Sime Darby Plantation (SDP) has extended its mission to reduce dependence on foreign labour in plantation work by leveraging on robotic advancement to build a machine which can be used to harvest oil palm’s fresh fruit bunches (FFB).
Notably, Malaysia relies on foreign labour in the plantation sector namely from Bangladesh, Nepal and Indonesia since locals have deemed the work as difficult, dirty and dangerous.
According to FMT, Covid-19 has caused the labour shortage for palm workers in Malaysia. Plantations and Commodities Minister, Khairuddin Aman Razali also added earlier this month, that the government will not consider allowing migrant workers into the sector until the Covid-19 situation is under control.
Although, the minister has urged plantation companies to hire more local workers, he said the efforts to attract local workers are still hitting a small success.
Meanwhile, SDP Chief Research and Development Officer, K Harikrishna said the industry will depend less on the manpower at large especially in harvesting and plantation work if the mission is a success.
“It may take a while and expected within six years to come, but we will see if we can expedite the process,” he said.
Acknowledging that developing the practical harvest device involves complexity in matching the crops with various landscape, SDP is collaborating with experts from various counties to develop the prototype as well as scaling it in terms of manufacturing needs, costs, and pricing.
SDP is also utilising Gnome Select technology and will extend this technology to boost other yields such as coconut and dates. They are also looking to explore using drones to spray pesticides and fertilise the crops.
SDP has started the research work on Gnome Select in 2016 and conducted a trial planting of 18,000 seeds