Submitted by Musim Mas
How oil palm yields have been improving while being non-GMO
Leading oil palm manufacturers have been researching ways to improve the productivity and yields of the crop over the years. Musim Mas believes that the growth in oil palm production should be fueled by better-yielding seeds, not land expansion. Yet, the group has not been using genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to better yields. How has the group gone about this?
How is this different from genetic modification?
Oil palm yield improvements at Musim Mas rely on selective breeding from two parental palms. This is unlike the approach taken by most corn, soya and canola producers, where genetic modification is the preferred method for improving yields and desirable characteristics. Essentially, the approach taken in the oil palm industry is artificial selection instead of using genetic engineering or genetic modification.
Methods used in the industry can range from simple tools, such as selecting specific palms or more complex methods to accelerate the process of artificial selection, also known as selective breeding. Such methods include studying molecular markers to identify a particular aspect of a genotype to single out offspring with improved yield components or desired growth characteristics. This is the mating of seeds with the best characteristics, such as high oil yields and high fertility, to produce offspring that possess these qualities and is the approach taken at Musim Mas.
To illustrate how selective breeding is used in palm breeding, the traditional Dura palm variety’s fruitlets have a thick kernel shell but high yields. In contrast, another variety, the Pisifera palm fruitlets, has no kernel shell but poor yields. Crossing the two types produces the Tenera variety, which on average, produces 30% more oil per unit of land than Dura palms. This results in tremendous benefits for sustainability as oil palm growers using such varieties can produce more oil with less land.
Investing in research and development
With the projected increase in the world demand for edible oils and the effects of climate change against demands for land use, there is a need to continuously advance research into improving yields.
Musim Mas runs a leading agronomic research and development (R&D) lab dedicated to studying such matters. The group’s dedicated specialists look into breeding palms with desirable traits. Beyond oil yields, other desirable characteristics include shorter and more compact palms and increased disease resistance. As a result, Musim Mas yields are consistently above the industry average. In 2021, Musim Mas’ crude palm oil (CPO) yields stood at 5.7 tonnes per hectare, 1.75 times higher than the industry average.
Located in Riau, Indonesia, Musim Mas’ R&D labs span 246 ha, including a seed garden, laboratories and staff housing. The labs also study conditions in different parts of Indonesia to tailor the planting materials best suited to each.
Headquartered in Singapore, Musim Mas is one of the world’s largest, integrated palm oil corporations with operations in every part of the supply chain across the Americas, Europe and Asia. Our global workforce pursues innovative and sustainable developments, ensuring product quality, safety and efficiency as the industry evolves.
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