Boost tech usage in oil palm industry to cut foreign worker reliance, says Abang Jo

KUCHING: Sarawak's oil palm industry should step up the use of technology to improve its sustainability and reduce dependence on foreign labour, says Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg.

The Premier said labour shortage was an ongoing issue faced by the industry, which had been requesting foreign workers to be allowed in.

"Perhaps at this juncture, the industry has to look into mechanisation, particularly for harvesting.

"The industry has to do research on this, it cannot rely on foreign labour only," he told a press conference after opening the East Malaysia palm and lauric oils price outlook conference and exhibition here on Tuesday (Sept 5).

Abang Johari said he had requested Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus and the private sector to look into using artificial intelligence (AI) for oil palm harvesting.

He said AI sensors, for instance, could be used to detect ripe fruits ready for harvesting.

"As the economy migrates upwards, the technology has to follow and this will make the industry sustainable," he said.

Abang Johari also said technology could be used to improve the management of plantations.

He said it was important for the industry to comply with environmental and sustainability standards for better market access.

In this light, he said Sarawak no longer permitted new development of large-scale oil palm plantations but allowed smallholders, particularly native customary rights landowners, to participate in the sector.

"We are aware of the question of sustainability and issues related to palm oil.

"For Sarawak, we are going for the green economy and therefore the industry has to adjust to the need of conserving the environment," he said.

Abang Johari added that 98% of Sarawak’s oil palm smallholders were certified under the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) standard.

"I advise the industry to adjust to new technology and the environment so that you are able to position yourself in the market," he said.

Organised by Bursa Malaysia, the two-day conference was held here for the first time after its inaugural edition in Kota Kinabalu last year.

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