Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Learning about palm oil

Marguerite Torrey, AOCS Technical Projects Editor, was invited to attend the 32nd Palm Oil Familiarization Programme in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) extended the invitation to her and sponsored her trip as part of their educational outreach program on palm oil.

This year’s meeting was held on September 1–9, 2012. Thirty-five of us, from 17 countries, arrived September 1 in Kuala Lumpur. MPOB presented an introductory program on September 2, followed by five days of presentations on just about every aspect of palm oil one could imagine. Lecture days alternated with field-trip days. In the lectures, we learned about such things as how oil palms are grown, how fresh fruit bunches are processed to produce palm oil (PO) and palm kernel oil (PKO), nutritional properties and uses of PO, and pricing aspects of PO and PKO.

Collecting oil palm bunches
The field trips were like icing on the cake—very special. One day we were bused to the Sime Darby Oil Palm Plantation at Carey Island. After seeing only photographs all these years, I found it very satisfying to see real oil palms bearing their bunches of fruits, to see how the bunches are harvested by hand and collected in trucks, and to see the efforts being made to protect the plantations against pests by using barn owls to catch rats and by planting beneficial companion plants that are part of the integrated pest management plan to control damaging insects. I saw individual oil palm fruits and finally have a real sense of their size. In another part of the Carey Island site, we toured the facility where fresh fruit bunches are processed to isolate the crude PO, and then we moved to the Sime Darby Jomalina plant to see the refining process. On another day, the attendees toured the headquarters of MPOB and viewed many of their pilot plant projects on such things as margarine manufacturing, frying, and biodiesel production.

Barn owl at oil palm plantation
On our final official day, MPOB took us on a bus tour of Kuala Lumpur so we could see some of the landmarks such as the National Monument, the President’s Palace, and the Petronas Twin Towers. What gracious hosts MPOB were to all of us!

After the program was officially over, I had some time to enjoy other aspects of KL, as the city is called. As a life-long bird watcher, I wanted to visit the KL Bird Park, a large walk-in aviary housing over 3000 birds representing 200 local and foreign species. My favorite birds there were the Asian fairy bluebird, whose brilliant blue feathers were unbelievable, and the cattle egrets, which have expanded their range in the last 70 years from their native southern Europe and northern Africa into North America as far north as Canada. Up the hill from the Bird Park are the Orchid and Hibiscus Gardens. Coming from the middle of the United States, I had never before seen such beautiful horticultural orchids simply growing outdoors.

KL Orchid Garden

What did I learn from the trip? An appreciation of all the ways palm oil can be used and how important it is as a food source for Africa and Asia--how very diverse the Malaysian people are and how friendly they are--what wonderful food there is in Malaysia. Would I go back? You bet!

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