Happy Wesak

KUALA LUMPUR: Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak in his Wesak message today said buddhism advocates harmony and selflessness.

In his Wesak message, which was posted on his Facebook page, Najib said, "Buddhism's essential teachings are in line with our philosophy of moderation which we strive to promote and practice in our daily lives in Malaysia."

For Malaysia, he added, unity in diversity must continue to be the nation's most treasured asset.

Wesak Day has always been a time of charity for Buddhist devotees - regardless how big or small their take-home pay is.

In Malaysia, Wesak is an annual national holiday since 1962.

At Chetawan Temple in Petaling Jaya, throngs of devotees come in through the high gates to donate money and seek enlightenment from Buddha's teachings.

Some drive up in big and expensive cars while others come in motorcycles. Mostly, just walk in.

In the midst of pre-recorded sanskrit chantings (suttas) of 'the middle path' blaring out of loudspeakers, devotees silently give thanks and pray for peace in the presence of orange-robed monks.

They light up oil lamps (fuelled by palm cooking oil) as a symbolic gesture of seeking enlightenment to overcome the darkness of ignorance.


PEMANDU drives plantation value adding

KUALA LUMPUR: The palm oil and rubber sectors met the bulk of their 2014 targets despite falling commodity prices, the Prime Minister Performance and Delivery Unit's (PEMANDU) Economic Transformation Report said.

In a sustained move to control supply and improve productivity, the government continues to lead replanting schemes. From 2011 to 2014, small farmers and independent smallholders replanted and tap into new plantings amounting to 79,737 hectares.

To date, 30 cooperatives have been established for smallholders to get bulk discounts in buying fertiliser and receive better selling prices for their fruits. Agro Bank Bhd is extending overdraft facilities to these cooperatives to help fund their working capital.

The government has set a national fresh fruit bunches (FFB) yield target of 26.2 tonnes per hectare by 2020.

As the adoption of motorised cutter CANTAS™ faced hurdles in gaining market acceptance, the government introduced an international competition on Oil Palm Mechanisation to source for new, bold ideas in loose fruit collection, harvesting, crop care and FFB evacuation.

There are plans to compress natural gas from the biogas plants to substitute petroleum natural gas. 

Public buses and taxis will soon be able to leverage on this renewable fuel. A pilot gas compression plant in Sungai Tengi, Selangor is slated to be commissioned at the end of this year.

As at December 2014, PEMANDU noted RM934.61 million investments had been committed for high value palm-based oleochemicals, food and nutraceuticals.

In Sabah, Genting Plantations and US-based specialty chemicals company Elevance Renewable Sciences Inc are putting up a 240,000-tonne metathesis bio-refinery to make olefins and other specialty chemicals.


Elevance’s low-pressure, low-temperature process uses Nobel Prize-winning innovations in metathesis catalysis that consume significantly less energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent compared to petrochemical technologies. 

A highly efficient, selective catalyst will be used to break down natural oils and recombine fragments, resulting in lower source pollution, production costs and capital expenditures compared to petrochemical refineries.

All in, Genting Plantations is pumping some RM2 billion investment in its ambitious downstreaming channels with other seasoned partners like Musim Mas and Hap Seng Consolidated Bhd in Lahad Datu.

In Johor, Sime Darby Plantation and a US-based company Verdezyne Inc is investing in a specialty chemical plant to make dodecanedioic acid (DDDA). This green chemical is used in commercial fishing nets, lubricants and moulding resins.

Eight plantation companies in Sabah — including Teck Guan Group, Bell Group, Genting Plantations, Kelas Wira Sdn Bhd and Golden Elate Sdn Bhd — which collectively generate some 400,000 tonnes of biomass, are compressing them into flammable pellets for export.

Malaysian Palm Oil Board extended RM8.06 million to Wayne State University to test the efficiency of palm oil vitamin E in treating patients with end-stage renal diseases. A futher RM3.4 million went to Ohio State University to verify whether palm oil vitamin E can slow progression of end-stage liver disease.

In Lahad Datu, FGV Lipid Venture Sdn Bhd is investing RM430.51 million to churn out phytonutrients for the pharmaceutical industry by end-2016. Over at Bintulu, Sarawak Oil Palm Bhd's RM80 million vitamin E plant has started commercial production.

The rubber sector made some achievement with government agencies Rubber Industry Smallholders Development Authority (RISDA), Sabah Rubber Industry Board and Department of Agriculture. RISDA planting 39,864 hectares in 2014. New plantings reached 11,765 hectares in the eastern states of Sabah and Sarawak.

Last year, Malaysia exported RM12.03 billion worth of rubber products, the bulk of it are medical gloves and condoms to more than 170 countries. 

In diversifying rubber earnings, the government is spearheading partnerships to produce epoxidised natural rubber (Ekoprena) and deproteinised natural rubber that can be used in green tyres and high performance engineering products.

This year, MRB is initiating a trial project on Prasarana Bhd’s Rapid Buses in the Klang Valley to use Ekoprena tyres. The road trial is slated to commence in the second half of the year.

Tocotrienols are friendly to your liver

You may not think much about your liver as you go through your daily routine, but you need it to be healthy to detoxify your body. Previous research suggests that palm oil-derived tocotrienols are beneficial to the liver. Now, there are more encouraging development.

Many common prescription medications to relief pain, such as acetaminophen, can be hard on your liver. Researchers point out that drug-induced liver injury accounts for more than half of all cases of acute liver failure in the U.S. 


A new study, published in Redox Biology Journal 2015, showed consumption of vitamin E tocotrienols may help protect the liver from drug-induced injury. 

Researchers found that alpha-tocotrienol was the most potent among the different types of vitamin E in terms of protecting liver cells from drug-induced injury. 

It also supported the regeneration of the remaining liver cells.

And the good news for oil palm planters is .... palm oil is nature’s richest source of vitamin E tocotrienols.

