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Palm tocotrienols under scope

November 29, 2011 Leave a comment
Malaysia started testing the benefits of palm oil vitamin E on humans, as early as 11 years ago. As the medical fraternity finds more evidence of this potent antioxidant having life-saving attributes, the Malaysian government decided to pump more money into such trials. OOI TEE CHING interviews the lead researchers.

HERE’S an interesting fact about vitamin E. It comes from palm oil and its Western counterparts namely soya, canola and sunflower.

But it is the ones that come from soyaoil and canola, known as tocopherols, that are the most commonly available form of vitamin E in the market. The other half of the vitamin E family is tocotrienols that come from palm oil and they are now beginning to gain recognition as the superior sibling.

Medical evidence shows that tocotrienols possess unique biological characteristics that protect body cells from damage and death. More importantly, early evidence shows that they may possess the warrior-like ability to zealously hunt down and kill cancerous cells.

It is this life-saving prospects from degenerative diseases that prompted the Malaysian government to boost funding for palm oil vitamin E clinical trials.

Performance Management & Delivery Unit’s (Pemandu) director of palm oil National Key Economic Area (NKEA) John Low said palm oil is rich in tocotrienols, with up to 800mg in one kilogramme. 

“This makes palm tocotrienols ideal for medical research. We’re allocating RM20 million to test the benefits of this super vitamin E on humans,” said the senior executive from the Prime Minister’s Department.

Low was speaking to Business Times on the sidelines of the RM20 million grant award ceremony officiated by the Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Tan Sri Bernard Dompok.

The clinical trials, to be carried out in Malaysia, the US and Australia, will determine the effects of tocotrienols on adults facing high risks of stroke, cancer, diabetes and children suffering from attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD).

One of the grant recipients is Chandan Sen, who is professor of surgery at the Ohio State University Medical Center.

For the first time in the US, Sen and his team will embark on human trials after having studied stroke prevention effects of tocotrienols, using animal and cellular models in the last 13 years. So far, the studies have shown that tocotrienols help recovery from stroke by inducing growth of new brain arteries that bypass stroke-affected areas. 

Following these positive results, Sen will embark on a two-year trial, starting 2012 to study the effects of palm tocotrienols on 100 volunteers with high risk of contracting stroke.

At the recent Palm Oil International Congress (Pipoc 2011) held in Kuala Lumpur, Sen attracted a lot of attention when he said tocotrienols are the most potent of all known nutritional ingredients in protecting brain cells.

On the same note, he cautioned that smoking and vitamin E may not go well hand-in- hand. “It is this detrimental combination that we are excluding smokers from the tocotrienol clinical trial,” he said.

With more than 250 publications under his name, Sen is cited more than 900 times a year in scientific literature, particularly in those related to stroke.

While he sees promising prospects in consuming tocotrienols to reduce the risk of stroke, Sen stresses that vitamin supplementation is not meant to be magic bullets that can undo a lifetime of unhealthy habits. >”When consumed properly with a balanced diet of fruits and vegetables, getting adequate exercise and not smoking, palm tocotrienols can play an important role in maintaining and promoting overall brain health,” he says.

Sen’s trials will source tocotrienols from Carotech Bhd, a subsidiary of Ipoh-based Hovid Bhd. Some of the volunteers under the trial will consume Carotech’s self-emulsifying vitamin E softgel capsules named “Tocomin SupraBio”, which are designed for optimal absorption into the body.

Another grant recipient is Dr Fong Chee Wai of Davos Life Science, Singapore. Together with Professor Y.C. Wong of Hong Kong University, they head a team of clinicians to find out if gamma-delta tocotrienols are able to prevent and delay the disease progression in men suffering from metastatic castration refractory prostate cancer (CRPC).

When a patient is diagnosed with CRPC, it is like being served a death sentence. “Current chemotherapy drugs such as Docetaxel have limited effects on prostate cancer stem cells, although they are currently the first-line drug given to patients with advanced prostate cancer,” Wong says. 

But there is hope on the horizon. Animal model studies have shown that gamma-delta tocotrienols can effectively inhibit CRPC growth by targeting both ordinary cancer cells and cancer stem cells.

“With such compelling results from the animal studies, we hope to see similar effects in delaying the progression of CRPC and prolonging survival in the upcoming human trials,” the professor says. 

