Published on: Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Kota Kinabalu: Groundbreaking research in Sabah suggests that the dreaded so-called "cancer of oil palm" ganoderma can be prevented and even eradicated by using a right combination of microbes.
Dr Chong Khim Phin, a plant pathologist from University of Nottingham and Head of the Sustainable Palm Oil Research Unit (Spor) at Universiti Malaysia Sabah, who led the research, told a seminar on "Oil Palm: Sustainability and Challenge" Tuesday that ganoderma is not as nasty as it has been made out to be.
"In fact it is actually quite a poor and weak competitor compared to other microbes and our two-year field study funded by Nestle Malaysia Food Manufacturing Sdn Bhd proves it can be suppressed to a very low level with a combination of micriobes," Dr Chong said.
This scourge reportedly cost RM1.8b worth of damage to the Malaysian oil palm industry yearly.
Encouraged by the promising results using an environmentally-friendly microbial approach to deal with it, another two-year study targeting a "total elimination" of ganoderma, is due to begin, this time funded by IOI Group, Kedah based Good Earth Sdn Bhd and Organica Biotech Sdn Bhd. "In our previous first half project findings, we managed to use a combination of microbes to suppress the colonisation of ganoderma to a very low level as measured by the fungal ergosterol biomass," Dr Chong said in his in his presentation entitled "Sustainable Oil Palm Disease Management".
"That's what we got in the study at Sandakan, where we reduced the ergosterol content to around just a few micrograms per gram tissue of the oil palm," he said.
"Ergosterol is a fungal sterol or fungal content which confirms the presence of ganoderma in the body of the palm," Dr Ching said.
"The higher the ergosterol content, the more pathogens inside which eats the palm away from within," Dr Chong said. "Unfortunately, because the two-year duration of the study was just too short, the suppression had gone to a very low level but not zero.
"So our intention is to look at any possibility where we can totally eliminate the ganoderma out of the palm itself," Dr Chong said.
"We are going to use the same microbes but of course with improved techniques and at the same time, prolong the evaluation to see if there is a possibility of total elimination of ganoderma," he said.
To further this ambitious study, UMS received a further grant of RM147,000 from three donors - IOI Group represented by General Manager for the Sabah region, N. Sundhakaran who donated 50pc while Kedah-based One Good Earth Sdn Bhd represented by Company Director Koid Hung Kuan and Organica Biotech Sdn Bhd represented by Director Eddie Cheong, contributed the other 50pc.
"Basically we are using the microbial approach in controlling ganoderma," Dr Chong said.
"Our belief is microbes cannot work alone so they must come as a group to support each other in this case" he added.
Prof Dr Sharil Yusof , Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research), officiated at the opening of the seminar on behalf of Vice Chancellor Prof Datuk Dr. Mohd Harun Abdullah. Also present was Prof Dr Baba Musta, dean of the School of Science and Technology.
"The problem is the ganoderma condition is made worse by low microbe population in the soil due to the widespread use of agro chemicals," Dr Chong said.
Credit goes to Nestle Malaysia which initiated the study in pursuit of its new consumer driven concept dubbed Creating Share Value which (CSV) which believes corporate business operating practices must create value that benefit people, planet earth and profit simultaneously, said Nestle Malaysia Agricultural Services Manager, Yong Lee Keng.
"Based on the promising results of the first half we want to extend, fine tune to further validate and verify results and it will be funded by IOI, One Good Earth and Organica Bioteach Sdn Bhd this time," he said.
"We will try to find an alternative solution and approach to control ganoderma, using microbes which is a more environment friendly method," Yong noted.
"This is a fundamental research basically based on pure science, using scientific principles and protocol so as to have a full credibility," said Yong who presented a paper entitled "Creating Shared Value - Nestle's Sustainable Solution".
Other speakers included Assoc. Prof. Dr Fadzilah Cooke who spoke on "Notes on Corporae Social responsibility and oil Palm in Malaysia"; Kertijah Abd Kadir who spoke on "Finding the balance in Kinabataganin : Nestle's Project Rileaf Approach'; Dr Jusin Sentian who spoke on "Oil Palm: Scoping The Issues of Environmental Sustainability and Climate Change"; Dr Abu Zahrim Yazer who presented the paper "Chemically Assistaed sand Filtration for Anaeroically Treated Palm Oil Mill Effluent Treatment" and Dr Jodon Januan who spoke on "Solid Satte Fermentation of Palm oil Kernal Cake with Bacillus Subtitis".