront of driving industry-wide transformation. 


In recent months, Tuli said SDP has witnessed rapid advancements in technology, with older versions of prototypes quickly evolving into newer iterations. 

Notably, unmanned ground-based vehicles (UGVs) have emerged as a key solution, autonomously spreading fertilizers in plantations without human intervention. 

As the technology progresses, newer versions of these prototypes are already in development, hinting at imminent commercial rollout. 

Alongside UGVs, other innovations like laser tree detection systems and harvesting prototypes are being explored. 

These advancements require supporting infrastructure such as charging facilities and connectivity, with the development of comprehensive software management systems like Palm Digital underway. 

However, it is not just technology that is evolving; significant changes are occurring on the human front, too. 

Job roles within plantations are shifting, with a focus on training drone pilots, park operators, and various engineering specialists. 

This shift is attracting a younger workforce, including women, previously deterred by the labor-intensive nature of plantation work. 

“The company is witnessing a paradigm shift, not only in technology adoption but also in workforce diversity and skill development, heralding a new era of innovation and opportunity within the industry,” Tuli said. 

SDP chief R&D officer David Ross Appleton said with engineers working on process improvement across mills and refineries, and scientists focusing on product development, the R&D division tackles diverse challenges in both upstream and downstream operations. 

“Prioritization of projects involves balancing fundamental research with practical applications, focusing on critical issues like yield improvement and climate change resilience. 

“Major investments in projects such as the Genome project underscore the company’s commitment to innovation and addressing industry-wide challenges,” he told TMR

The team comprises around 150 scientists and 1,000 personnel involved in various research and fieldwork activities. 

Robotics Workshop 

As automation becomes increasingly crucial, initiatives like the Infinity programme aim to accelerate the adoption of new technologies to mitigate labor shortages and improve plantation efficiency. 

“While solutions like mechanized wheelbarrows and tractor systems have been explored since the early 2000s, recent advancements in robotics offer promising prospects for further automation, although challenges such as fruit harvesting automation remain complex. 

“Nevertheless, ongoing efforts to mechanize and automate plantation tasks aim to optimize resource allocation and enhance productivity in the face of evolving industry demands and job constraints,” Appleton added. 

Moreover, SDP also aims to gradually reduce foreign workers in its oil palm plantations and target 100% local workforce in the sector by 2027. 

This initiative, implemented through the local project, will incorporate agricultural technology such as drone usage for fertilization, pest control and remote machinery operation. 

According to SDP chief human resources officer Zulkifli Zainal Abidin, the reduction in foreign labor during this period will involve increasing the ratio of workers from one worker per 8ha area to 17.5ha. 

“The objective of the local project is to recruit as many locals as possible to fill the vacancies in plantations nationwide. 

“This came after the Covid-19 pandemic forced many foreign workers to return home and some were unable to re-enter. Initially, we hired locals to fill the vacancies,” he said in a press conference. 

Furthermore, besides reducing reliance on foreign workers, the planned mechanization aims to change perceptions about plantation work being difficult, dirty and dangerous (3D). 

However, during this period, foreign workers will be retained for tasks related to fruit bunch harvesting until technology and mechanization for these activities are introduced. 

In his speech on Feb 23, Agriculture and Commodities Deputy Minister Datuk Chan Foong Hin said the ministry, represented by the Malaysian Agricultural and Commodities Institute (IMPAC), expressed deep gratitude towards SDP for their collaboration in advancing the government’s mission to cultivate a knowledgeable and skilled workforce. 

He spoke about how IMPAC, designated as the Industry Lead Body by the Department of Skills Development (JPK), is pivotal in driving the technical and vocational education and training (TVET) agenda within the agriculture and commodities sector. 

To note, IMPAC has taken proactive measures to foster an environment that appeals to the younger generation, encouraging them to pursue careers in the agri-commodity field. 

The integration of mechanization and automation into farming practices is highlighted as a significant avenue for creating high-value job opportunities, and ensuring competitive wages within the sector. 

SDP also signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with Universiti Malaya for R&D of laser cutting tools for fruit bunch harvesting. 

Additionally, the plantation company signed an MOA with the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) for the development of machinery experts. 

SDP chairman Tan Sri Dr Nik Norzrul Thani Nik Hassan Thani said the SDP Future Fest’24 was the first of its kind to showcase the latest technology advancements in trans-forming oil palm plantation work. 

“Today, advanced machinery and technology have been implemented in our plantations. Some machines or technologies are still undergoing testing before being used and commercialized. 

“Our dream is to build the ‘Plantation of the Future’. We believe that the changes we envision will not only elevate the oil palm plantation sector to excellence but also attract more locals to join the palm oil industry in our country,” he said. 


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