The Oil palm is as old as creation. Every part of the tree is useful economically and for domestic purposes. It is generally agreed that the Oil Palm (Elaeis guineensis) originated in the tropical rain forest region of West Africa. The main belt runs through the southern latitudes of Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Togo and into the equatorial region of Angola and the Congo. Processing oil palm fruits for edible oil has been practised in Africa for thousands of years, and the oil produced, highly coloured and flavoured, is an essential ingredient in much of the traditional West African cuisine. The traditional process is simple, but tedious and inefficient Mature palms are single-stemmed, and grow to 20 m tall. The leaves are pinnate and reach between 3-5 m long. In Nigeria, it is cultivated in the South East Zone and the Niger Delta areas.
Oil palm is also an essential food item. About 90 per-cent of the palm oil produced ends in food products, while the remaining 10 per-cent is used for industrial production As a result of its many uses demand is growing fast as the world’s population increases and standards of living rise.
Production of palm oil is more sustainable than other vegetable oils. It consumes considerably less energy in production, uses less land and generates more oil per hectare than other leading vegetable oils — rapeseed, Europe’s leading oil, or soybeans.
Palm oil is used for preventing vitamin A deficiency and is rumoured to be good for cancer sufferers, brain disease, ageing; and treating malaria, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and cyanide poisoning.
Palm oil is used for weight loss and increasing the body’s metabolism. As food, palm oil is used for cooking and frying. Industrially, palm oil is used for manufacturing cosmetics, soaps, toothpaste, waxes, lubricants, and ink
Palm oil can be used to produce biodiesel, which is also known as Palm Oil Methyl Ester.
Oil palm is a typical crop of the rainy tropical lowlands. The tree requires a deep soil, a relatively stable high temperature and continuous moisture throughout the year. Soil fertility is less important than physical soil properties. The plants are raised in Nurseries where proper care is given to the seedlings. The seedlings spend 1 year in the nursery before been transplanted to the field. Oil palm is planted in the main field in the triangular system at a spacing of 9 m accommodating 140 palms per ha. Planting is preferably done at the onset of rainfall during May-June. First harvest can be taken 3.5 to 4 years after planting
After field establishment, various managements are required before it starts fruiting.
· Putting wires around the seedlings to prevent rodents attack.
· Trimming the plant; cutting the dry leaves close to the trunk.
· Regular weeding
· Applying fertilizer at the recommended rate.
Pest and diseases
The major pest of oil palm includes Rhinoceros beetle, Red palm weevil, Mealy Bug, Nettle Caterpillar, Aphids, and Termites etc. Other pests include soil nematodes (e.g. Aphelenchus avenae, Helicotylenchus spp., Meloidogyne spp.) which damage roots; and rodents which can eat seedlings and fruit.
Oil palm diseases include Blasts, Freckle (Cercospora elaeidis), Anthracnose, Seedling Blight (Curvularia eragrostidis), Yellow Patch and Vascular Wilt (Fusarium oxysporum), Basal Trunk Rot; Crown disease and Fruit Rot (Marasmius palmivorus). Spear (bud) Rot is caused by the bacterium Erwinia spp., which has been devastating in Central Africa.
Harvesting needs much time and much care because only those fruit clusters which are cut at the right moment yield a lot of good-quality oil. A cluster is ripe for harvesting when the fruits begin to turn red, and when 5 or 6 fruits drop to the ground. Tools such as chisel, machete, and sickle are used for the harvest depending on the age of the plant.
Inadequate capital: One of the initial challenges to the production of oil palm has to do with the initial capital outlay that is required in setting up the farm. This can be addressed, in the wake of a good government credit facility to spur the interest of an individual who wants to engage in the cultivation of oil palm.
Limited access to land: Growing the crops on a commercial basis requires large expanse of land which might be difficult to acquire due to the land tenure system in operation in the country.
Proliferation of Adulterated Seeds and Seedlings: The Nigerian Institute for Oil Palm Research (NIFOR) is the only research institute with the mandate to carry out research, develop and produce sprouted oil palm seeds and seedlings in Nigeria. Smallholder farmers expressed difficulty in accessing sprouted seeds and seedlings from NIFOR. Over the years, the absence of regulation on the marketing of sprouted seeds and seedlings has created the opportunity for the informal sales of adulterated, low-yield sprouted seeds and seedlings at lower prices to the detriment of unsuspecting farmers.
Lack of Proper Scaling of Milling Technology: The lack of proper scaling of locally fabricated milling technology adversely affects the extraction rate and volume of palm oil production. Most of the available mini-processing mills are fabricated locally by local artisans without proper scaling, which results in high level of palm oil waste or low oil extraction rate.