In the palm oil industry, one of the most important things producers look for in oil palm trees is yield. Trees with high yield are not only good for business, but also good for sustainability, as that means less land required to produce more palm oil. Here at GAR, we continuously improve our yield and overall plantation productivity through a combination of two methods: better agricultural practices and better planting materials developed through biotechnology.
We established the Plant Production and Biotechnology (PPB) Division in 2007, to improve planting material and seed stock. The PPB Division carries out a range of research activities ranging from production of our oil palm clones, to genetic mapping of our oil palm plants.
Genetic mapping and its benefits
Genetic mapping is like identifying the DNA of oil palm plants. With biotechnology, we are able to detect positive traits related to oil palm productivity and stability of a plant, and select the elite plants which have the desired characteristics (such as high oil content, high nutrient content and disease-resistant) for cross-breeding.
We can even track the outcomes in a shorter timeframe compared to conventional breeding, enabling us to determine whether the plants pass on their desired traits without having to wait years for them to mature.
Identifying the right traits to pass on is important. Given current concerns related to climate change, we are looking to identify plants which are more tolerant to disease and drought, so that farmers can rely on a steady crop harvest even in times of drought or flooding due to climate phenomena like El Nino or La Nina.
Our selection process also involves identifying parent plants that are shorter and do not grow so high. At a lower height, the fresh fruit bunches are easier and safer to harvest, improving the safety and productivity of our harvesters.
Once the positive characteristics are identified, we use tissue culture to clone the plants and create oil palm ramets (an individual member of a clone of plants derived by vegetative reproduction from a single parent plant), for growing. Each ramet is tagged with a code that is used to identify the parent palm and helps in tracing the oil palm clone process.
New palm oil varieties
Our work in biotechnology has led to the creation of more productive and resilient seeds and planting material.
In 2016, we registered the Intermediate Ganoderma Resistance Dami Mas seeds with the Ministry of Agriculture Indonesia. They are a superior variety of seeds that have an intermediate resistance to Ganoderma boninense which causes basal stem rot disease.
In 2017, we registered Eka 1 and Eka 2, planting materials created through cloning and tissue culture process. They will enable the company to increase yields to the highest levels in the industry, without increasing land use.
SMART Biotechnology Centre
All of this work in research and production is done in our very own SMART Biotechnology Centre in Sentul, Indonesia, a research facility which serves as an innovation hub. The centre was inaugurated in November 2013 and is where our PPB division is based.
The SMART Biotechnology Centre houses holistic interdisciplinary fields: Molecular Biology; Bioinformatics; Biochemistry; Microbiology; Molecular Breeding; Proteomics and Tissue Culture and is ISO 9001:2015 certified for Quality Management Systems.
Essentially anything grown in our plantations originates from our SMART Biotechnology Centre and is a result of years of research and development. Many of the production techniques created here are also shared with plasma smallholders, so the work carried out is extremely important in laying the foundation for future generations of sustainable palm oil cultivation.
Hear from our scientists about why biotechnology has played a key role in advancing sustainable agriculture here