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Archive for February, 2009

Can Malaysia weather the storm ahead?

February 27, 2009 1 comment

MALAYSIA is in for a tough year ahead as the world braces for its worst economic crisis in decades, one that is set to prolong until end-2010, the government said.

“Everyday we hear of retrenchments rising and the number of companies facing cash flow problems and bankruptcy increasing as if the global crisis has no end,” Second Finance Minister Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop said.Earlier,

Human Resources Minister Datuk Dr S Subramaniam confirmed that 137 employers, mostly in the electronics sector, will retrench some 4,700 workers.

The manufacturing sector employs 1.1 million people or 10 per cent of the total Malaysian labour force of 11.1 million. There are 2.2 million foreign workers employed legally, including 700,000 in the electronics sector.

Among the options mulled by the ministry to ensure jobs for locals is a freeze on the hiring of foreign workers. “Over the next 12 months, we want to reduce the number of foreign workers to between to 1.6 million and 1.7 million from the current 2.2 million,” he said.

Following this, Plantation Industries & Commodities Minister Datuk Peter was asked on the prospects of the palm oil sector.

23 Feb 2009 – Oil palm sector still hiring

MALAYSIA’S robust palm oil exports can help ensure job security for more than a million people, of which half are working in the estates.

“We’re exporting more palm oil and the sector continues to recruit. So far, I’ve not received any reports on retrenchment,” said Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Peter Chin.

The minister said estates need more foreign workers as the oil palm industry embarks on new plantings and replantings. “I’ve written to the Human Resources Ministry and Home Ministry to put the oil palm industry in a unique category as we find it difficult to mechanise the planting and harvesting processes,” he said.

Chin was speaking to reporters in Kuala Lumpur yesterday after officiating at the Programme For Rebuilding and Improving Malaysia’s Exports, organised by the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC).

The minister said there are cases of foreigners employed as labourers in the oil palm estates absconding to the city to operate hawker stalls and eateries, some of them even manning the cash register. “The issue is more of abuses of foreign labour applications,” he said. If a foreigner is permitted to work in one sector, he cannot switch to another without prior approval from the Home Ministry.

As the nation braces for slower economic growth this year, Chin said, he is confident that palm oil exports will continue to be a saviour just like 10 years ago. At that time, exports of commodities like petroleum, palm oil and rubber helped the country ride out the 1997/98 Asian financial crisis.

Also present at the press conference was newly-appointed MPOC chairman Datuk Lee Yeow Chor, who said rising palm oil export volume since last year also called for job opportunities at commodity trading desks. Banks and insurance companies also benefit from strong palm oil exports.

The palm oil sector’s sprawling value chain extends to production of margarine and cooking oil, oleochemicals, transport and storage of palm oil at the ports, trading of palm oil futures at brokerages, design and build of refineries and biodiesel plants, animal feed, vitamin E extraction and even the development of nutrient-enriched moisturisers and toothpaste.

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2 Feb 2009 — Palm oil to cushion slower economic growth

ROBUST palm oil exports are expected to help cushion slower economic growth ahead, just like 10 years ago. At that time, exports of commodities like petroleum, palm oil and rubber helped the country ride out the 1997/98 Asian financial crisis.

As the nation braces for slower economic growth this year, the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) remains hopeful that palm oil will continue to be a saviour.

“You can’t go wrong with food. As long as there are people to feed, the food sector will always remain the cornerstone of the economy,” MPOC chief executive Tan Sri Yusof Basiron said.

Last year, the RM65 billion palm oil shipment made up 10 per cent of the country’s overall exports. Compared to 20 years ago, it constituted less than 5 per cent of the country’s foreign earnings.

“In the years ahead, palm oil will play a bigger role in Malaysia’s economy. We will continue to invest in this golden crop,” Yusof told Business Times in an interview in Petaling Jaya.

“One cannot go wrong with palm oil, be it a country or a company. The long-term returns are good, or should I say very good, as was seen in the first half of 2008.”

Palm oil exports are dependant on palm oil prices. After it reached its peak of RM4,486 a tonne in March last year, it began to decline over the next seven months to a low of RM1,390 a tonne in October. In November and December, prices traded sideways within a range of RM1,500 to RM1,600 a tonne. At the begining of 2009, palm oil price began rising to RM1,900 a tonne. Of late, it has been trading at around RM1,800 a tonne.

While Yusof acknowledged volatile palm oil prices’ negative impact on exports, he noted that palm oil companies had become adept at managing trading risks. “Our oil palm planters are increasingly investing in downstream products to add value to their exports. When palm oil prices come down, exports of downstream products go up,” he said.

