RM60m allocated for oil palm research

MARCOP aims to reduce foreign workers in the palm oil industry, and to develop technologies and innovations in the industry

by FAYYADH JAAFAR / pic credit: mpoc.org.my

THE government has allocated a total of RM60 million for agricultural mechanisation technology research and commercialisation to the Mechanisation and Automation Research Consortium of Oil Palm (MARCOP), which was launched yesterday.

MARCOP was established with an aim to reduce foreign workers in the palm oil industry and to develop technologies and innovations in the industry for better productivity and efficiency through automation.

This is in line with the government’s expectation for the industry to contribute an export value of RM100 billion this year, an increase from the RM73.3 billion recorded last year.

Additionally, the industry has contributed a total of RM60 million for research and commercialisation of farm mechanisation technology, of which RM30 million was from the government and RM30 million from the industry’s cess collection.

Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Zuraida Kamaruddin said MARCOP will focus on the most recent innovations within the context of Industrial Revolution 4.0, which will involve the use of technologies such as drones, robots and sensors for integrated and systematic operations.

She added that the development of technology and innovation will be done through the sharing of research expertise among industry players, technocrats and academics.

“With the high and strong market price of palm oil, industry players are urged to invest in technology, especially mechanisation and automation as an alternative to the use of foreign labour, especially for harvesting,” Zuraida said at the launch of MARCOP yesterday.

She added that with MARCOP new solutions can be developed and implemented to solve problems faced in the palm oil industry, such as the shortage of skilled workers, the high cost of labour, and the increasing demand for land.

Drones, robots and sensors can be used to automate the harvesting process, which is currently done manually.

This will reduce the need for manual labour up to 50% and increase productivity.

Meanwhile, Zuraida said women have been underrepresented in the industry, and it is hoped that these mechanisation efforts will contribute to the government’s desire to have labour force participation among women at a rate of 59% by 2025.

“Data from the Department of Statistics Malaysia for 2020 shows that the labour force participation rate for women is only 55.3%, compared to men at 80.6%.

“This indicates that there is a potential of 2.7 million women, or 44.7% of women, outside the labour market,” Zuraida noted.

The minister also said the 12th Malaysia Plan has set a national development roadmap for the next five years, including reducing the recruitment of low-skilled foreign workers, creating more high-skilled employment opportunities and encouraging the industry to move towards mechanisation and automation.

In regards to anti-palm oil campaigns, Zuraida believed that MARCOP will change critics’ perception of the industry and its products.

“We must not forget that palm oil is the main commodity of the country’s economy, and we must counter the negative perception towards the industry and the products with evidence and facts.

“Our laws and regulations are in place to protect the consumers and the environment from any harmful effects of the palm oil industry,” she said.