Lia Ah Kau 39, would have needed to save for more than two years to replace his 40- year- old oil palm trees if it were not for the government assistance, which included the provision of high yielding seeds and financial assistance for clearing and replanting efforts.
This assistance is part of the Government scheme under EPP1 pushing for the replacement of aged palms that are 25 years and older with younger high yielding trees by farmers and independent smallholders to ensure a sustainable supply of the commodity to downstream palm oil operators within and outside the region.
It has been a year now since replanting and there is another year to go before he can expect a harvest of at least 30 percent more than previously.
“It would have taken us a much longer to replant without such assistance, and cost us more than RM7,500 per hectare including seedlings, fertiliser, pesticides, the rental for tractor and labour,” said Lia who owns a total of 20 hectares of oil palm plantation.
He said the older the trees produces lesser fruits and because these trees are very much taller than younger ones, harvesting becomes a problem. “We need skilled harvesters to do this and there aren’t many around.”
He also pointed out that government assistance enabled him to mechanise his clearing and replanting efforts which took him a month for two plantations of 10 hectares each. Without mechanisation, this labour intensive effort would have taken him almost a year to complete.
Of all his siblings, Lia was the only one who was willing to take over his father’s plantations. “It is a job with countless challenges and my siblings preferred more comfortable jobs in bigger towns.”
Due to the demand for palm oil, it is a job that provides good income said Lia, however, he is concerned that that his children may not be interested in taking over from him. “Despite the assistance and encouragement from the government, it is not a vocation many young people are interested in pursuing.”
According to him, the biggest challenge facing plantation owners both big and small are skilled workers especially fruit harvesters. “Harvesting is a highly skilled job, you must know how to harvest without damaging the fruits. The local young labour force is not interested in learning this skill as they prefer to leave to bigger towns for other jobs.”
“Unlike what is commonly perceived, working in the oil palm plantation is not so hard; most times I work half a day only and I make a decent living. Young people prefer bigger town because there is more entertainment there. Here in Termeloh, there is nothing to do at night.”
Source: National Transformation Programme Annual Report 2015