The two-year trial will involve 50 prostate cancer patients at the Universiti Malaya Medical Centre and Kuala Lumpur General Hospital. Parallel trials at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia will also see participation of another 50 patients.

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KLK’s Q4 profits jump 48pc on asset sale

November 24, 2011 1 comment
This is written by my colleague Rupinder Singh.

KUALA Lumpur Kepong Bhd (KLK) says its fourth-quarter net profit jumped 48 per cent, due mainly to gains from an asset sale and it has bumped up dividends. The plantation group reported a net profit of RM460.6 million for the quarter to September 30 2011, up from RM311 million in the same period last year.

It also announced a dividend of 70 sen per share for the fourth quarter, bringing the total payout for the year to 85 sen. This is better than 60 sen a share paid out in 2010.

“The current quarter’s results were boosted by the non-recurring surplus of RM200.6 million arising from the disposal of an associate, Esterol Sdn Bhd, while last year’s quarter had a writeback of RM76 million on the allowance for diminution in value of investment,” the company told Bursa Malaysia yesterday.

The group said it would be difficult to forecast its profit for the current financial year ending September 2012, given uncertainties in the global market and the effects of the eurozone debt crisis. 

“We are, however, confident that our plantations business fundamentals remain sound based on our commitment to improve efficiencies and productivity. The group anticipates satisfactory returns for the current year,” it said.

For the final quarter, KLK’s plantation sector recorded a slightly lower profit of RM447.5 million from RM454.4 million in the third quarter, due to lower commodity prices.

Meanwhile, the manufacturing sector incurred a loss of RM49.3 million compared with a profit of RM95.5 million in the previous quarter due to the eurozone sovereign debt crisis and weak global macro economic environment.

Its retailing business reported a lower loss of RM2.8 million compared with a RM7.8 million loss in the previous quarter.

For the 12-month period, net profit was up 55 per cent to RM1.57 bilion with improved performance from its plantations and manufacturing divisions.

Its plantation profit jumped 42 per cent to RM1.6 billion, driven by strong selling prices of commodities which had overshadowed the impact of higher production cost, it said.

The manufacturing sector achieved a 40 per cent increase in profit to RM201.9 million despite the loss suffered in the fourth quarter. KLK said the manufacturing division had benefited from added capacities coming onstream as well as a relatively strong business environment in the earlier part of the year.

The group also attributed the improved last quarter to the sale of associates, Esterol and Barry Callebaut Malaysia Sdn Bhd, which generated a total surplus of RM244 million.

Assam Laksa for that extra kick

November 23, 2011 1 comment

Swimming is fun! To go faster, I need to have stronger pulls and kick off from the wall real hard.

A friend suggested I try out kick-boxing. It turns out that Muay Thai can be very draining. But, after a while, I actually feel better. Yay! Stronger bones.

The coach, however, says I need to take in more protein to help muscle repair. I looked back at him. He rolled his eyes to the sky and said, “Assam Laksa … it is low in fat, high in protein and has moderate amount of complex carbohydrates. Remember, eat up your vege … cucumber and pineapple are good for you.”

My thoughts wandered back to that assam laksa meal I had with Mr Tan and Mr Sim at Penang Island early this year when we attended a conference organised by Incorporated Society of Planters. Strangely, at that time, Mr Sim also reminded me to eat up my vegetables.
ASSAM LAKSA

