Plantations in Malaysia's largest palm producing state to remain shut for now

by Reuters
Wednesday, 8 April 2020 13:22 GMT

A mini tractor grabber collects palm oil fruits at a plantation in Pulau Carey, Malaysia, January 31, 2020. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng

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The Sabah state government has received a raft of appeals from planter groups and companies to re-open unaffected operations

(Adds response from FGV Holdings in paragraph 8)

KUALA LUMPUR, April 8 (Reuters) - Malaysia's biggest palm oil-producing state, Sabah, will continue to close palm operations in six districts as part of its coronavirus containment measures until it has enough details that the plantations and mills are safe to reopen.

Sabah Chief Minister Shafie Apdal told reporters after a cabinet meeting on Wednesday that the state's first priority was to save lives, and that it will only look at challenges facing businesses, factories and plantations after that.

"I want the facts from the health ministry and police that the factories are safe to operate," he said.

Shafie said the fact-finding will take time, but added that officials will spend this week looking into appeals from palm companies and will prepare guidelines for those allowed to resume operations.

Sabah state, which produces about 25% of the country's palm oil, had shuttered some plantations and mills until April 14 after several palm estate workers tested positive for the virus.

The state government had received a raft of appeals from planter groups and companies, including Sime Darby Plantations and FGV Holdings, to re-open unaffected operations in the state.

Shafie said Felda Sahabat, a resettlement area with palm plantations operated by FGV, had recorded six positive coronavirus infections.

FGV does not have any reported cases of infections in its operations, the world's largest crude palm oil producer told Reuters in an emailed response.

The Malaysian Palm Oil Association had warned the industry risked losing 500,000 tonnes of the crop, valued at 430 million ringgit ($99 million), from a 14-day closure.

Shafie urged palm companies to remain patient until a decision was reached.

Malaysia, the world's second largest palm producer, has recorded 4,119 cases, the highest in Southeast Asia.

(Reporting by Mei Mei Chu; Editing by Jan Harvey and David Evans)

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