Palm oil group urges industry to tap technology to save forests

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian palm oil producers must use technology to improve yield and compensate for restrictions on land use, as the industry wrestles with concerns about sustainability, the chairman of the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) said.

Malaysia, the world’s second biggest palm oil producer, has set a cap of 6.5 million hectares on the area under palm oil cultivation. In 2019, the total area planted with oil palm in Malaysia was about 5.9 million hectares.

Given the restrictions on expanding into new land, MPOC chairman Datuk Lee Yeow Chor said companies should look at other options to increase output.

“The emphasis for the palm oil industry should be looking at how to increase the utilisation of technology in order to improve yields, ” Lee told Reuters in an interview.

Lee said the industry was also increasing mechanisation to cut reliance on foreign labour, and seeking to use tissue culture and genomics to make plants deliver more.

Apart from the land issue, frequent droughts and replanting in Sabah, the biggest Malaysian state producing palm oil, would hit output, he said. It takes between three and four years for a plant to produce fruit.

Datuk Mohamad Nageeb Abdul Wahab, chief executive of the Malaysian Palm Oil Association – a group representing growers – told Reuters separately the bigger producers were focusing on yield expansion using genome-sequencing.

Lee said he expected the benchmark Malaysian palm oil price to range between RM2,800 and RM3,100 per tonne in the next two months, higher than yesterday’s close of RM2,759, because of limited supplies. — Reuters

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