16th April 2014, A seminar jointly organised by Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) and Swinburne University of Technology, Sarawak Campus was in held in Kuching, Sarawak. This was a pioneering program, organised with a higher education institute in Sarawak. Other such programs were previously held in Kuala Lumpur in Sunway College and Monash University. This was a one day event aimed at providing information on the Malaysian Palm Oil industry, its contributions towards the economy and development. The seminar was attended by about 100 students from Swinburne University of Technology, Sarawak campus, lecturers and also support staff. Students were predominantly from the undergraduate programs of Biotechnology and Engineering faculties and included a number of postgraduates as well.
The event was officiated by Professor Anthony Cahalan, Pro Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive, Swinburne University of Technology, Sarawak Campus. In his welcoming speech, Professor Cahalan expressed his gratitude for such collaboration with MPOC, which he believes will enhance their research efforts and engagement of their students with the industry. The seminar also gives a different platform for students to gain knowledge and latest research developments directly from the distinguished speakers who are well versed in their fields. . Professor Cahalan also encouraged MPOC and the palm oil industry to involve their students in other programs and activities to be held in the near future. A total of 6 papers were presented from selected speakers across different fields which were of interest to the students and the palm oil industry. Dr. Kalyana Sundram, the Deputy Chief Executive Officer , MPOC presented the keynote address on Palm Oil and Research Science, Opportunities for Scientific Research in which he covered the basics of palm oil as an vegetable oil of exceptional value, with its many attractive properties which makes it a prime commodity forth global oils and fats markets. . He also highlighted the opportunities available for further research and innovation in the industry to place the commodity in the global market.
The first paper was presented by Dr. Rajinder Singh from Advance Biotechnology & Breeding Centre, Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) highlighting “Current Research Updates & The Opportunities for Biotechnology in The Palm Oil Industry”. The second speaker, Mr. Faudzy Asrafudeen, from Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC), explained on “Opportunities from the Golden Crop: Complementing the Future Needs of Global Oils and Fats Demand”. Dr. Mohd. Suria, the Vice President I, Oils & fats from Sime Darby reviewed the “Technology and Engineering Innovations in Palm Oil Processing”, giving students comprehensive perspectives on the application of engineering and processing knowledge towards innovation and productivity of palm oil. The speaker representing the palm oil industry in Sarawak was Mr. Richard Cheang from Sarawak Oil Palm Berhad, who explained the complete supply chain of palm oil production from plantation management to logistics management of the trade and shipping of this commodity. He highlighted to the participants various career opportunities available throughout the whole palm oil supply chain.
A panel discussion was held to discuss matters of interest of the student with all 5 speakers acting as the panellists. The discussion were lively and engaging where many students highlighted concerns and questions pertaining to GMOs, palm biomass management and fibre usage, market development in African region, studies and research opportunities and obtaining the appropriate funding for means of research and education.
During lunch, a basic frying demo was also conducted to showcase the properties of palm oil. Palm oil is excellent as a frying oil because it is stable at high temperature without breaking down into other by products and has a neutral taste which does not alter the natural flavour of food. Some of the ingredients which were used in frying the tempura were prawns, brinjals, potatoes and other vegetables.
The afternoon session consists of 3 additional papers covering issues related to the palm oil industry which focuses on nutrition and environment. Mr. Mohd. Muslimin Hashim from MPOC explained “Application of Palm Oil in Everyday Lives”, where he showed the different of uses of palm oil in the food and snack industries and also in non-food and oleochemical uses. An insight into the palm oil industry’s sustainability efforts were presented by Mr. Benjamin Loh from MPOC through his paper entitled “Environment and Conservation Efforts by the Palm Oil Industry”. Finally Mr. Oswald Braken Tisen, Deputy General Manager of Sarawak Forestry Corporation took us on a virtual tour of the natural beauty of Sarawak’s biological heritage and highlighting the conservations effort taken by SFC to safeguard Sarawak’s biological diversity.
The seminar highlighted the wide applications of research, biotechnology and engineering in the ever growing palm oil industry. Continuous research based improvements are necessary for palm oil to reign superior against other commodities and other edible oils in the market while facing possible challenges imposed in the international marketplace and through sceptics such as the environmental NGOS.