The tree that provides so much, yet are stained by misconception and misdirection
As Malaysians, we may have at least heard about the issue with our palm oil industry. Demand for our prized produce internationally has plummeted, causing players in the industry from the workers to the corporations to hurriedly look for alternatives to stay afloat. And it was all caused by the implication that palm oil causes major deforestation.
Alas, it was not the case to begin with. The Health had the chance to meet with the Director-General of the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB), Dr Ahmad Parveez Ghulam Kadir to ask him vital questions on palm oil and how the false perception shadows its clear advantages.
The vital misconception
Dr Parveez starts off the interview by addressing the elephant in the room regarding Malaysian palm oil, it’s recent deforestation causing issue. “I have read the actual article written in a European newspaper around 12 years ago in relation to biodesel from oil crops. The story was about the deforestation that was going on in Indonesia and it just so happened to use a photo of the Malaysian oil palm plantation with a rather misleading caption. The article blew up and the masses have had a rather violent misconception towards our palm oil industry ever since.”
Malaysia as base for ground-breaking development
The plantation for oil palm was actually developed first in Indonesia, Malaysia has been the main championing force for palm oil producing and exports before Indonesia took over a couple of years ago. Despite all that, most of the research and development for palm oil were still done by MPOB.
“One of the most notable achievements in research that has been done by MPOB is the studies of the oil palm’s whole genome mesocarp (shell) and tissue culture abnormality that were published in the world’s prestigious Nature Journal.. From the research, we are able to increase oil yield from the mesocarp and from the tissue cultured clones.”
The dura, pisifera, and tenera
How did they make it more efficient, you might ask? Dr Parveez explains: “The original oil palm that was brought from Bogor, Indonesia when we were just starting to plant them here was called the dura. The dura oil palm has a thick layer of shell that separates the kernel and the outer flesh called the mesocarp – which is the main source of palm oil. The thick shell creates less oil yield. On the other hand, there is another variant of the oil palm called the pisifera that does not have a shell at all. However, the shell-less pisifera doesn’t always produce fruit or sterile.”
Hence the research of the oil palm female genome. “With the research made in studying both the dura and pisifera’s genome, we were not able to combine the genes but actually could use the genome data to allow only tenera plant be selected at seedling level and planted in field for obtaining higher yield. Tenera has more mesocarp and not more kernel,” he ends.
Comparable in nutritional value
Dr Parveez was not one to shy away from explaining the immense health benefits palm oil provides.
“It is found that palm oil has a balanced composition of both saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. Although people have been accusing saturated fatty acids to be the main cause of heart attacks, our studies together with international universities have shown that palm oil behaves exactly like other oils such as olive oil and sunflower oil. It does not increase your LDL (bad cholesterol), and it does not increase the risks to heart diseases. Moreover, the presence of the antioxidants such as tocotrienols and carotene only makes it more beneficial”
The specific characteristic that makes palm oil nutritious is the fact that it has balanced fatty acids, contains phytonutrients and the most stable oil to be used for cooking.
Striving in sustainable production
Now we know that Malaysia plays a tremendous role in better understanding of the tenera genome, as well as the immense health benefits palm oil has to offer, what makes us better than the palm oil being produced by our neighbouring country, the actual originator of oil palm plantation?
“With our understanding of genome knowledge, we identified the tenera variety at an early stage. This is important because tenera produces 30 percent more oil as compared to dura. We strive to make the palm oil produced in Malaysia to be 100 percent sustainable through the Malaysia Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certification scheme. We make it mandatory for not only the key players, but also the smallholders (which never required by other certification systems) to be certified by the MPOCC. That will make the palm oil produced here to be fully sustainable,” says Dr Parveez.
He also explains that Malaysia is more technologically advanced in terms of production and management processes, and so the quality and quantity of Malaysian palm oil is the best despite us not being the biggest producer of palm oil. — The Health
“One of the most notable achievements in research that has been done by MPOB is the studies of the oil palm’s whole genome that were published in the world’s prestigious Nature Journal.“– Dr Ahmad Parveez Ghulam Kadir