INNOVATION: Indonesian agriculture
Far Eastern Economic Review
Oct 22, 1998

Asian Innovation Awards
Bronze -- Agriculture:
 Palm Pilot
By Salil Tripathi
334 Words

London Sumatra, Indonesia: Dramatically increasing the yield of palm

   Deep inside the emerald plantations in Medan, scientists of PT London
Sumatra (Lonsum) are working to improve the yield of palm oil. Their
efforts have not been in vain -- Lonsum's plantations boast the world's
highest yield of crude palm oil, at 5.2 tonnes per hectare. In
laboratory experiments, the yield has grown to 7.5 tonnes per hectare,
which is an outstanding achievement. "Technologically, it is the most
advanced company in the business," says HSBC James Capel Securities.
 Among plantation companies in Southeast Asia, Lonsum is unique for
its commitment to research and development. Even in the hard times
imposed by the Indonesian economic downturn, Lonsum spends 1% of its
revenues on R&D each year. "Other companies have research staff, but
they are often used as troubleshooters, to fix problems. We are given
time to think of new ways to improve productivity," says Stephen Nelson,
deputy head of research at the Bah Lias Research Station in Medan.
   Lonsum's biologists have been working to increase the amount of oil
that can be extracted from the fruit. One of their main achievements is
combining the best of male and female fruits. The female, called dura,
has a lush layer of oil-rich fruit circling a kernel encased in a thick
black shell. The fatter the shell, the lower the yield. The male fruit,
called pisifera, has a thin shell, but the layer of its fruit is also
thin. The challenge is to get the best of both. The trick lies in
crossbreeding the two so that the resulting fruit has a thin kernel and
rich fruit content. That's the hybrid, tenera. The oil-extraction rate
of tenera, at 25%, is five percentage points more than the best of dura.
   Nelson's team of 30 scientists is busy with other long-term projects,
like working with Lonsum's joint venture with Unilever in Britain,
Unifield. Part of that research involves studying molecular structure to
identify genetic markers to speed up breeding rates.