Sime Darby Plantation Bhd (SDP) has announced the publication of its oil palm genome research,
paving the way for the company to significantly raise oil palm yields on its existing land. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
PETALING JAYA, July 21 — The demand for vegetable oils will continue to increase in line with the world population which is expected to rise to nine billion by 2030 from the current 7.5 billion, and palm oil would not want to miss its slice of the cake.
But while the industry continues to be bombarded by challenges including climate change and the accelerated deforestation in some of the most environmentally sensitive and biodiverse parts of the world, the need for a breakthrough innovation to safeguard the industry is crucial.
On that note, Sime Darby Plantation (SDP), after a decade of research with a RM150 million investment, has developed GenomeSelect oil palm seeds, which have the potential to increase palm oil yields by 20 per cent and at the same time produce oil palms that are easier to harvest besides having climate change resilience and disease tolerance.
SDP chief research and development officer Harikrishna Kulaveerasingam said the plantation company has approved the concept of GenomeSelect and it wants to see if the concept works in a real situation.
To recap, SDP planted the materials in 2016 based on its knowledge at the time.
“After planting the materials in 2016 we learnt new things. We have come up with a new generation of materials. We selected the best seeds and we basically have about 80,000 seeds out of which we chose the top 18,000 (seeds) to plant based on the pattern relation to yield.
“We created new mother palms planted in January 2017, which will only come into commercial production by 2023, and we have the approval from the Malaysian Palm Oil Board and SIRIM standards,” he told reporters after a SDP dialogue entitled The Innovation Imperative.
According to Harikrishna, the company has been planting up to 1,000 hectares (ha) per year, and by 2022 it wants to plant up to 7,500 ha per year.
“Normally we plant 14,000 to 15,000 ha per year, so half of the plants will be composed of genome materials in 2022. By 2023 we will have sufficient materials to supply all our Malaysian replanting needs and have extra for commercial sale,” he said.
Meanwhile, chief strategy and innovation officer Shariman Alwani said GenomeSelect is the solution for the industry in the country, especially when it does not plan to increase cultivated land in the country beyond 6.5 million hectares by 2030.
“Innovation to increase yields is critical to our growth as a company and also to driving more sustainable production of palm oil in the future,” he said.
Shariman said the genome is one of the company’s alternatives to produce more palm oil without further clearance of forest land.
The first commercial harvest of GenomeSelect demonstrated the potential to increase yields by 20 per cent over the company’s best planting material to date.
Next, SDP aims to put the genome map into the public domain and to get this research into the hands of scientific research centres and other major industry players to enable them to fast track their work on improving yields.
The genome sequence also has relevance beyond palm oil for other palm industries, such as dates and coconut, that are seeking to increase their ability to produce more crop from less land.
Meanwhile, Malaysian Palm Oil Association chief executive Datuk Nageeb Ahmad Abdul Wahab said the palm oil industry is currently facing a shortage of workers, causing it to lose between 10 to 15 per cent in production.
“The industry is at a crossroads, if we do not resolve the issue now, it could lead to the demise of the industry,” he said.
He added that the industry needs GenomeSelect “yesterday”, and called on industry players to put more funds and more concerted effort to ensure that palm oil does not become a sunset industry. — Bernama