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PETALING JAYA: Sime Darby Plantation Bhd (SDP) expects its investments in the automation, digitalisation and mechanism of estate operations to cut its reliance on manual workers and improve productivity.
The planter stated that as a result of a broad-scale initiative launched two years ago under its “Project Infinity”, it now expects to eliminate the need for manual workers in all non-harvesting activities by the end of 2023.
“We expect to reduce the number of plantation workers by 55% by the end of 2023 and by the end of 2024, improve our land-to-man ratio to 1:17.5 or one worker for every 17.5 ha,” SDP group managing director, Mohamad Helmy Othman Basha, noted in a statement yesterday.
The current industry average is one worker for every eight ha.
SDP has some 80,000 workers spread across its integrated operations in various countries.
The company has developed internally or co-developed with start-ups and technology providers on its automation and mechanism initiatives, several of which have been implemented across its Malaysian operations, while others are either in the prototype or concept stage.
These include using drones to spray seedlings in nurseries and fields and unmanned ground vehicles undertaking tasks that have been described as “dirty, dangerous and difficult”.
The drones have replaced over 100 workers at its plantations in Malaysia, it added.,
Other tech solutions include the use of automatic strip herbicide sprayer machines (for mature fields), which reduce manpower by five workers and cover 25 ha per day as compared to five ha per day when done manually.
Its herbicide strip sprayer for mature areas, for instance, has helped it reduce manpower needs by three workers and enables it to do work eight ha a day compared with only three ha a day if done manually.
The machine also reduces cost by 63%.
Other initiatives adopted and rolled out include using mechanised fertiliser machines that have helped the planter reduce its manpower needs and cover a wider acreage per day compared to being done manually.
With more technology in use, SDP aims to have a 100% local workforce for its Malaysian plantation operations by the end of 2027.
The planter has estates spread across Malaysia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands at present and is the world’s largest producer of Certified Sustainable Palm Oil or CSPO, with a production of 2.150 million tonnes as of end 2021.
“During the Covid-19 pandemic, when foreign workers returned to their home countries, we were unable to replace them, which resulted in a sharp drop in productivity.
“We knew we had to take drastic action,” Mohamad Helmy said.,