6 fish fillet (mackerels)
8 cups of water
5 pieces of assam keping (peeled tamarind)
Laksa noodles
Spice Paste:
15 dried red chilies
5 fresh red chilies
8 small shallots
1 inch galangal
2 tablespoons belacan (shrimp paste)
1 stalk lemon grass
Tamarind Juice:
a fistful of Tamarind paste and seeds
2 cups of water
Seasonings:
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
2 tablespoons sugar or to taste
Garnishing:
1 cucumber 
1 bunch of mint leaves 
1 bunch of polygonum leaves (daun kesom)
1 bunga kantan/torch ginger flower (cut into small pieces)
1 red onion
1 lettuce 
1 red chilli
1 small pineapple (cut into short strips)
Condiment:
Heh Ko/Prawn Paste
Method:
1. Clean the fish, remove scales and guts. Bring 8 cups of water to boil. Add in the fish and boil for 10 minutes. Transfer the cooked fish out into a bowl and let it cool. Strain the fish stock, add in the peeled tamarind and polygonum leaves. Let it simmer.
2. Separate the fish fillet and discard the bones. Put the fillet back into the stock, cover the lid and lower the heat.
3. Use a food processor to grind the spice paste. Heat up the wok and saute the spice paste in palm cooking oil for 5 minutes or until it smells aromatic. Transfer the spice paste into the boiling stock.
4. Extract the tamarind juice and add into the stock. Strain the tamarind juice and keep the seed. Repeat many times with 1/2 cup of water each time to make sure you extract all the essence from the tamarind. For seasoning, add salt and sugar to taste.
5. In a serving bowl, add in the laksa noodles and garnish with vegetables and pineapple pieces. Pour the fish broth into the bowl and serve immediately with a spoonful of Heh Ko/prawn paste.
Serves 3.

Oil palm sector on alert of bud rot disease threat

November 21, 2011 Leave a comment
KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s oil palm industry is on alert for the bud rot disease that has killed millions of trees in South America. The disease is estimated to have wiped out some 50,000ha of oil palm estates in South America, said planters from Colombia, the world’s fifth largest oil palm producer in the world. 

Although no cure has yet to be found, Malaysian planters should not panic, said Dr Ahmad Kushairi Din, Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) deputy director-general. 

“We’re taking proactive measures from prevention to control, should there be any contamination. Our stringent quarantine controls have always been in place,” he told Business Times on the sidelines of an international seminar held here last Friday.

Malaysia is the world’s second largest palm oil producer and exports from this industry is forecast to hit RM80 billion this year, its second straight record year. The country will soon be sending a team of agronomists to South America to study the disease.

Kushairi, who is also International Society For Oil Palm Breeders president, explained that the bud rot disease is caused by a microbe called phytophthora palmivora. “Based on our initial study carried out more than 10 years ago, we find that the bud rot disease can spread very quickly because this pathogen is able to swim in the water. It thrives in a very humid and cloudy environment,” he said.

MPOB has also signed a research agreement with Cenipalma, the research institute of the Colombian Palm Oil Growers Association.

Colombia, the oil palm hub in South America, has 350,000ha planted with oil palms. It is the fifth largest oil palm country in the world after Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Nigeria.

Jorge Corredor, a Colombian oil palm smallholder attending the seminar, revealed the bud rot disease had wiped out all 3,200ha of his oil palm estates in just two years. 

“We tried sanitation, it didn’t work. Even the replanted Dolly Partons we sourced from Malaysia died. Until today, we have not found the cure,” he said.

Malaysia’s oil palms are affectionately called Dolly Partons by planters because the trees are short and produce very big fruit bunches compared to the original palms brought in from West Africa, a hundred years ago. In the last 50 years, our agronomists have been marrying the Dura and Psifera palms (DXP) to get the Dolly Parton hybrids that bear voluptuous fruit bunches. 

Corredor said the bud rot disease is not just in Colombia as it has spread to Panama, Suriname, Brazil and Ecuador. “So many of our mills have closed down and many people have lost their jobs. My country and your country is situated along the tropical belt of the globe, we share the same weather. I’m telling you, this bud rot disease is a serious threat.”

“I have nothing to gain from talking about what has happened to the oil palm industry in my country. This is something I would not wish upon planters in other countries. This is potentially a global problem,” Corredor said. He thinks that the world could face a shortage of cooking oil if the disease finds it way to Southeast Asia.

KLK eyes more plantations overseas

November 19, 2011 Leave a comment
KUALA LUMPUR: Top 20 heavyweight Kuala Lumpur Kepong Bhd (KLK) is exploring opportunities overseas to grow its oil palm and rubber plantation landbank to 300,000 hectares from over 250,000, currently. Chief executive officer Tan Sri Lee Oi Hian said the company is looking at Africa, South America and southeast Asian countries where it has yet to set foot in. 

“Internal studies have been done. Currently, we are evaluating them,” he told a media briefing here yesterday. Lee said KLK has not set any time frame and is waiting for the right time to make further moves. 