The MPOC is headquartered in Petaling Jaya. It also operates regional offices in China, Belgium, South Africa, Pakistan, the US, India, Eygpt and Bangladesh.

On the RM2-a-tonne crude palm oil cess payable by planters to fund MPOC activities, Yusof said the contribution was necessary for continued efforts to expand palm oil exports.

Asked if the MPOC planned to scale down overseas activities in view of slowing global economic growth, Yusof replied: “No, it is actually going to be a busy year ahead. We’ve lined up palm oil trade fairs and seminars in Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, the US, Russia and Turkey.”

There will also be trade seminars in Japan and southern India. In addition, there are plans for a series of nutraceutical conferences in Malaysia, the US and Europe.

Yusof said the MPOC’s overseas intelligence units help bring together vegetable oil sellers and buyers. “While many other businesses slow down, we’re expected to work harder to find new markets or new ways to market the many uses of palm oil.”

Natural Super Vitamin E lotion

February 23, 2009 11 comments

Do you want deep and penetrating results? O’Yes!
Before you start thinking about something else … I’m just writing about O’Yes! tocotrienol-enriched moisturiser made by Hovid Bhd.

The Vitamin E family is made up of tocopherols and tocotrienols.

Currently, many of the Vitamin E lotion you get from pharmacies are using tocopherols which does not really protect your skin from the searing heat of the sun. Tocopherols deplete very quickly when exposed to the sun.

On the other hand, when natural super vitamin E-fortified lotion is applied on the skin, the active nutrient (tocotrienols) will help pull their lame sisters (tocopherols) deep into the cell renewing layers, even after sun exposure. There, the tocotrienols and tocopherols anti-oxidants will fight off harmful free radicals that cause rapid skin aging.

Since I’m almost always driving to assignments under the hot sun, I decided to try the O’Yes! moisturiser sample (fortified with tocotrienols, tocopherols and carotenes extracted from palm oil) that Ipoh-based Hovid Bhd gave to journalists. Not bad … so far, my skin texture has improved a bit la.

Is the muffin eating you?

February 8, 2009 3 comments

Just when you think you are eating a harmless-looking muffin, think again.
The muffin could be loaded with trans fat which will — slowly but surely — clog up your arteries. If left unchecked, the deadly trans fat will accumulate in your body, exposing you to high risks of contracting heart attack and stroke.

In cold climate countries, many bakeries still use margarine and shortenings made from hydrogenated soft oils (soyabean, canola, sunflower) which contained deadly trans fat. Fortunately, this is changing as governments in Europe and the US are increasingly legislating against trans fat.

Palm oil in its natural form, however, is semi-solid and can be made into palm margarine and shortening, without any hydrogenation. Many studies have shown red palm margarine and shortening are ideal for baking because it is naturally packed with Vitamins A and E.

The next time you fancy a muffin, make sure it is baked in heart healthy vegetable fats. You may want to try out the recipe below.

‘Mandarin Muffins’
(makes 12 muffins)
Ingredients:
200g plain flour
20g corn flour
2 teaspoon baking powder
50ml milk
2 tablespoon plain yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
110g red palm margarine
160g castor sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 mandarin oranges, cut into small chunks

Method:
1. Preheat oven to 180 Celcius.
2. Sift together plain flour, corn flour and baking powder. Set aside.
3. Mix yogurt and milk together in a bowl. Set aside.
4. Whisk butter still soft. Add in sugar and salt and continue to whisk till mixture turns light and fluffy.
5. Add the eggs, one at a time, and whisk until well blended. Mix in the vanilla.
6. Add in half of the flour mixture and stir with a spatula. Add in half of the yogurt and milk mixture.
7. Continue to add in half of the remaining flour mixture, followed by the remaining yogurt mixture. Fold in the remaining flour mixture thoroughly between each addition.
8. Fill muffin cups to half with the batter. Distribute orange pieces evenly in each cup. Spoon remaining batter on top.

9. Decorate with one slice of mandarin orange on top.
10. Bake for 25 minutes.

MPOB wants closer ties with private sector

February 7, 2009 2 comments

THE Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) pledges closer co-operation with the private sector to boost the current technology commercialisation rate of 20 per cent.

This step in the right direction is in response to oil palm planters’ complaints that they are not receiving just return on the cess paid to MPOB for research. All oil palm planters via millers pay cess of RM7 per tonne of oil to MPOB for research and another RM2 per tonne to fund licensing activities.

When asked to comment on MPOB’s research work, chairman Datuk Sabri Ahmad said the government agency’s technology commercialisation rate stands at 20 per cent, four times higher than local universities.

