KUALA LUMPUR: Oil palm yields can be increased through a paradigm shift in biotechnology breakthroughs, said Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.
He said discoveries through biotechnology techniques to develop high-value commodity products could also help to reduce the downside of volatile commodity prices.
He said oil palm was an important asset to Malaysia, in which export earnings of its products rose to a record RM65.2bil last year from RM45.17bil in 2007.
The palm oil industry also provided employment to 500,000 people and livelihood to an estimated one million people, including 270,000 smallholders, he said.
“It is therefore critical that the industry consistently adopts innovative techniques and sustainable practices, through the availability of new knowledge and technology, to ensure that oil palm cultivation remains in harmony with the environment,” he said at an event here yesterday to announce the world’s first discovery of oil palm genome by Sime Darby Bhd.
The company has successfully deciphered the genetics of the oil palm, through the method of sequencing, assembling and annotating the oil palm genome, which would bring multiple benefits to the industry.
Najib said Sime Darby’s discovery was an industry milestone that could raise higher yields to the extent that food supply would not be an issue again.
“What I hope this means is that we can expect more price stability as we will be able to control the palm oil supply to fulfil all sorts of new demand,” he added.
Later at a press conference, Najib said the new type of oil palm tree will reduce the use of labour per hectare to harvest the plant.
“We can double the existing rate in yield and productivity by 100%,” he said, adding that Felda may also discuss with Sime Darby to use the discovery to help increase the settlers’ income.
Sime Darby chairman Tun Musa Hitam said research into the oil palm genome began in 2003 and that the new plant had the potential to accelerate the production of new “designer oils,” was more disease resistant and more tolerant to drought and salinity.
“The revenue from the new discovery will have a positive financial impact not only to Sime Darby but also to the industry in the long term,” he added.
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