Despite this discovery, scientists highlighted both tocopherols and tocotrienols are healthful. They cited studies indicating protective roles of each vitamin E form for different health conditions. 

Therefore, one must not focus only on a specific vitamin E form (be it tocopherol or tocotrienol) and forgo the others.



Those studies included:

For neuroprotection: Alpha-tocotrienol is the most potent for potentially reducing stroke injuries. Further, European population studies suggest that people with higher levels of gamma-tocopherol, beta-tocotrienol and total tocotrienols have a significantly lower risk of cognitive impairment.

For oral bioavailability: Alpha-tocotrienol is the most easily absorbed by our bodies, followed by gamma-tocotrienol.

For heart health: Gamma-tocotrienol and delta-tocotrienol have been found to be equally effective at lowering cholesterol. Alpha-tocopherol has been shown to have no effect on cholesterol levels.


For liver support: A combination of tocopherols and tocotrienols has been shown to have protective effects against nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).

Stimulus for palm oil price

KUALA LUMPUR: Sime Darby Bhd, the world's biggest listed palm oil producer, expects prices to trend within RM2,350-RM2,600 per tonne this year supported by Malaysia and Indonesia's biodiesel mandates.

"Indonesia and Malaysia are forecast to use three million tonnes and 660,000 tonnes of CPO for biodiesel blending, respectively," said Sime Darby executive vice-president of group strategy and business development Alan Hamzah Sendut told reporters on the sidelines of Invest Malaysia 2015 here yesterday.

The viability of biodiesel blending without subsidies is helped by world crude oil prices rebounding from a 6-year low for the past month. Yesterday, Brent, the global benchmark for crude oil traded at US$65 per barrel on the ICE Futures Europe Exchange. 

Earlier this week, Vitol Group, the world's biggest independent oil trader reportedly said crude prices will not fall below US$50 a barrel for sustained periods. 

Rising petroleum and gas prices for the past month is fuelled by slowdown in drilling in the US and improved global fuel demand. As Asian countries process more palm oil into biofuel and blend it with fossil fuel, palm oil prices start to increasingly move in tandem with Brent oil prices.

Yesterday, the third month benchmark contract on the Bursa Malaysia Derivatives Exchange slid RM2 to close at RM2,158 per tonne. Since the start of the year, crude palm oil (CPO) prices have averaged at RM2,203 per tonne. 


Last month Sime Darby completed the purchase of New Britain Palm Oil Ltd. This adds 79,884 ha of fully planted area to Sime Darby’s existing 525,290 ha of global oil palm landscape. 

Over the medium term, NBPOL’s favourable fresh fruit bunch yield of 21.7 tonnes a hectare and oil extraction rate of 22.2 per cent will enhance the group’s overall productivity level. 

Should palm oil prices climb higher, it will bode well on Sime Darby's earnings because the plantation business contribute almost half of the group's earnings.

In line with the five-year strategy blueprint for financial year 2012 until 2016, Alan said Sime Darby will continue to expand and strengthen its position in diversified business activities such as plantation, industrial, motor, property and energy and utilities.

Since the departure of SP Setia Bhd's former president and chief executive officer Tan Sri Liew Kee Sin about a year ago, rumours of Sime Darby's property arm possibly merging with SP Setia has been rife. 

It is seen to be a logical step to fill up the huge vacuum left by Liew and his team of loyal liutenants Datuk Teow Leong Seng and Datuk Voon Tin Yow.

Commenting on this, Alan said: "It's speculative. I don't know where this rumour come from. It's best that you ask PNB."

Permodalan Nasional Bhd (PNB) is the major shareholder of both SP Setia and Sime Darby.

Jakarta's new FDI-driven economic agenda

This is written by the New Straits Times group managing editor Datuk Abdul Jalil Hamid.


JAKARTA: It used to take up to 923 days for investors to secure permits to develop power plants in Indonesia, an onerous process that could deter potential foreigners from investing in the populous nation.

But that is slowly changing under the presidency of Joko Widodo. Known popularly as Jokowi, the new Indonesian leader has proposed sweeping reforms to make the country more investor-friendly and less bureaucratic.

Under him, Jakarta has set up one-stop integrated service centres to expedite the approvals of a multitude of permits needed to build infrastructure projects.

Earlier this year, it cut the approval time to build ports from 923 days to just 256 days. The country’s Investment Coordinating Board, or Badan Koordinasi Penanaman Modal (BKPM), is proposing to further cut red tape and the number of building permits to expedite seaport development.

Accelerating infrastructure development and economic growth have been the hallmarks of Jokowi’s presidency and his Working Cabinet (Kabinet Kerja).

Jokowi, who took office just six months ago, had won praise for naming experienced technocrats, such as the Coordinating Minister for Economics Sofyan Djalil and Finance Minister Bambang Brodjonegoro, to key economic posts.

Foreign direct investments (FDIs) would be key to Jokowi’s economic agenda. 

This was the message that he, Vice-President Jusuf Kalla and Sofyan Djalil amplified when they met with a high-powered Malaysian business delegation last week.

The Kuala Lumpur Business Club (KLBC) delegates, eager to hear first-hand from the Indonesian leaders, were very impressed with what they heard or saw.

Sofyan, who spoke for 45 minutes at a working dinner with the 36-strong KLBC delegation on Friday, outlined his government’s economic agenda and extended a welcoming hand to the Malaysian investors to invest in his country.

“The engagement with the new Indonesian leadership is very important and timely. This has helped to cement the already close business and economic ties between Malaysia and Indonesia,” KLBC Advisory Council chairman Datuk Rohana Mahmood said.

KLBC President Tengku Datuk Zafrul Tengku Aziz said both countries should look at areas where it is easier to achieve - the low hanging fruits – in beefing up bilateral economic relations.

“These include streamlining and harmonising rules and regulations to the extent possible when it comes to capital markets,” he said. “This is important especially as Indonesia embarks on increasing spending on infrastructure.”