“Last year, out of 34 research and development (R&D) projects, four were adopted and five commercialised,” he told Business Times in an interview in Petaling Jaya.

“Still, we need to bring up the success rate by engaging in closer collaboration with companies in the private sector,” he said.

He plans for MPOB to be more engaging with the private sector. “We will aim for more win-win collaboration to reduce duplication and improve on efficiency,” he said.

Among big names partnering MPOB scientists are Sime Darby Bhd, Asiatic Centre for Genome Technology Sdn Bhd (Genting Group’s research arm), Brandies University in the US, Johor-based JC Chang Group and CB Industrial Product Bhd.

On export of MPOB’s technologies, Sabri said while this role is usually undertaken by big companies, there had also been mid-sized enterprises that leverage on these opportunities. He named Lipochem Sdn Bhd, a licensee to commercialise MPOB’s know-how in designing and constructing biodiesel plants. Having built a handful in Malaysia, process engineer Lipochem had, in the last couple of years, ventured out to South Korea and Indonesia.

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WHEN one mentions Korea, the Winter Sonata drama series comes to mind. For MPOB scientist Dr Cheah Kien Yoo, however, it brought back memories of many sleepless nights.

“It wasn’t that much of missing my wife back in Kuala Lumpur. It was more of being on call 24 hours, seven days a week at the biodiesel plant in Pyeongtaek port. There was a lot of snow but there was no romantic background music,” the scientist laughed as he recalled his work stint in South Korea two years ago.

“It was quite an experience working there,” Cheah said, adding that most of the time, he and other Malaysian process engineers had to work late into the night when the temperature dropped below freezing. “We were constantly tuned to the weather forecast and worked quickly to drain off fluid in the pipes whenever the temperature dropped,” he said.

If they did not, the fluid would solidify and the pressure would have caused the pipes to burst. “These were the extra steps we had to attend to, when compared to putting up a biodiesel plant in Malaysia,” he added.

As head of milling & processing unit at MPOB’s engineering & processing research division, Cheah was assigned to Korea as part of the team of scientists to export MPOB’s know-how in building biodiesel plants.

There, he worked with Lipochem Sdn Bhd’s engineers during the winter months of November 2006 to January 2007 to commission a 60,000-tonne-per-year biodiesel plant in Pyeongtaek port.

It was not easy earning the respect of Lipochem’s client, Enertec Co Ltd, Cheah recalled operators at the biodiesel plant were expected to work long and hard hours without any complaint. The work culture is such that every worker has to be diligent, self-sacrificing and dedicated.

Asked on the critical moments throughout the commissioning of the plant, he likened the process to anxious fathers waiting for the birth of their first-born. After the first few drops of palm methyl ester emerged from the plant, the operators rushed the sample to the lab to be tested. “As soon as the sample met all the performance tests, everyone cheered and celebrated,” Cheah said.

He explained that the product, palm methyl ester, has to consistently meet the international performance specifications. “If it doesn’t, it can’t be used. That is the biggest fear for any biodiesel investors, whether Malaysians or Koreans,” he added.

The fact that MPOB’s technology is proven and scalable made commissioning of the plant a little easier. Still, Malaysian process engineers have become familiar with their client’s meticulous approach in their investments. Lipochem managing director Koh Pak Meng recalled that, prior to the commissioning of the plant in Korea, Enertec flew their own team of engineers to Kuala Lumpur and parked them at his office to keep tabs on the work progress.

It took quite a while to pack the parts of the biodiesel plant into containers to meet international shipping requirements. Lipochem also took up insurance of up to RM15 million on the components, just in case it got damaged or lost along the way. It took 30 days before the parts of the biodiesel plant reached Pyeongtaek port in good condition.

The construction of biodiesel plant in Korea was a very important milestone as it showed Malaysia is capable of exporting professional services, despite it being a developing nation. Lipochem’s licence to export MPOB’s know-how in the construction of biodiesel plants has put Malaysia’s standards in process engineering on the global map.

“As MPOB’s business partner, we help catalyse the exports of government-funded technology,” said Koh. “So far, the biodiesel plant in Korea is still running smoothly,” he said, with a smile.

Indeed, positive feedback has given due recognition to Malaysia’s process engineering know-how and skills. Lipochem is now midway in completing two more plants in Indonesia, each of 66,000 and 40,000 tonnes-per-year using palm fatty acid distillate (PFAD), a cheaper feedstock and a by-product of refineries. When completed, it will be another achievement for Malaysia’s process engineering industry because these plants use PFAD feedstock that are not edible and yet renewable.