MUCH hope has been placed on increasing the mechanisation of palm
fruit harvesting techniques and reducing foreign labour in the country’s
robust oil palm industry.
Unfortunately, efforts to introduce a
workable and efficient mechanised harvester remain futile, leading to
deep dependence on foreign workers among many oil palm estates
Labour for harvesting is now the biggest constraint
to the future competitiveness of the nation’s key plantation sector.
More so when there is an immediate need to address the acute labour
shortage in the sector following the freeze on Bangladeshi workers and
reduced labour supply from Indonesia.
It is also ironic that
Malaysia, renowned for its highly advanced research and development
(R&D) into oil palm planting techniques, seems to be a bit hesitant
to undertake intensive R&D commercialisation to come out with
efficient mechanical harvesters for the industry.
that, at one point there was a motorised harvesting pole (MHP)
introduced for harvesting oil palm fruits. While the gadget holds
potential, some say much research on its real use needs to be done.
at RM5,000 per unit, the gadget apparently is too expensive, especially
for smallholders. Other minus factors include the five-metre maximum
reach which is too low, covering only 40% of the planted areas, and a
short lifespan about five months.
Perhaps, by making some
adjustments, i.e. making it more affordable by pricing it below RM2,000,
doubling its reach from the current height, and extending its lifespan
to over two years, the MHP could turn out to be a useful and efficient
gadget for harvesting.
Some trial results have shown that with
mechanisation, the workforce for harvesting could be reduced by half,
land-to-labour ratio could be doubled, productivity tripled and the
harvesting cost cut by 75%.
Productivity could be increased
depending on the crop yield and the estates’ topography, whether flat,
undulating, hilly slopes or in peat areas.
(harvesters), therefore, could get more income while the estates could
boost production besides reducing the high cost of production due to
significant labour reduction.
However, some feel that
commercialisation efforts should not be institutionalised in the R&D
establishment. Commercialisation and marketing of R&D findings are
specialised areas and cannot be left to scientists alone.
another way is to encourage the Government and industry players to set
up a dedicated mechanised harvesting fund for the oil palm sector.
international palm oil expert even suggested collection of industry
funds and inviting bids from the world’s leading robotics institutes.
Then Malaysia can select maybe two to compete in designing the best and
most efficient mechanical harvesters.
It is high time local
industry players looked seriously at mechanised harvesting to boost the
country’s average crude palm oil yield which has been stagnant at only
four tonnes per hectare for the past 20 years.