Datuk Leslie Davidson, a Planter Extraordinaire

In Malaysian plantation sectors, planters normally refer to those who work as plantation Managers and related Executives. They even have a society of their own, The Incorporated Society of Planters. I was a planter myself, still feel like a planter and proud of being one.
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Datuk Leslie Davidson
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Few days ago I read about a fellow planter, not an ordinary planter but a very outstanding planter. He is Datuk Leslie Davidson, a Planter Extraordinaire. He will be among few who will receive the inaugural Merdeka Award for outstanding contribution to the Oil Palm Industry. Born in Scotland 77 years ago, he started work in Pamol Estate, Kluang, in May 1951, as a young 20-year-old cadet planter. He left Malaysia for Cameroon in 1957 before sent back to Sabah in 1960, where he was instrumental in opening up oil palm plantations for Unilever and eventually became Unilever International Plantations' Group chairman.
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Female oil palm flowers
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At the time, oil palm pollination in Malaysia was done manually to ensure that more female flowers developed into fruit bunches. Workers (they were called Chokras - young labourers) had to go around collecting powdery pollen from the male flowers and this would then be puff-sprayed onto the female flowers. It was a very tedious, inefficient and costly affair. Getting it right was always a challenge, and it got harder as the palms grew taller.
. Male oil palm flowers
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Davidson’s lobbying paved the way for a team of scientists from Malaysia to visit Cameroon to carry out research about Elaeidobius kamerunicus (insects better known here as pollinating weevils) and other insects that pollinated oil palm there.

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In March 1981, after three years of intensive study, the weevils were eventually released in Malaysia and the effect was dramatic. Within months, every oil palm in the country was being pollinated by clouds of Elaeidobius kamerunicus. Artificial pollination became a thing of the past. The financial benefit to the industry was immense, especially in Sabah, where pollination had been at its worst.
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In 1980, Pamol Sabah employed over 500 workers for manual assisted pollination. Within two years, its work force decreased from 2,134 to 1,557. At the same time it reported an increase of 29.4% in production of palm oil, and 42.9% in palm kernels. With higher yields and reduced production costs, Sabah became the new frontier for Malaysian oil palm growers. In 20 years (from 1960 to 1980), production rose from zero to 250,000 tonnes. In the next 20 years however, following the introduction of the pollinating weevils, production exploded from 250,000 tonnes to over 3 million tonnes - sufficient to provide the oils and fats requirements of 300 million consumers!
. Elaeidobius kamerunicus, the pollination weevils
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Leslie Davidson, best known for his leading role in introducing to Malaysia the pollinating weevil. This has not only saved the industry millions of dollars annually in assisted pollination, but also greatly benefited smallholders, who did not have the facilities and resources for manual pollination. He may not be a great scientist , but his contributions reflex on the importance of simple but brilliant ideas and innovation. It is indeed another example of a simple, almost humdrum, change that has meaningfully saved costs and increased productivity for the whole oil palm industry.
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Anyway, as usual, some people question the selection of Davidson for the award, but to me, and probably to most of the planters, he definitely qualified and deserved the award for his idea which has transformed our oil palm bunches into a golden crop with a very low production cost, if compared to other edible oils in the world. If not for the introduction of Elaeidobius kamerunicus (pollinating weevils) in Malaysia for pollination, our oil palm industry could not be like as it is today - high yield crop which produced the most affordable edible oil in the market.

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Congratulation Datuk, you may not be a Malaysian, but this award is definitely yours. A planter will always be a planter! .
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Source: Bernama, Star, ISP

Comments

indica said…
Yes all of us should be thankful to him. Those who questioned (if any) about the award should use gasoline for cooking instead of palmoil...

Weevils, pollination...really reminds me of the good old days...
McBudu said…
indica: Good old days or bad old days? Still debatable...he he
Pak Yob said…
Ini baru "Pemberi Sumbangan", kesannya membawa kesejahteraan umat malaysia, bukannya menyumbang kepada kemaslahatan umat malaysia, budaya melayu dah bercambur dengan budaya mumbai...sumbangan datuk mat salleh ini menyumbang kepada perkembangan ketamadunan masyarakat malaysia, khususnya pada evolusi pertanian.
Purpleheart said…
Terima kasih.. kalau tak, tak kerjalah saya kat lembaga minyak.. ni.
McBudu said…
pak Yob: datuk SRK sumbangkan banyak lagu best, itupun cuma lip sync je...

Purple-H: Kerja kat lembaga minyak tak pe, jangan jadi lembaga orang minyak... he he
lkc_lai said…
I am young planter and do not know this Datuk Leslie Davidson. Anyway, congratulation for his contribution to our oil palm plantation in Malaysia.

Pollination by manual which I never seem but I heard from old folk in Kekayaan how they carried out the work.

According to them only "pretty girl" will be selected to do this work and I do not how true is it?
McBudu said…
Lai:I encounter this manual pollination during my practical trainings in early 80s. Normally the pollination workers are young girl or boy. Pretty or not, I'm not sure but the Weevils are pretty!
Anonymous said…
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Anonymous said…
What a great resource!

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