They should also look at tapping the right talent pool. “Both countries must look at how companies are not too restricted in getting the best talent for the ventures in the respective countries,” the CIMB group chief executive officer said.

“It has to be win-win formula. Both sides have to look at tomorrow and manage the noises of today. Reciprocity is important. Maybe they should even consider shareholding limit that is favourable for Malaysian and Indonesian companies and for Asean firms too,” he said.

The Sultan of Perak Sultan Nazrin Muizzudin Shah, who is the Royal Patron of KLBC, led the Malaysian delegation to call on Jokowi and Kalla at the presidential Istana Merdeka complex here.

Privately, Malaysian business leaders wished for some certainty in Indonesian investment policy. 

They noted that some Malaysian companies, which have invested heavily in Indonesia, had lost millions of dollars due to rules being changed midway.

The Malaysians appeared at home when they met Kalla, who cracked some jokes. 

Responding to a question, he said in jest that he was turning into a “professional vice-president”, having served two presidents. But he was quick to add: “A vice is a vice. The most important thing is for the country.”

On a serious note, he said Indonesia needed to create jobs, spur investments and develop infrastructure to sustain economic growth, seen at 5.7 per cent this year.

He also spoke of the emerging middle class in Indonesia. “There are 90 shopping malls in Jakarta alone.”

Palm oil exports to China in renmibi

PUTRAJAYA: Palm oil exports to China is set to enjoy more cost savings, following Bank Negara Malaysia's appointment of Bank of China in Kuala Lumpur to be the regional renminbi clearing house, said Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC).

"We laud this expedient move of both governments of Malaysia and China in the setting up of the first renminbi clearing house among emerging nations in Kuala Lumpur. It will help reduce currency risk and hedging cost in palm oil trade," said MPOC chairman Datuk Seri Lee Yeow Chor.


For the past decade, China is Malaysia's biggest palm oil client buying nearly four million tonnes of this kitchen staple to feed its burgeoning population of 1.36 billion.

When palm oil is sold to China, it is quoted in US dollar. Similarly when Malaysia imports goods from China, the cargo is quoted in US dollar, too. 

With the launch of this renminbi clearing house in Kuala Lumpur, bilateral trades between Malaysia and China and regional transaction between Asean and China can increasingly be quoted in the Chinese currency. This move contributes to the internationalisation of the renminbi currency.

In 'clearing' renmibi transactions the Bank of China in Kuala Lumpur will be the intermediary between the buyer and seller to smooth banking and trading transactions, Lee told Business Times on the sidelines of the launch of Renminbi Clearing Bank in Malaysia by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak here on Tuesday.

Currently, Bank of China in Kuala Lumpur already has almost 70 per cent of renmibi clearing because it is linked with 26 financial institutions here. This is further supported by Bank of China being an official member clearing bank of Malaysia Derivatives Exchange (MDEX).

By having a clearing house for renmibi in Kuala Lumpur, Lee explained that palm oil exporters using bank facilities in Malaysia can have direct access to onshore renmibi markets in China without having to route their transactions through a mainland lender.

 "This renminbi clearing house in Kuala Lumpur will certainly help in smoothening trade flow with China as we need not convert currencies that many times. About 20 per cent of Malaysia's palm oil shipment goes to China. There will be some cost savings," Lee said.

-------------------------------------------------
Malaysia and China renew currency swap deal


KUALA LUMPUR: Bank Negara Malaysia and the People’s Bank of China signed an agreement today to renew the currency swap arrangement for another three years. 

The currency swap size was maintained at RM90 billion (or RMB180 billion). This agreement was signed by Bank Negara Malaysia head Tan Sri Zeti Akhtar Aziz and her Chinese counterpart Zhou Xiaochuan in the United States.

The renewed bilateral currency swap arrangement reinforces the ongoing commitment by both central banks in promoting the use of local currencies for payment settlement, Bank Negara Malaysia said in a statement today. 


The currency swap arrangement will further reinforce the economic and financial linkages, as well as promote bilateral trade and investment flows between Malaysia and China, it said. 

The original arrangement was established in 2009 and was last renewed in 2012. --BERNAMA

Malaysia launches Renminbi Clearing Bank in KL

This is written by Ooi Tee Ching and Minderjeet Kaur.

PUTRAJAYA: Malaysia is set to promote direct trade settlement for cross border transactions in Asean with Bank Negara Malaysia appointing Bank of China in Kuala Lumpur as an offshore renminbi clearing house, said Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

The move, which makes cross border transactions with China more cost efficient, is set to boost the internationalisation of the renmibi. Currently, the world's most popular currency is the US dollar while the renmibi comes in a second. 

Malaysia is the second ASEAN nation to host a renminbi clearing house, after Singapore. Bank of China has been appointed the clearing house for renminbi trades in Malaysia. 

Apart from Singapore, other financial hubs hosting Renmibi Clearing Banks are Frankfurt, Paris, Luxembourg, London, Seoul and Sydney. 


Malaysia, which is China's biggest trading partner in Asean, expects the Renminbi Clearing Bank to facilitate more trades in renminbi and boost Kuala Lumpur's status as Asean's financial hub. 

Najib said Bank Negara Malaysia had appointed Bank of China in Kuala Lumpur as the renminbi clearing house here. The renminbi is now the first foreign currency to be included in the Malaysian clearing system.

In 'clearing' renmibi transactions the Bank of China in Kuala Lumpur will be the intermediary between the buyer and seller to smooth banking and trading transactions. 

By having a clearing house for renmibi in Kuala Lumpur, banks in Malaysia will have direct access to onshore renmibi markets in China without having to route their transactions through a mainland lender.

Currently, Bank of China in Kuala Lumpur already has almost 70 per cent of renmibi clearing because it is linked with 26 financial institutions here. It has also attracted financial institutions from Vietnam, Singapore and Brunei to set up renmibi clearing accounts.

This is further supported by Bank of China being an official member clearing bank of Malaysia Derivatives Exchange (MDEX).

