Grow pineapples, Teresa Kok tells oil palm smallholders in Tg Piai

(The Star) – Teresa Kok (pic) told a group of oil palm smallholders that they should go into integrated farming, like growing fruits to supplement their income.

The Primary Industries Minister told the crowd of around 200 smallholders, who had waited two hours in the hot and humid afternoon for her at a community hall in Pekan Nanas, that they should not depend solely on palm oil.

“Those with oil palm smallholdings on tanah gambut (peat soil) should plant pineapples,” she said, adding that peat soil is suitable for growing pineapples.

She cited a case of integrated farming where an oil palm smallholder also has a fruit orchard and fish pond in his smallholding and doing well.

Kok was already sweating the tough crowd when she told them earlier in the dialogue that the price of oil palm fruits had hit RM435 per tonne in September and that it was on the rise.

A smallholder stood up and questioned Kok’s claim, pointing out that the prices they had gotten were way below it.

Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) Integration Research and Extension Division director Dr Ramle Moslim had to step in to clear the air at the dialogue.

He said the RM435 per tonne price quoted by Kok was a guideline price only, and it would be subjected to other factors along the way, from the price imposed by middlemen who collected the fruits from the smallholders to the quality of the fruits.

To another question, Dr Ramle said the authorities were unable to set the price for smallholders based on the guideline price.

The price of palm oil is a hot topic in the Tanjung Piai by-election as the commodity’s prolonged low price has hit the predominantly agricultural constituency badly.

The price of oil palm fruits had gone down to as low as RM240 a tonne.

In fact, Pakatan Harapan candidate Karmaine Sardini had courted controversy on the first day of campaigning when he said smallholders should be grateful when oil palm fruits are RM270 per tonne.

A smallholder told The Star after the dialogue that he could not agree with Kok, saying she either is unaware of what is happening on the ground or trying to blame middlemen for the low oil palm price.

“The people (middlemen) who take oil palm fruits are also earning a living and they have to pay the cost of doing business like petrol, workers’ salaries,” he said.

The prolonged low oil palm price saw some 600,000 smallholders in the country badly hit since a year ago.