Oil palm smallholders caught in a triple bind


Tough days: Filepic showing a worker harvesting oil palm.

JOHOR BARU: The manpower shortage in the plantation industry has worsened due to the Covid-19 pandemic, affecting the livelihood of more than 600,000 oil palm smallholders nationwide, says the Johor MCA Youth chief.

Ling Tian Soon said despite the strong price of crude palm oil of late, many smallholders were still incurring losses as they were unable to harvest as much as they could previously.

Ling says smallholders are incurring losses due to shortage of manpower.Ling says smallholders are incurring losses due to shortage of manpower.

He said the issue was made worse when, with the first movement control order in March last year, many foreign workers returned to their home countries while new workers were not allowed into Malaysia.

“Previously, smallholders could harvest once every two weeks.

“These days, the frequency has been cut down to once a month,” he said yesterday.

On top of the shortage of workers, smallholders were also badly affected by the hike in fertiliser prices while grappling with reduced yield, Ling added.

He suggested allowing the entry of foreign workers for this sector as soon as possible, subject to the observance of the standard operating procedure that includes swab tests and quarantine.

“The government can assist the plantation industry by incorporating more agricultural mechanisation, such as the use of machines for harvesting, and drones for fertiliser and pesticide application.

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

It was reported yesterday that National Recovery Council chairman Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin wanted to go to the ground to look into the problems faced by the people, including the shortage of manpower.

“One aspect is to take in workers from Bangladesh or Indonesia as locals are not willing to work in the plantation sector,” he said after a one-day working visit to Bukit Gambir in Tangkak on Friday.

Muhyiddin is the Gambir assemblyman.

He added that proper procedures were needed in bringing in such workers, such as ensuring they were fully vaccinated, had no underlying diseases and had already undergone quarantine.

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