Najib said China is Malaysia's largest trade partner, while Malaysia is China's biggest trade partner within Asean.

The bilateral trade had exceeded US$100 billion last year, he said. "We have set a goal of reaching US$160 billion in bilateral trade by 2017," Najib said at the launch of Renmibi Clearing Bank in Malaysia here yesterday.

Also present were China ambassador to Malaysia Dr Huang Hui Kang, Prime Minister Special Envoy to China Tan Sri Ong Ka Ting, Bank of China Ltd president Chen Si Qing and chief executive officer Wang Hong Wei. Bank Negara was represented by deputy governor Datuk Nor Shamsiah Mohd Yunus.

Malaysian ministers present at the launch included Minister of International Trade & Industry Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamad and Transport Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai.


Najib said the renmibi foreign exchange now stands at RMB3.5 billion a day. "If it enters the International Monetary Fund’s special drawing rights scheme this year, it will officially become one of the world's major reserve currencies," he added. 

In 2014, Malaysia and China celebrated 40 years of diplomatic ties. This year, Najib said Chinese visitors to Malaysia would be exempted from visa fees.

"We are also looking at setting up new direct fights such as from Malacca to Guangdong. We have discussed conducting the first combined military exercise between our two countries as well as building railways, seaports and industrial parks together," he said.

Already, both governments have set up the China-Malaysia Qinzhou Industrial Park and the Malaysia-China Kuantan Industrial Park.  

"Recently, I was having dinner with President Xi Jin Ping and he told me the relationship between Malaysia and China has never been better, now being the highest level in history," he said.

April is Autism Awareness month

I was having lunch with a friend when he revealed his teenage son is autistic and he had plans to open a bakery with his son, a few years from now. 

I didn't know much about autism and my initial reaction was to ask him if he sends his son to special school.

It was then I realised I asked an insensitive question because journalists' salaries are not much to shout about. And enrolling children at schools catering for special needs is very expensive.

My friend did not fault my ignorance of his financial difficulties. I felt bad but at the same time I wanted to know more about autism. 

I started to Google this topic and came across this inspiring news feature published in the USA.

With encouraging signs of community accepting autistic people into the workforce, I hope my friend will, one day, be able to realise his enterprising bakery plans for his son's future here. 

I also hope my friend will choose to use palm oil, shortenings and specialty fats in his baking of breads, cakes and cookies with his son.

The news feature below was written by Colleen Mastony for Chicago Tribune. It was published on 29 December 2014.

-----------------------------------

Drew McDonough walks quickly past the 50-pound bags of brown sugar and the huge tubs of chocolate frosting. He takes a second to clock in at a computer, dresses in his bakery clothes (hairnet, work shirt, apron), and then speed-walks toward the stainless steel table where, five days a week, he packages cups of sticky toffee pudding.

When his boss inquires about his weekend, McDonough responds with brisk one-word answers and barely makes eye contact.

But that is fine with Jean Kroll, owner of the Sugar & Spice Extraordinary Sweet Treats commercial bakery in Evanston, who simply points her new hire toward the racks of golden brown cakes.

"We have 800," she says. "Can you start by dating the sleeves and then getting some boxes?"

For the rest of the four-hour shift on this cold December afternoon, the quiet, dark-haired 27-year-old moves so quickly he seems set on fast-forward. He boxes cakes, stacks them on a hand cart, labels them for shipment and, when he's done, carefully sweeps the floor.


McDonough has autism. The fact that he also has a job at the bakery is something that he says is probably a miracle. "I'm working 20 hours a week, which my parents are very happy about," he said. "It feels as happy as can be."

This past summer, McDonough and two other men with autism arrived at the bakery as part of a six-week unpaid internship.

But there was one important twist: As the men learned to measure sugar and package cakes, a graduate student from Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management carefully tracked their productivity. The question is: Did it make good business sense to hire someone with a disability?

For Kroll, a 50-year-old entrepreneur who had plowed her life savings into the bakery, that was a critical question. "Small businesses hire based on economics," Kroll said. "Most of us are not big enough to hire based on a philanthropic approach."

The story of how — at the end of the internship — she offered paid positions to McDonough and two other men with autism is one of luck and goodwill. But it is also, according to Kroll, a story of a clear-eyed business decision.

"People always say, 'That's such a nice thing to do,'" said Kroll, referring to her decision to hire the men. "I say, 'Yes it is nice. But it's also a smart thing to do.'"

Two years ago, Kroll moved her commercial bakery into a 10,000-square-foot facility tucked in an industrial strip off Dempster Avenue. A few doors down was a nonprofit called Have Dreams, which provides services to people with autism.

Shortly after the move, Kroll's landlord mentioned that her new neighbors — the men and women with autism — were always looking for job training. "Maybe they could help you build boxes," the landlord suggested.

Soon after, Kroll invited a group of five men with autism to help her construct and label boxes for her chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin and signature shortbread cookies. She had no experience with people with disabilities. But when a young man put together a box and, with a huge grin, declared: "Look what I did!" Kroll was charmed.

For a year and a half, the men came every week. There was a tall, blond-haired man named Zach, who loved to talk and ask questions, and Michael, who was playful and cracked jokes, and Jimmy, who was so focused that he could label boxes as fast as any worker.

"They came every week and were smiling and enthusiastic," Kroll recalled. "My staff really warmed to them, too."

One day, an administrator at Have Dreams asked if Kroll might have other jobs for the men. Kroll's answer was firm and immediate. "No," she said. After she went home that night, she couldn't stop thinking about what she had said. "I was so angry with myself," she recalled. "They were such a great group of young people."

Around that time, Kroll had begun negotiations with a client whose line of baked goods would require labor-intensive packaging. The work could have been automated, but Kroll didn't have the US$80,000 she estimated it would cost to buy the equipment. She thought of the men from Have Dreams and picked up the phone. "I think I might have a job for the guys," she said.


