CM: Mechanisation, automation to reduce reliance on manual labour, navigate through Covid-19 restraints

Abang Johari and other distinguished guests seeing a demonstration of a tractor plucking oil palm fruits.

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By Karen Bong

MUKAH, Aug 28: The agriculture sector in Sarawak especially oil palm, sago palm and nipah palm need to gradually shift to and adopt mechanisation and automation to reduce dependency on manual local and foreign labour as well as navigate through Covid-19 restraints.

Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg pointed out that the Covid-19 pandemic and restrictions have taught industries important lessons, especially the need to innovate with technology to navigate through the challenges that could impact the economy.

Agriculture, he said, certainly is among the most prominent sectors of the economy as Sarawak is a major contributor to the oil palm industry.

“But the oil palm sector in Sarawak is facing several challenges including dependency on foreign labour to work as collectors such as from Indonesia. The industry could come to a stand still in times of Covid-19 where movement is restricted.

“We will lose out as workers cannot go out to work to harvest the fruits during Covid-19 even though the price is good internationally,” he said when launching the Centexs Mukah Campus and Oil Palm and Agriculture Academy at the site here today

Abang Johari (centre) cutting the ribbon to mark the launching of the Oil and Gas Academy.

Realising this, he had two years ago urged for research and development to mechanise and automate the sector that would bring about changes to the work processes.

To move forward, Abang Johari emphasised that Centexs Mukah Campus will play a significant role to identify the suitable technologies that can be adopted to develop sectors especially agriculture in the State’s central region.

“Among the institutions involved are Swinburne University and today we get Centexs to explore further in finding the most suitable technology for oil palm harvesting.

“As a result, we see today the first stage of the development has successfully come up with a tractor that is equipped with an arm to cut, collect and put the ripened fruits into a bin,” he said.

The second stage, he elaborated, will involve using sensors to detect ripe fruits whereby Centexs will collaborate with Huawei to upgrade the machine with artificial intelligent (AI) technology to ease fruit harvesting processes in oil palm plantations.

“If successful, we can reduce our dependence on foreign laborers. But more importantly, it will facilitate in increasing the production, yields and income of the farmers.

“The third stage will be to upgrade into autonomous machines like robots and drones which can work by itself through supervision in the control and command centre,” he added.

Foreseeing that the palm agriculture can become a huge activity in central Sarawak, Abang Johari also urged to push technology utilisation for nipah palm and sago palm sectors.

As such, he revealed that the State Cabinet has agreed to set up the Nipah and Sago Industry Board which is a statutory body to manage the industry and market these products overseas.

“This is the government’s strategy and planning to leapfrog the oil palm, sago palm and nipah palm industry in Sarawak,” he said.

Minister of Education, Science and Technological Research Datuk Amar Michael Manyin Jawong; Minister of Welfare, Community Well Being, Women, Family and Childhood Development Datuk Seri Fatimah Abdullah; Assistant Minister of Law, State-Federal Relations and Project Monitoring Datuk Sharifah Hasidah Sayeed Aman Ghazali and Centexs chairman Tan Sri Mohamad Morshidi Abdul Ghani were among those present.— DayakDaily