June 11, 2020 / 12:03 PM / in 2 months

Palm giant Sime Darby publishes high-yielding oil palm genome research

(This June 11 story corrects to say demand for food will rise by 70%, not palm oil demand for food, in paragraph four)

FILE PHOTO: A general view of the Sime Darby Plantation headquarters in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia October 2, 2019. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng/File Photo

By Mei Mei Chu

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - The world’s largest producer of sustainable palm oil Sime Darby (SIPL.KL) on Thursday made its million-dollar research into creating higher-yielding oil palm trees publicly available, in a move it said could help the industry slow deforestation.

Palm oil is the world’s cheapest and most widely used vegetable oil, and is found in everything from cookies to lipstick.

Environmental groups have long accused the industry of widespread destruction of tropical rainforests, especially in top producers Indonesia and Malaysia, as companies expand plantation sizes to meet rapidly rising global demand.

World population growth is predicted to drive a 70% increase in demand for food, requiring the use of over 900 million hectares of new land worldwide and threatening forests globally, Sime Darby said in a statement.

The Malaysian palm giant said its 10-year research has developed higher yielding oil palm seeds named “GenomeSelect” that increase output of the edible oil by 20%.

By putting its genome map identifying the genetic markers for higher yields in the public domain, Sime Darby said it aims to help scientific research centres and other major industry players to fast-track their research.

“We believe that breakthrough innovation can up the game for productivity in the industry - and sharing the genome can save scientists years in their own research,” said Sime Darby’s chief research and development officer Harikrishna Kulaveerasingam.

The firm said it is now scaling up production of its GenomeSelect seeds to meet its own replanting needs.

It added that it is also developing oil palms that are easier to harvest, resilient to climate change and disease tolerant.

“We hope that this research will open up new avenues for our industry to meet demand growth while drawing the line on deforestation at the same time,” said group managing director Mohamad Helmy Othman Basha.

Reporting by Mei Mei Chu; Editing by Jan Harvey

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