Over the following weeks, Kroll and a team from Have Dreams came up with a plan to establish a job training program at the bakery and eventually landed a US$125,000 grant from the Chicago-based Coleman Foundation. The money came with a unique prerequisite: It required Have Dreams to hire a Master of Business Administration student to collect data on the men's productivity.

"What we saw was the opportunity to build a business case," said Clark McCain, senior program officer at the Coleman Foundation. "That's a language that other business owners will be able to understand." If the bakery program succeeded, the data could be used to persuade other business to hire people with disabilities.

The six-week training program targeted high-functioning people with autism who had completed high school or college but who had trouble keeping a job. The goal was to teach not only job skills but also softer skills such as initiative, independence and communication that are often the key to employment.

On June 24, three men arrived at the bakery, where the air is heavy with the scent of baking chocolate, and where racks of ginger cakes spin in industrial-sized convection ovens.

One man was so nervous his hands shook. A second arrived late. The third, when the work began, moved as slow as molasses. "I remember thinking, 'Oh my God, now what?'" Kroll recalled.

In those first weeks, the men's presence was undeniably disruptive. With two job coaches, the Northwestern student and Kroll in tow, they created what Kroll recalled as a "small circle of chaos" that moved around the bakery.

The 10 other employees were, at first, confused about the men's role. They wanted to know: Why were the men there? And what, exactly, was autism? Kroll reassured her staff as best she could and set about training her new interns.

The first week, the men worked alone, learning how to measure sugar and package cakes. By the third week, they attempted to work as a team — a challenge for many with autism. Slowly, the men grew more comfortable. The job coaches stepped away and allowed each man to take a turn as team leader.

"We set the bar low for some of the productivity tests, and we were getting low results," Kroll recalled. "So I said, 'I am going to raise the bar really high.' And they met that goal. So I raised the bar again, and they met it again."

One afternoon, Kroll turned to her production manager and said: "Did you notice the guys processed 500 cakes today?" The manager — who had been slow to buy in to the effort — gave a small smile and a nod of approval.

By the end of the six weeks, the metrics that tracked the men's productivity for portioning sugar, labeling boxes and dating the cakes showed that they could work about 80 percent as quickly as a typical bakery worker.

For Kroll, that was a break-even point that meant it would make sense to hire them for an entry-level, minimum-wage position and allow more experienced, higher-paid workers to focus on more complex tasks.

When an official from the Coleman Foundation came for a visit in August, Drew McDonough — whose hands used to shake — proudly gave a tour of the bakery. Then McDonough joined the other men on a small assembly line.

"They worked together without a coach and did a wonderful job," recalled Kroll. "Everyone looked at each other, and we were all thinking ... ok, this works, this makes sense."

The bakery was about to enter the busy holiday baking season. "I started thinking, 'I'm going to be really busy going into the fall. I'm going to need these guys,'" Kroll said.

A few days later, she offered each of the men a Christmas-season position that would pay them US$8.25 an hour. Now, Drew McDonough spends his days amid the industrial-size kettles that gently simmer with 40-gallon batches of buttery toffee sauce.

Having a job, he said, "feels fabulous. Not just for me but for my parents as well. They were sometimes frustrated with what I was going through, with the job hunt." After graduating from Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, with a degree in media studies in 2011, McDonough searched for a job for two years before he learned about Have Dreams.

He and the other men have done so well at the bakery that Kroll agreed to have a class of three more interns start in January 2015. McDonough will continue to work 20 hours a week and also serve as a mentor. Training the newest workers is something that McDonough admits "may be a bit of a challenge."

But that's OK with Kroll. "I'm glad he's nervous," she said. "We want to push them past their comfort zone, because we know when they're in another employment setting they're going to be pushed. We want to help them work through those stresses right now, and then be able to step up and do the job."

Kroll can't staff her bakery entirely with people with autism. And so, administrators at Have Dreams are searching for other businesses where graduates of the bakery program can work.

"We need to help business owners understand, like Jean does, that there is an economic benefit to employing this population. This is not just a feel-good story," said McCain, of the Coleman Foundation.

"Think of how many manufactures there are in Chicago who have some discreet, repetitive tasks that need to be done and that might be well-suited to the folks at Have Dreams."

As McDonough's shift comes to an end on that recent December day, he carefully affixes a toffee-colored label to each of the 67 boxes of cakes that he packaged for shipment. He grabs a broom and sweeps the bits of shortbread and the sprinkling of cocoa powder that had fallen here and there on the bakery floor.


When the clock hands point toward 4 o'clock — the end of his shift — he approaches Kroll. "This area is swept," he says. "Very good. Want to say goodbye to the other guys?" she replies. (Kroll is still trying to help him with social skills.)

McDonough walks a fast loop around the bakery with his hand up in a perfunctory wave. "See you," he says flatly to each person he passes. Then he clocks out at the computer, exchanges his apron for his jacket and strides quickly to the door. As he rushes past Kroll, he barely looks up. "Bye," he says.

"Thank you, Drew!" Kroll calls. Afterward, Kroll stands in the bakery, an apron around her waist and a pile of orders in her hand. "It was a great day. A really nice, regular day," she says.

McDonough had worked independently, taken ownership of his task and cleaned up afterward. "He has grown so much." What's more, she says, he has carried his weight and helped her business grow. As he develops more skills, she says, he'll earn wage increases, "just like everyone else."

"This is a good business decision," she says. "It just so happens that it's also a really good social decision and a good moral decision too."

Beach bodies with palm oil



American registered dietitian Dr. Felicia D. Stoler, who is also an exercise physiologist, was excited when News Channel 8’s 'Let’s Talk Live' producers asked her to stop by to talk about getting in shape for the swimsuit season. 

It was the perfect opportunity for her to tell the Washington, D.C. audience about some eating tips based on the USDA’s new Dietary Guidelines. She has been a fan of Malaysian sustainable palm oil for years. It is gratifying to see that it fits so well with the USA government’s recommendations.


