‘Intelligent’ cutters for trees to ease Malaysia palm oil labour crunch

A foreign worker harvests palm oil in the palm oil plantation area in Banting, Selangor. The labour crunch has magnified the urgency for ‘intelligent’ harvesting tools and automation in oil palm plantations, which has a low level of digitalisation compared to other industries, according to Girish. — AZHAR MAHFOF/The Star

A Malaysian firm is developing a harvesting tool for palm oil that could accelerate automation in an industry that is known not only for its gruelling conditions, but is also suffering from a chronic labour shortage.

Production of palm oil, the world’s most-consumed edible oil, is set for five-year lows in No 2 grower Malaysia after the government shut borders and froze hiring of foreign workers due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Farmers have been forced to let their fruit rot in trees, preventing them from maximising harvests at a time when palm oil prices have rallied to record highs.

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