Oil palm plantations in Malaysia are expecting a new group of workers to arrive from overseas in May and June, Today Online quoted the country’s plantation industries minister as saying.

The announcement on 8 March followed delays of months from an original plan to expand the labour force earlier this year, the report said.

A shortage of foreign workers to harvest palm fruits in Malaysia, the world's second largest palm oil producer, had affected production, adding to global worries over vegetable oil supplies hit by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine war and poor weather conditions in South America, Today Online wrote.

“With foreign labour coming in, I hope production will increase from 18.1M tonnes (last year) to 20M tonnes,” plantation industries minister Zuraida Kamaruddin told an industry conference in Kuala Lumpur.

About 80% of Malaysia's plantation workers are migrants, the majority from neighbouring Indonesia, according to the report.

Malaysia's oil palm plantations had faced a worsening labour shortage since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic due to border curbs preventing migrant workers from entering the country, Today Online wrote.

In September, authorities approved the recruitment of 32,000 migrant workers for palm plantations, with Indonesian migrant workers expected to arrive around mid-February, the report said. However, analysts had been sceptical that the new workforce could be ready in time.

“Even if they (workers) arrive, it will take time for training, as you're not looking necessarily at skilled workers, you're looking at people who don't have any harvester experience,” Julian McGill, the Southeast Asia head at UK consulting firm LMC International, told Reuters.

Global supplies of edible oil were likely to be impacted by dry weather reducing soyabean production in Brazil, the world's biggest exporter of the oilseed, while Russia's invasion of Ukraine had led to port closures, the report said.

Russia and Ukraine account for 80% of global exports of sunflower oil, which competes with palm, according to the report.