The company has also set a target to increase its fresh fruit bunch (FFB) production by 8 to 10 per cent of the current 3.3 million tonnes, over the next two years. 

This could be achieved based on the age profiles of its existing plantations, the increase in harvested areas and improved productivity through good agricultural practices, he said. To support the growth in FFB production, Lee said, the company plans to build another palm oil mill in East Kalimantan, Indonesia, on top of the three new mills currently under construction. To date, the company has eight palm oil mills in Indonesia.

On the oleochemical division, Lee said KLK has set aside around RM700 million to build oleochemical facilities, including another fatty alcohol plant and research and development facilities, in Malaysia. These are expected to be ready in two years, he added. 

He said KLK’s team of engineers and chemists are formulating a comprehensive product portfolio to take advantage of the rising global demand for oleochemicals. “Malaysia is still a small market for oleochemicals. The key users are overseas and so, it’ll be export-driven,” he said. Currently, the oleochemicals division contribute to 17 per cent of the group’s profits.

On the properties division, KLK planned to have four to five launches in the next eight months within the Sungai Buloh area, he said. –Bernama

IOI Q1 profit falls 48pc to RM258.1m

November 19, 2011 Leave a comment
Kuala Lumpur: IOI Corp Bhd’s first quarter profit ended September 30 plunged 48 per cent to RM258.10 million, despite its plantation business doing better from a year ago.

In its filing to the stock exchange yesterday, IOI explained the lower profit was due mainly to paper loss in foreign exchange contracts and borrowings amounting to RM271.7 million. It also saw lower earnings from its oleochemicals, specialty fats and property development businesses.

IOI’s plantation segment profit jumped 56 per cent to RM557.1 million from RM356.4 million, thanks to 11 per cent more harvest of fresh fruit bunches at higher palm oil prices. 

Average palm oil price realised in the quarter was RM3,149 per tonne, 21 per cent more than RM2,598 per tonne recorded a year ago.

The group’s oleochemical and specialty fats operations, however, saw lower profits of RM33.2 million on slower sales at lower margins. Nevertheless, the group intends to move further downstream. In the next two years, it is investing RM130 million to build a new fatty ester and specialty oleo derivative plant with a capacity of 20,000 tonnes per year, at its Prai Industrial Complex in Penang.

During the quarter, profits from property sales only amounted to RM116.6 million, 31 per cent less than RM168.2 million a year ago.

On its outlook for the current year ending June 2012, IOI said the global economic growth is showing signs of a slowdown. “Though challenging, we remain optimistic on strong plantation earnings,” it added.

Apply for ISPO cert from Jan 2012

November 18, 2011 Leave a comment
KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian oil palm planters in Indonesia, whose estates are mandated to be certified under the Indonesia Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO), can start applying from January 2012.

“This year, we’ve been busy laying down the legal mechanisms for ISPO. Next year, we’ll start enforcing the ISPO,” said Indonesia Palm Oil Commission chairman Rosediana Suharto. 

The ISPO reflects compliance with all existing laws of four ministries namely; Ministry of Agriculture, State Ministry for the Environment, the Minstry of Forestry and the National Land Agency.

“The ISPO is meant to streamline the enforcement channels of various government agencies,” Rosediana told Business Times at the sidelines of the Palm Oil International Congress (Pipoc 2011) here yesterday. Rosediana said oil palm planters have until end-2014 to fully comply with the ISPO. 

Currently, a number of oil palm plantations in Indonesia hold certifications from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Malaysian firms, of which estates are RSPO-certified, do not automatically qualify for ISPO but “they will be given due consideration and accorded flexibility”.

The RSPO was initially hailed as a forum where stakeholders of diverse interests are considered as equal partners. Somehow, over the years, the roundtable of equal duties and rights became lop-sided. The RSPO has tipped in favour of environmental and animal rights activists.

Western green activists and their affiliates in Indonesia reportedly argue that “the ISPO is of lower standards than RSPO” and questioned whether it will be internationally accepted.

In response, Rosediana said, “The word ‘sustainable’ does not belong to any one organisation. The interpretation of the word ‘sustainable’ is not confined to that dictated by RSPO. We’re doing this for our country. We’re doing this for our environment. Unlike some organisations, we’re not doing this for money. There’s no membership fees and we’ll ensure that the auditors comply with government regulations.”