Johor MCA chief: Over 600,000 oil palm smallholders affected by manpower shortage

JOHOR BARU: The shortage of manpower in the plantation industry is affecting the livelihood of more than 600,000 oil palm smallholders nationwide, says Johor MCA Youth chief Ling Tian Soon(pic).

He said that this shortage has worsened due to the Covid-19 pandemic, adding that many smallholders still incurred losses despite the strong price of crude palm oil lately as they are unable to harvest as much as they could previously.

Ling said the issue was made worse since the start of the movement control order as many foreign labourers have returned to their respective countries and new workers are not allowed into Malaysia.

“Previously, the smallholders could harvest once every two weeks or twice a month.

These days, the frequency has been cut down to once a month,” he said on Saturday (Oct 23).

On top of the shortage of workers, the smallholders were also badly affected by the price hike of fertilisers and reduced yield, Ling added.

He said the previous Pakatan Harapan administration failed to control and maintain the price of the commodity and “even encouraged the rakyat to consume a spoonful of palm oil a day.”

“During that time, the price of palm oil fruit bunches was low at about RM250 a tonne while presently, the price has gone up to about RM800 per tonne," said Ling.

“This shows that the commodity was able to generate good income for the smallholders and nation, and therefore the government should look into this,” he said, urging the government to overcome the issue as soon as possible to recover the country’s economy.

He suggested allowing new foreign workers to be hired soon, subject to the standard operating procedures (SOPs) including Covid-19 swab tests and quarantine.

“The government can assist the plantation industry by incorporating agricultural technology such as the usage of machines for harvesting and drones for distributing fertilisers and spraying pesticides.

“Meanwhile, to potentially attract more local interest into the industry, the government can also give more recognition to blue collar workers or vocational workers,” he added.

It was reported on Oct 22 that National Recovery Council chairman Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin wanted to go to the ground to find out the problems faced by the people including the shortage of manpower.

“One way is to take in foreign workers from Bangladesh or Indonesia as there was a manpower crunch as locals were not willing to work, especially in the plantation sector,” he said after a one-day working visit to Bukit Gambir.

Muhyiddin added that proper SOP was needed in place such as only bringing in workers who had been fully vaccinated with no underlying diseases, and had already undergone quarantine.

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