Malaysia and Indonesia’s oil palms are getting old – and that’s becoming a multibillion dollar problem
In Malaysia, replanting palms that have outlived their commercial usefulness could cost US$3 billion, while Indonesia may need at least US$5 billionAgeing palms in both countries are producing less of the lucrative edible oil as they approach the end of their quarter-century commercial lifespansMalaysiaBloombergPublished: 12:34pm, 3 Oct, 2023Why you can trust SCMP
Across swathes of Southeast Asia, maturing palm oil trees, some as tall as a 12-storey building, are turning into a multibillion-dollar headache for local farmers, regional governments and consumers everywhere.
As oil palms approach their commercial lifespan of a quarter-century, they provide less of the versatile edible oil, used in everything from ice cream to cosmetics and fuel. Some plants become too ungainly to tackle for labourers, who rely on handheld sickles attached to long poles. New palms, however, take several years to yield fruit in commercial quantities.
In palm-producing regions of Malaysia and Indonesia, where the pandemic led to a critical shortage of the manual labour on which the industry depends, an army of farmers has been postponing the inevitable. Squeezed by high costs and falling yields, many smallholders argue they can’t replant – and have no choice but to keep going.