The Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) has showcased hundreds of breakthrough innovations in both the upstream and downstream sectors that have contributed to the advancement of the oil palm industry.
Recently, a significant innovation enabling early identification of high-yielding tenera (thin shell) palms for commercial planting has received considerable attention.
The innovation uses the SureSawit deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA)-based screening technology to trace low-yielding non-tenera palms early before field planting, specifically at the oil palm seed or seedling stage.
Plantations and smallholders can earn higher income as this innovation can increase oil yield by ensuring that ultra-high purity planting material is reliably delivered to smallholders and plantations in the country.
The SureSawit Shell DNA testing breakthrough is an innovation resulting from MPOB's efforts since 2004 in conducting ground-breaking research to decode the oil palm genome.
This was successfully accomplished in 2013, leading to the discovery of the Shell gene, laying the ground work for the SureSawit DNA screening technology.
The decoding of the oil palm genome and discovery of Shell was published in two articles in the highly respected journal Nature in 2013, an unprecedented milestone for Malaysian scientists.
The SureSawit Shell screening services is offered by Orion BioSains Sdn Bhd, which has developed a high throughput DNA testing facility that allows for the identification and replacement of unwanted palms.
This is the first Malaysian start-up company to pioneer a new industry segment, ushering in a new era of molecular precision agriculture to the country.
Plantation operators can now selectively field-plant the higher-yielding tenera palms, thus increasing fruit production and oil yield without increasing plantation labour, fertiliser costs, milling costs or expansion of planted area.
SureSawit Shell screening is a powerful quality control tool that will benefit seed producers, plantation operators, as well as oil palm breeders who have been practising selective breeding techniques of tenera palms.
A delegation from MPOB, led by chairman Datuk Ahmad Jazlan Yaakub, recently visited the Orion Biosains laboratory in Puchong, Selangor, which houses its research and production facilities.
Here, custom high-throughput robotic instruments can process thousands of oil palm seeds and seedling tissue samples daily.
Orion Biosains's lab operations have commercialised the SureSawit Shell testing technology to a stage where it can help enhance sustainability by effectively delivering DNA-selected high-performing seed and seedlings to the field, contributing to increased oil yield.
So far, more than one million seeds and seedlings have been tested and certified.
The SureSawit screening technology is poised to have a major impact on the economy.
The technology also has a global impact as its use has extended to palm oil-producing countries, such as Indonesia and South America.
This will also establish Malaysia as a global genome technology provider that contributes to the sustainability of the oil palm sector.
SureSawit Shell technology can facilitate better fresh fruit bunches yields to increase the income of plantations and smallholders, while palm oil mills can produce more oil from the existing planted areas.
The commercialisation of the SureSawit technology and the high-throughput DNA processing facility were highlighted by the British Broadcasting Corporation in 2016, where the licensee of the MPOB technology was acknowledged as one of the top eight companies in the world with disruptive technologies.
These successes have provided an important boost for MPOB to continue with its efforts to enhance the oil palm industry in sync with its responsibility to promote and develop the palm oil sector in the country.
The writer is the director-general of Malaysian Palm Oil Board, Dr Ahmad Parveez Ghulam Kadir.