Bio-Technology Helps Achieve Palm Oil Sustainability

Bogor – There are at least two main problems facing growers in realizing the sustainability of palm oil in Indonesia. The first is the low application of good agricultural practices (GAP) that can be easily seen from the deficiency of nutrients in plants, and the second is the high use of illegitimate seeds, a scientist concluded recently.

Addressing a Webinar on “Bio-Tech For Sustainable Agribusiness: Case of Palm Oil”, which was organized recently by the agribusiness department of economy and management faculty of Bogor University of Agriculture (IPB), Muhammad Arief Budiman, the scientist of Orion Genomics, a biotechnology company based in St. Louis, Missouri, the USA, said that the identification of seeds is very important to determine the productivity of oil palm plantations. But unfortunately, the identification is only implemented through the conventional way, which is by cutting the palm fruit crosswise.

Arif said that based on their thickness, oil palm can be categorized into three types, namely dura, pisifera, and tenera, with different content of oil, depending on the absence or existence of shell gene (Sh). “The dura type of oil palm has thick shells and content of crude palm oil (CPO) up to 70 percent. The type of pisifera has no or thin shell and usually has female sterile flowers with bunches quickly getting rotten before producing oil,” he said.

According to him, the conventional way of identifying the seeds can only be done after the plants start producing fruit bunches at the age of 3-4 years. Certainly, the conventional method cannot be done in immature plants (TBM), either TBM 1 or TBM 2, especially plants that are still in the nursery stage. “Ensuring the type of planting material (dura, pisifera, or tenara) that is planted by smallholders significantly determines the productivity of oil palm plantations,” he asserted.

Meanwhile, the cross between the dura and pisifera types produces tenera type which is a hybrid variety with a thin shell and CPO content of up to 100 percent. The use of dura palm type dominates the oil palm smallholdings in  Riau, with total acreage of 50 percent of the total oil palm plantations in the province and owned by 231 smallholders,” said Arif.

On the financing side, the cost of seeds is the smallest component of the total cost or just 0.2-1.3 percent. The biggest portion of the total cost is the fertilization cost at 44 percent, followed by harvesting cost at 27 percent, and maintenance 18 percent. “But the seeds need serious consideration by ensuring their quality from the beginning before spending the next 99.8 percent of the total cost,” he said.

Genomics is a much more recent development than genetics. The technology has developed rapidly during the last three decades due to technical advances in DNA sequencing, molecular biology and computational biology. Genomics can help the process of crossing seeds and finding genes from superior seeds faster and easier. “Genomic technology can help find “shell genes” which play the role of regulating the thickness of the palm fruit shells and help determine fruit size and oil production. By utilizing this “shell gene” growers can use genetic markers for which seeds will bear dura, pisifera and tenera. It enables identification of dura or pisifera types within a relatively short time at affordable cost,” he said.

This technology can be used to certify sprouts to measure the purity of tenera palm kernels. Based on the Indonesian National Standard (SNI), seed purity should reach 98 percent, or dura contamination should not be more than 2 percent. The technology can also be applied to monitor seedlings at the  nursery, so that growers get quality ready-to-plant seeds.

The Genomic technology is also useful in optimizing the land use with the quality seeds. If there is contamination of non-tenera seeds, then it can affect the economic value generated by CPO production.

Generally, this DNA assaying technology can help smallholders to get the quality and legitimate oil palm seeds at an affordable cost. The technology also supports the new and renewable energy (EBT) program and further develop sustainable agribusiness. “The seed is not everything, but everything starts from the seed,” he concluded. (*)

Source: REPUBLIKA.CO.ID | Image via