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Know your onions

Olam SVI’s traditional onion breeding programme has shown remarkable advances in input efficiencies, significant increases in dehydrated product yields, and reductions in energy use and waste.


Olam Spices and Vegetable Ingredients (SVI) supplies dried onion to customers as an ingredient for food preparation. Onions are highly water-intensive crops, requiring large quantities for irrigation in the field. This is especially significant in water-scarce regions such as California, where growers distribute water to permanent crops first such as nut and fruit trees during droughts. Therefore reducing the amount of water needed to produce dehydrated onion products makes business sense. But delivering agricultural sustainability in these conditions requires innovation.

Olam SVI’s Research and Development team (AG R&D) set out to significantly increase the solid content of the onions it grows. It recognised that with selective seed breeding it could deliver onions with more dry matter, leading to input efficiencies throughout the supply chain. If every hectare yielded more onion, land, water and pesticide use could be reduced.


In 2009 Olam SVI established a formal commitment to improve dry matter in its onion variety programme by 1% a year to the year 2016 using traditional plant breeding techniques.

Each year our plant breeders, who have over 100 combined years of experience, sort through millions of onions. They select the best performing material from the existing crop to be used to generate hundreds of hybrid onions, which are then screened to identify varieties with improved solid content.


Olam SVI’s onion breeding programme has shown remarkable advances in input efficiencies and product yields, and reductions in waste products, energy and water. The quality and consistency of onions has also improved through this selective breeding programme, benefitting Olam SVI’s customers.

Between 2009 and 2013 solids content within the onion improved by 4.36%, which has resulted in:

• 7,075,868 m3 water
• 786 m3 diesel saved
• 844 ha less land required

The AG R&D team is working to leverage our expertise in seed breeding, and replicate these successes throughout our global SVI operations. Proven techniques from this programme are now used in breeding garlic and chillies, helping to improve yields, boost disease resistance and reduce acreage in other products.

Please click here to view our Dehydrated Vegetables Sustainability page