A drone buzzes between trees on a humid Malaysian morning, monitoring the oil palm fruits as they ripen. Self-driving trucks rumble over the vast plantation’s uneven ground, laying fertilizer and picking up the densely packed harvested bunches.

These are just some of the robots the Southeast Asian nation’s top palm growers hope will take over the sector’s most difficult and dirty jobs, plugging chronic worker shortages that have disrupted supplies of the world’s most-consumed edible oil.

With global stockpiles set for the first back-to-back decline in more than 40 years, Malaysia has every reason to push for automation to boost production. Increased awareness of the industry’s problematic reliance on migrant workers — clouded by restrictions and labor abuses — has also encouraged companies to find alternative solutions, said Mohamad Helmy Othman Basha, group managing director of SD Guthrie, a government-linked company previously known as Sime Darby Plantation.