As summer beckons, many are in a hurry to get their bodies ready for the beach. "We’re hitting the gym. We’re trying to eat right. The Let’s Talk Live hosts asked, “Are we really taking the right steps?”

While Dr. Stoler confirmed that losing weight is always going to be a function of energy in/energy out, she also explained that many need to pay closer attention to portion sizes, hunger cues and satiety cues. 

"You might be surprised, for example, to learn that I think snacking is important. It can help ensure that you don’t over-eat at the next meal. But I’m not talking about cakes and cookies. I’m referring to fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other yummy foods that should be part of your diet," she said.

As viewers at home saw the words “Don’t quit fat” pop up on their TV screens, she offered her first eating tip: Eat better-for-you fats. The new American Dietary Guidelines talk about eating foods that are sustainable. 

Malaysian palm oil is grown in a sustainable manner. It’s a better-for-you fat because it’s heart-healthy. And it contains high amounts of beta carotene and vitamin E, two areas of concern in the new dietary guidelines.

"I also like to cook with palm oil because unlike olive oil, it has a neutral flavour profile. And also unlike olive oil, palm oil is heat stable and less likely to break down into unhealthy chemicals when we bake, deep-fry or barbecue," she said.

"Change up your cooking oils. Experiment with their different flavour profiles. You don’t have to be afraid of healthy fats," the nutritionist said.

Cha .. Cha .. Cha .. Char Kuey Teow

I love Char Kuey Teow. A scrumptious serving of Char Kuey Teow or 炒粿條 in mandarin is flavored with the freshest ingredients and the elusive charred aroma from stir-frying the noodles over very high heat in a well-seasoned wok.

While Char Kuey Teow can be found throughout Malaysia, the Penang version reigns supreme. If you’ve been to Penang and strolled along streets where there are Char Kuey Teow hawkers, you’ll be lured by the tempting aroma from afar.


Ingredients:

3 shallots (peeled and sliced)
3 cloves garlic (chopped finely)
2 tablespoon palm cooking oil
3 pinches of salt
18 shelled and cleaned prawns (submerge in ice cold water plus 2 tablespoons sugar for 30 minutes)
1 lb. fresh flat rice noodles 
2 fistful of fresh bean sprouts (rinsed with cold water and drained)
3 eggs
chinese chives (removed about 1-inch of the bottom section and cut into 2-inch lengths)

Sauce (mix and blend well):

3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon fish sauce
Scant 1/2 teaspoon salt
3 dashes white pepper powder


Method:
1. Clean the wok thoroughly and heat it over high flame until it starts to smoke. Add 2 tablespoons palm cooking oil into the wok and add the chopped garlic into the wok. Do a quick stir.

2. Transfer the prawns out of water into the wok. Make a few quick stirs with the spatula until the prawn starts to turn orange in colour.

3. Add the bean sprouts into the wok, immediately followed by the flat noodles. Add 2 1/2 tablespoons of the mixed sauce into the wok and stir vigorously to blend well. 

4. Using the spatula, push the noodles to one side, and add a little palm cooking oil on the empty area and crack the eggs on it. Use the spatula to break the egg yolks and stir to blend with the egg white. Flip the noodles and cover the eggs, and wait for about 15 seconds.

5. Continue to stir-fry and make sure the eggs are cooked through. Add chives, do a couple of quick stirs, dish out and serve immediately. 

Serves 3 people.

Indonesia's new levy to subsidise biofuel

Jakarta - (Bloomberg) Indonesia, the world’s biggest palm oil producer, will impose export levies to fund biodiesel subsidies, replanting, research and development.

Shippers will pay a levy of US$50 a ton for crude palm oil (CPO) and US$30 for refined oil starting this month, said Sofyan Djalil, coordinating minister for economic affairs. 

The government will keep the threshold for application of a separate CPO export tax at US$750 a ton, Djalil said today.

Indonesia has promoted biofuel use to help absorb rising supplies of the world’s most-traded cooking oil and to cut carbon emissions. The country boosted the mandated amount of palm blending in diesel to 10 per cent from 7.5 per cent in 2013, and ordered power plants to mix 20 per cent in 2014. 

The biodiesel subsidy was raised in February to 4,000 rupiah (31 U.S. cents) a liter from 1,500 rupiah and the mandated blending for diesel will be increased to 15 percent in April.

“The funds will be used to compensate the price differences between the regular diesel and biodiesel.” Djalil told reporters, referring to proceeds from the levy. “It will also be used to help in replanting, research and development and human resources development related to palm oil industry.”

The levy will be paid even when the export tax is at zero and will be “taken from export tax proceeds when prices are above US$750,” Djalil said on March 20. 

The government sets the tax monthly, based on average prices in Jakarta, Rotterdam and Kuala Lumpur. Crude palm oil shipments attract no tax if the average is $750 or less over four weeks, with rates at 7.5 percent to 22.5 percent at higher prices.

Palm oil futures in Kuala Lumpur have fallen 18 per cent in the past year as a collapse in petroleum costs cut the appeal of cooking oils as biofuel. 

Global supplies of soybeans, used to make an alternative oil, expanded to an all-time high. Futures retreated 6.1 per cent in March, the most since August, as soybeans and soybean oil dropped on expectations of record planting intentions in the U.S.

Ivy Ng, an analyst at CIMB Investment Bank Bhd. in Kuala Lumpur, said the decision might hurt Indonesian producers in the short term as domestic prices could decline.

“Local prices of crude palm oil will fall by close to US$50 per ton while processed palm oil in local market will fall by US$30 per ton,” Ng said by phone on Saturday. “In three to six months time if the biodiesel program becomes really successful then prices may recover.”

Indonesia has maintained zero tax on most palm oil shipments for seven months through April because the reference price stayed below the US$750 threshold, the Trade Ministry said March 30. 

The government decree regarding this new levy is expected to be signed on April 6 or 7 and the ruling will become effective upon signing, Djalil said.

