In light of Indonesia’s dethroning of Malaysia as the world’s top oil palm producer, United Malacca Berhad (UMB) announced that it would be establishing a professorial chair with Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) to boost Malaysian palm oil output through research and development.
“The United Malacca Professorial Chair in Oil Palm Plantation Management will be set up in UPM’s Faculty of Agriculture — a natural choice since UPM, formerly known as Universiti Pertanian Malaysia, has a renowned faculty in the field,” UMB chairperson Tan Siok Choo was quoted in The Star.
The professorial chair will focus on areas of research such as locating genes to increase disease and environmental resistance, stimulating increases in female flowering, and designing tools to increase the efficiency of the palm oil planting process.
“The average annual yield of fresh fruit branches in plantations is around 21 tonnes per hectare but some plantation companies have managed to push that up to 31 tonnes per hectare using tissue culture,” said Tan.
She was hinting that similar increases in efficiency could be found in Malaysia, the world’s second largest supplier of palm oil.
“Currently the biggest constraints faced by the Malaysian oil palm plantation sector is land and labour — commodities Indonesia has in abundance.
“To turn the situation around and not fall even further behind in terms of output, research and development (R&D) is essential,” said Tan.
Increased R&D, she added, would help identify new uses for palm oil in food as well as in industry. Additionally, going “high tech” would help quicken the production of oil palm fruits by automating harvesting and planting, as well as creating palm oil varieties with higher yields to capitalize on increasing efficiency.
Apart from promoting R&D and innovation in oil palm plantation management, UMB also aims to create greater awareness among young Malaysians about the rapidly expanding career opportunities in the sector, she added.
“We want young Malaysians to know that working in palm oil isn’t limited to field work in the plantations. It involves cutting edge technology and science,” she said.