Malaysia needs one million workers in the sector to work on its 7.14 million hectares of plantation land. File picture

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia still needs more than 500,000 workers in the plantation and commodity sectors, despite an estimated 220,000 locals and 265,397 foreigners currently employed in the industry, according to the Plantation Industries and Commodity Ministry.

Its minister Datuk Dr Mohd Khairuddin Aman Razali said Malaysia needs one million workers in the sector to work on its 7.14 million hectares of plantation land.

At present, the entry of foreign workers in the sector had been halted following the COVID-19 pandemic, thus giving the country a chance to fill the vacant position with locals.

“If we talk about the introduction of new foreign workers in the sector, it will not happen in the near future because we have restricted their entry until further notice.

“The current batch of foreign workers are those who have a work permit. We maintained with what we have (foreign workers) and when their permit ends, they will be sent back to their respective countries. This is the opportunity for us to replace them (foreign workers) with locals," he said during Bernama TV's "Ruang Bicara" programme aired last night.

The plantation and commodity sectors according to him, was still unable to attract the interest of locals due to the lack of incentives offered to them to be involved with the 3D (dirty, dangerous and difficult) sector.

“Previously, employers may not have the motivation to open up 3D the sector to locals. At present, the need to recruit locals is huge," he said.

Meanwhile, the government also encouraged locals, especially youths to become entrepreneurs in various commodity sectors such as kenaf, bamboo, cocoa, oil palm, rubber and others.

The government, he said, provided a grant of RM8,000 for the cultivation of cocoa.

Malaysia is one of the top cocoa exporter and the fifth-largest cocoa grinder in the world, he said adding that, he has directed his officers to look for sites to be a centre for chocolate, for Malaysians to see Malaysian-made chocolate products.

"We will be expanding (the centre) all over Malaysia," he said.

For kenaf cultivation, the government according to the minister had provided a grant of RM2,350 per hectare.

He also said, although there are about 400,000 rubber smallholders and registered rubber tappers, only a handful of them are still active, he said.

Between January and April this year, there were 60,000 to 70,000 rubber smallholders and tappers who had claimed the Rubber Production Incentive (IPG), he said.

The minister said, there has been a high demand for the commodity especially from rubber glove manufacturers due to increased orders from around the world following the COVID-19 pandemic.

The government according to Mohd Khairuddin, was also looking at ways to increase the involvement of rubber smallholders in the downstream and upstream sectors.