Customs timely GST refunds is crucial

KUALA LUMPUR: THE recently implemented Goods and Services Tax' (GST) will have minimal impact on the plantation sector, says analysts.

They expect planters like Felda Global Ventures Holdings Bhd, IOI Corp Bhd, Sime Darby Bhd, Sarawak Oil Palms Bhd, Kuala Lumpur Kepong Bhd, Genting Plantations Bhd, IJM Plantations Bhd and Hap Seng Plantations Holdings Bhd to be ready for the new tax structure.

On April 1, the 10 per cent Sales Tax and 6 per cent Service Tax was replaced with the 6 per cent GST.

"It is a complete pass-through for oil palm planters. Planters who are GST-registered with the Customs Department will be able to claim for every value-adding activity along the supply chain until the millers' gate," said an analyst.

When refiners buy crude palm oil from millers, they pay upfront. After processing the oil into cooking oil, oleochemicals and biodiesel, refiners export these value-added products from the seaport. 

Since refiners are at the tail-end of 'export gate', they do not charge GST to overseas buyers when the refined oil is shipped out.

The timing difference between refiners paying the six per cent GST to the millers and claiming it back from the Customs Department is the funding period. If it takes too long, financially weaker refiners serving the export market, will face cash-flow problems.

In the domestic market, cooking oil re-packers under the Cooking Oil Price Stabilisation Scheme face the same fate, too. 

These re-packers pay the six per cent GST upfront to the refiners but they are not able to pass it on to the retailers because cooking oil, sold at less than 20kg, is zero-rated.

"If cooking oil re-packers do not get their refunds on time, their margin will be squeezed and their cashflow affected. 

"In the worst case scenario, re-packers may slow down and eventually stop packing the cooking oil, resulting in shortage of this kitchen staple at supermarket shelves," the analyst explained.  

"In other words, it is crucial that the Customs Department process claims and refunds in a timely manner. Failure to do so will burden refiners and cooking oil repackers, thus unnecessarily raising their cost of doing business," he said. 

CIMB Investment Bank analyst, Ivy Ng, is neutral about the GST impact on the plantation sector. "We see minimal negative impact on small planters who may not be GST-registered with the Customs Department." 

"As for large planters who are GST-registered, there is no impact because they can pass it along the value chain and claim back input costs from the government," she said. 

Boustead Plantations: CPO price may rise

PETALING JAYA: Boustead Plantations Bhd expects crude palm oil (CPO) prices to average RM2,300 to RM2,600 per tonne this year as buyers from China and India starts to replenish their vegetable oil stocks.


"Currently, CPO pricing is hovering around RM2,200 per tonne. It is facing some challenges as there is abundant supply of soybean, its biggest competitor," said Boustead vice chairman Tan Sri Lodin Wok Kamaruddin.

“Moving forward, we can expect CPO prices to trade higher as demand start to pick up. China and India, the world's most populous nations are likely to start buying more to replenish their stocks. 

"Perhaps then we could see prices climb to between RM2,300 and RM2,600 per tonne,” Lodin said.

He expressed hope of better harvest for the year as more oil palm trees mature and bear more fruits. 

The ongoing replanting programme to replace aging trees with high-yielding hybrids and clones supplied by its associate, Applied Agricultural Resources Sdn Bhd (AAR) will help raise yield at its estates.

AAR, an equal joint venture between Boustead Plantations Bhd and Kuala Lumpur Kepong Bhd (KLK), had been breeding hybrids for more than 25 years.

"Our high-yielding hybrid seeds are meticulously bred and cloned by AAR scientists," Lodin said, adding the hybrids have proven track records of producing more than 30 tonnes of fresh fruit bunches with 23 per cent oil extraction rate. 

That works out to be about seven tonnes of oil per hectare in a year, almost two times higher than the country's average yield. Among the group's high yielding areas are its Sg Jernih and Segaria Estates.

Lodin noted AAR's palm breeding plan is to produce elite planting materials using marker assisted genome-wide selected palms. This, he said, will lead to a speedier and more precise prediction of superior parents for seed production.

AAR's designer seedlings and clonal materials are helping Boustead raise output and oil yield across its oil palm planted area of some 70,000 hectares.


Last month, Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas announced that the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) will collaborate more closely with the police in enforcing against oil palm fruit theft. 

For many years, disputes of ownership in Sarawak's native customary rights land has somewhat fueled unintended thefts of oil palm fruits. 

Since such court cases are often entangled in political undercurrents, the palm oil industry suffered loss to pilferage amounting to tens of millions ringgit.

Last year, the minister said MPOB had issued 278 compounds, terminated three business licenses while imposing eight compounds on those found abetting pilferage of oil palm fruits.

Following the regulators commitment to step up enforcement, Boustead Plantations which have suffered from oil palm fruit thefts, may see more justified earnings from these disputed areas.

Lodin highlighted the courts have recently ruled in favour of Boustead Plantations at its disputed estates in Sarawak. Going forward, in all fairness, with better enforcement of the law by MPOB and the police, the group should be able to harvest all the oil palm fruits it is legally entitled to and therefore, post better earnings.

The skinny on cooking oils

This is written by INDRA BALARATNAM.

WITH so much focus on eating healthy and obesity nowadays, fat has unfortunately gotten a bad reputation. The general perception is there’s no room for fat in your diet if you want to be thin. 

It is this perception that I see as a huge obstacle to people wanting to even begin making dietary changes when told to do so by their doctor to manage their health condition. They assume the foods they’ll have to eat will be hard, tasteless and downright excruciating to swallow.


The fat we eat — which we get naturally from meat, nuts, seeds, cooking oil, butter, margarine and dairy — helps our intestines to absorb Vitamins A, D, E and K, and antioxidants found naturally in our foods. 

These vitamins and compounds are soluble in fat, which then become the vehicle to enhance their absorption.

