The Oil Palm

New pest detector will protect small farmers of palm oil

Researchers led by Professor Richard Cooper at the University of Bath have developed a new technique to detect a strain of a fungal disease – called Fusarium oxysporum – which is specific to oil palms and which has had a devastating effect on yields.

Using a technique known as genetic fingerprinting, these scholars have pinpointed the specific strain that causes the disease in oil palm trees. As a result, they have been able to screen seeds, destroying those infected before they are exported and used in the field.

As Professor Cooper has said, such diseases represent a major threat to the livelihoods of growers and it is fundamental that everything is done to address reductions in yields of oil palm as it continues to play an important developmental role by helping to lift “many small growers out of poverty”.

The screening process for fungal diseases still needs to be refined in order to make it accessible and easy to use outside controlled environments. One only hopes that this breakthrough happens sooner rather than later. Any contribution to enhancing durable and sustainable solutions that help address global food security must not be delayed especially as close to 1 billion individuals around the world continue to struggle to get enough to eat.