Sustainability, technology needed to be competitive, Sarawak palm oil industry told

Head of State Tun Abdul Taib Mahmud (second left) prepares to cut the cake to commemorate Sarawak Oil Palms Bhd's 50th anniversary celebration, as Abang Johari (second right) joins in.

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KUCHING, August 9: The state’s palm oil industry must prioritise sustainable cultivation management and embrace technology to be competitive in the global market.

Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg said industry players must commit to the state’s target of achieving the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certification by December 2019.

Sarawak is fully committed to meet stringent requirements in the global market, where western NGOs are calling for more sustainable agriculture products.

In consideration to the growing concerns in major importing markets for certified sustainable palm oil, the state government will ensure the whole industry meets MSPO certification, he added.

“The palm oil industry is the main contributor of revenue from the agriculture sector in the state, as well as employment in the rural areas. Last year, the industry provided jobs to some 119,000 local and foreign workers, as well as producing over 39,000 active smallholders.

“By 2020, Sarawak has targeted two million ha of palm oil plantations to be cultivated sustainably. The state also pledged there would not be opening of new land for palm oil cultivation except titled native customary rights (NCR) land,” said Abang Johari at Sarawak Oil Palms Bhd’s 50th anniversary dinner here Wednesday.

The chief minister pointed out that labour shortages in the industry needs to be addressed by innovative means, rather than increasing the number of workers.

As the state embarks on transforming towards a digital economy, he said research and development (R&D) will play a significant role to reduce labour demand through the development of artificial intelligence, robotics and mechanisation.

The use of ICT will enable the industry to be competitive on the global stage, which would enhance growth and development, he added.

On the state’s environmental conservation efforts, Abang Johari said forest resources will be sustainably managed and the government is looking to commit 80 per cent of Sarawak’s land mass towards consisting of primary and secondary forests, as well as industrial forests for the timber industry.

“We have also decided to expand our water catchment area, dubbed the Heart of Borneo, from 2.1 million ha to 2.7 million ha. This would ensure our dams in Bakun, Baleh, Murum and Batang Ai will receive sufficient water.

“As for the permanent forest estates, we are going to increase it from 4.3 million ha to 6 million ha, while totally protected areas from 788,000 ha to one million ha,” Abang Johari continued. — DayakDaily