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AGRICULTURE

Planting the seeds of prosperity

lating it to the small holders,” he says.

The Ministry of Plantation Industries and Commodities promotes lucrative yet sustainable crops

WITH ABOUT one-third of national terri- tory under cultivation and the remaining two-thirds left as forest, Malaysia has quite a sustainable basis. Its lungs and biodiver- sity are preserved without sacrificing an im- portant sector for the nation’s economy.

The Ministry of Plantation Industries and Commodities concentrates on downstream industries. Its policies are divided into sec- tors to oversee palm oil, rubber, cocoa, forestry and the new crops either being de- veloped or in planning phases.

Currently, palm oil is Malaysia’s flagship crop and is proving lucrative thanks to its many uses as well as its high productivity. According to the ministry, its present aver- age yield of about four tonnes per hectare is nowhere near as high as it could be.

“I would like to increase this to more than eight tonnes,” says Tan Sri Bernard Giluk Dompok, Minister of Plantation Industries and Commodities. “This is achievable because

Eclipsed by palm oil are rubber and co- coa. So as to diversify and increase produc- tivity in the rubber industry, farmers are try- ing their hand at collecting latex from rub- ber trees that, once deemed mature enough, are then used for their timber. This makes sense since, at present, nearly 80 per cent of furniture industry is using rubber wood.

As for cocoa, Malaysia has a growing ca- pacity of only 28,000 tonnes yet its grinding capacity – left over from cocoa’s heyday – is 320,000 tonnes. “We import 90 per cent of our cocoa beans to be turned into drinks and chocolates. We are hoping to be the Switzer- land of the East,” claims Tan Sri Dompok.

What lies ahead for Malaysian planta- tions? Growing numbers of mergers are re- sulting in more powerful companies with more resources for R&D and improved ac- cess to better markets. Morocco, India, China and Pakistan are huge potential mar- kets, namely for palm oil. The minister is also pushing for more public-private ini- tiatives for further research in the sector as well as greater collaboration with UK The oil palm is nearly ten times more efficient than the soybean, its closest rival the former produce eventually ends up at the large mills; if the quality is inferior, it brings some of the big boys are already doing six or seven tonnes, but the smaller ones are keep- down the average. “What we are trying to ing it down.” see now is how the mills can pass on their savings on buying bulk purchase and trans- These so-called smaller ones are the small- scale farmers who make up some one-third of the total plantation owners. Lacking the resources to employ good practices and to purchase fertilisers, they are unable to reach as high yields as their wealthier competitors. The minister is organising the small and large landholders to work together because what ‚óŹ universities. One crop, one thousand uses Palm oil is a booming industry in Malaysia, thanks to its wide variety of practical applications and high profitability. director general, Datuk Dr Mohd Basri Wahid. “If we are able to develop more products, we will cover more needs and can add value. R&D goes into new products and new processes, problems that need to be addressed and solved.” The director general cites Malaysia’s Malaysia’s palm oil industry is a major contributor to the national economy, as well as a key player in the global oils and fats market.

The industry currently contributes around 2.4 per cent of the country’s GD , and directly and indirectly employs 1.4 million workers. Close to 90 per cent of Malaysian palm oil is exported, and the federal government is seeking to maximise the product’s reach internationally through the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB)’s innovative technologies and sustainable production. This government agency was founded to promote and develop the industry, and it has launched over 400 technologies through research and development (R&D) initiatives. Innovations in palm oil will help optimise production by small farmers, create new, useful and eco-friendly products, and make the most of the 4.6 million hectares of land devoted to Malaysia’s oil palm fields. emphasis on R&D as what sets it apart from competing palm-oil producing countries. Nutrition is one of the core areas of MPOB’s research, as 85 per cent of extractable palm oil is for consumption. It is a common ingredient in southeast Asian cuisine and the tropical belt of Africa, though it is increasingly popular in the commercial food industry in other parts of the world, thanks to its affordable price, high quality, and stability. “Another important area is renewable energy,” adds Datuk Basri. “We have commercialised and exported our biodiesel, but there are many challenges ahead, both overseas and locally, with respect to the full utilisation of this technology. The R&D component must go on.” DATUK DR MOHD BASRI WAHID Director General of MPOB

“There must be new dimensions for us to become more versatile,” explains MPOB

A final area of exploration for MPOB is biomass from the oil palm. “We are looking at furniture and car components, biomedicine, oleochemicals, soap and cosmetics,” says Datuk Basri. The plant’s diverse chemical compounds make it an ideal construction material as well. “Depending on how it is set, products can be as hard as a car bumper or as soft as a pillow. Our advantage is that we have many pilot plants to provide technological support to the industry and for commercialization.”

R&D continues to break new grounds for Malaysian palm oil cultivation

Datuk Basri concludes that Malaysia’s palm oil industry will continue to grow. “We believe that you have to innovate to improve over time.”

6 World Report

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