Palm oil firms must replace old trees or perish, says watchdog
Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil says replanting rates have been on a declining trend in the past 15 years.
07/03/2023 (Free Malaysia Today), Kuala Lumpur - Malaysia’s palm oil companies must replant their vast hectarage of old, unproductive palm oil trees to overcome stagnant yields and maintain the country’s competitiveness as the world’s second-largest producer, an industry executive said.
Production in the country, which accounts for around 23% of global palm oil output, has been stagnant over the past six years amid rising demand for the world’s cheapest edible oil.
Yields plummeted to near 40-year lows in the 2020/21 marketing year after the pandemic triggered an acute shortage of workers to harvest and replant trees, sending prices skyrocketing to record highs and leading to increased costs of foodstuff, detergent and other palm oil-based products.
Replanting rates have been on a declining trend in the past 15 years, partly as planters capitalise on rising prices of palm fruits, Carl Bek-Nielsen, co-chairman of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, an industry watchdog, told Reuters.
Old palm oil trees are unproductive and are typically replanted with higher-yielding seedlings that are resistant to drought and disease.
But plantation companies and smallholders have delayed replanting programmes, limiting a significant recovery in yields.
“Replant or perish. The failure to replant in a timely manner has been going on for far too long,” Bek-Nielsen, who is also the chief executive of United Plantations Bhd said.
“If this trend continues, we are going to see our yields regress even more and our ability to compete on the international market will also be undermined.”
This is even more crucial as yields are good in emerging producers in Latin America and Africa, he added.
Bek-Nielsen forecast Malaysia’s production in 2023 at 19 million tonnes, compared with 18.45 million tonnes the year before.
He forecasts 2023 average crude palm oil price at between RM3,700 and RM4,200 a tonne.