KUALA LUMPUR (July 19): The country's oil palm industry suffered a loss of RM10.46 billion in the first five months of this year due to manpower shortage, said Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Zuraida Kamaruddin.
She said the amount was arrived at based on the average price of RM1,390 per tonne for the 7.52 million tonnes of fresh fruit bunch (FFB) that could not be harvested during the period.
Zuraida said plantations faced a shortage of 28,940 FFB harvesters and collectors, and based on an average productivity of two tonnes per day, an estimated 57,880 tonnes of FFB could not be harvested each day.
“Taking into account the number of working days a month, which is 26, the total estimated non-harvestable FFB is 1.50 million tonnes a month,” she said in a written parliamentary reply to Dr Azman Ismail (PH-Kuala Kedah) on the labour shortage and its effect on the sector.
Zuraida said the oil palm sector remains highly dependent on foreign workers who make up more than 75% of the workforce.
She said the closure of the country’s borders from March 2020 to March this year as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic had led to the manpower crisis.
“Even though the country’s borders have opened, the entry of foreign workers into the oil palm sector is still not fully restored," she said.
For the January to May period, the average labour shortage in the sector was estimated at 54,190 people of which 53.4% or 28,940 people are FFB harvesters and collectors.
Zuraida said the government is aware of the heavy dependence on foreign labour which could indeed affect the oil palm sector in the long term.
Towards this end, she said the government has encouraged plantations to increase the use of machinery, which would help to lighten the workload as well as increase the employees’ productivity and income.
“This will hopefully be able to attract more youths to join this sector,” she said.
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