Fat is also needed for the healthy function of hormones and brain cells. Foods with fat are tasty and more appetising. A fat-laden meal takes longer to empty from the stomach during digestion and keeps you feeling satiated longer.

Cooking oil is one of the main contributors of fat in our daily diet as we use oil to cook and flavour our foods. Different dishes — depending on their cooking method — require varying amounts of oil. 

For example, a piece of deep fried fish would have more fat in it than when it is steamed. With such a dizzying array of cooking oils available, you would sometimes get a little confused about which to use.

Cooking oils are processed from raw oils extracted from oily seeds and fruits. Depending on culture and cuisine, different oils are preferred as it adds to the taste and aroma. 

Every type of cooking oil has varying percentages of saturated, poly-unsaturated and mono-unsaturated fatty acids in them as part of the molecular structure of a triglyceride. Fatty acids are the building blocks of fats. In fact, you may have noticed these words when you read the labels of your cooking oil.

It is very common for cooking oils to be referred by the largest percentage of fatty acid it contains. 

For example, olive oil is a mono-unsaturated oil because the percentage of mono-unsaturated fatty acid is the highest compared to the saturated and poly-unsaturated kind. But that does not mean that if you chose olive oil, it does not have saturated and poly-unsaturated fat as part of its make up.


The different amounts of fatty acids in the cooking oil determine their heat tolerance and therefore, suitability of cooking methods. 

An oil that has more saturated fat is more stable and therefore ideal for stir-fry and deep-fry. 

Saturated oils such as coconut and palm cooking oil also have a longer shelf life.

Sunflower, corn and canola oils that are predominantly poly-unsaturated are not as stable as saturated and mono-unsaturated oils. 

They are prone to turning rancid after being exposed to heat, light and oxygen. So, these oils should be served cold as salad dressing.

Due to their delicate structure, sunflower, corn and canola oils are recommended in salad dressings or for quick, low heat cooking. 

The Malaysian Dietary Guidelines 2010 recommends that fat intake make up less than 30 per cent of our daily calorie requirements. That works out to be 67g for an averagely active person who consumes 2,000 calories per day. 

A tablespoon of any type of cooking oil has 135 calories and 15g of fat. Oil is rich in calories and fat. So whatever type of cooking oil you use, it can make your dish high in calories .

So if you want to watch your overall fat consumption, choose your foods and cooking methods wisely. If most of your meals are deep-fried or laden with cream, your fat intake will definitely exceed what your body requires for healthy function. 

Do try different styles of cooking such as steaming, blanching, braising, and have a mix of cooked or raw vegetables such as salads and ulam. You may also consider making soup and lightly pan-fry your meals.

Here's a nifty tip. If you are going to have a heavy breakfast, then account for it and eat sparingly for lunch. Strike that smart balance!

Planters brace for GST

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia's oil palm planters are bracing for a 3 per cent increase in production cost as the government impose the Goods and Services Tax (GST) effective April 1 as they are unable to fully pass on down the supply chain.

"By and large, we're putting in our best effort in bracing the GST. It is either zero or standard rated which will involve passing on throughout the supply chain and claimable tax input from the Customs Department," said newly-elected Malaysian Estate Owners Association president Joseph Tek. 

In an interview with Business Times yesterday, he noted there will be a transitional phase in managing these changes at the initial stages. 

He explained that there will be gaps in full and effective implementation of the GST because there are small and mid-sized planters in rural areas with limited connectivity and skilled human resource trained to manage these changes. 

Some transactions which are currently computed on annual basis will now have to be carried out more frequently. There will be blocked input tax transactions from GST refunds of which planters will have no choice but to absorb the cost. 

"Our experts have estimated that there will be marginal increase in cost of production .. around 3 per cent more. It will depend on the planters' resources rendered to the whole process. We implore upon the Customs Department to be our partners in managing changes involving GST," he said.

"Oil palm planters and rubber estate owners, who are our members, are very concerned about unabated cost acceleration in this commodity business. As farmers, we're price takers, we're not price makers," he added.

Last Friday, the third month benchmark palm oil futures on the Bursa Malaysia Derivatives Market fell RM22 to close at RM2,170 per tonne. Palm oil prices have not picked up as forecasted and fundamentals remain weak. 

"Experts have estimated that for every ringgit we earned, oil palm planters are paying almost 40 sen to the federal and state governments in taxes," Tek said. 

This amount covers statutory corporate taxes, cess for both MPOB and MPOC, palm oil stabilisation fund and others. The differences between Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak are the State Sales Taxes (applicable in Sabah and Sarawak) and Windfall Profit Levy at different price thresholds.

"We beseech the relevant authorities to appreciate the burden of ever increasing cost of production that is unfortunately not match with any significant increase in productivity," Tek said. 

This is because, he explained, planters have spent a lot of money on amenities and benefits for employees, cost of guest workers legislation and minimum wages, capitalisation charges and trade stunting certification requirements imposed by developed nations.

Established in 1931, MEOA has survived more than eight decades of social tribulations and economic growth. Today, MEOA effectively represents key oil palm planters who are generating significant economic interests to Malaysia.

Last Friday, the very much respected Datuk Boon Weng Siew, aged 91, retired from leading MEOA, after 25 years of distinguished and selfless service. Long serving vice presidents Mark Chang Tek Mak and Tan Teo Kim have also resigned from their posts.

Tek, who succeeded Boon, noted this change of guard is a watershed for the oil palm and rubber sectors. Under Boon's leadership, MEOA has evolved from a ‘gentlemen’s club’ to an effective group representing the social and economic interests of small to medium-sized estate owners. 

Effective last Friday, Tek's leadership of MEOA is supported by newly-elected vice presidents Jacqueline Foo Sueh Chuan and Gan Tee Jin. 

"The oil palm industry is facing ever-more complex issues. It is only through a process of engagement and united stand that we can safeguard the viability of our industry, which is one of the least imports but biggest value adding contributors to our economy," Tek added.