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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 practiced 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 percent of the palm oil produced ends in food products, while the remaining 10 percent 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 rumored to be good for cancer sufferers, brain disease, aging; 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 triangular system at 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.
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 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.
Three varieties of Oil palm are available in Nigeria; namely Dura, Pisifera and Tenera. The preferred variety among palm oil farmers in Nigeria is the hybrid Tenera which is a crossbreed of the Dura (female) and the Pisifera (male). Tenera seedlings are produced by the Nigeria Institute for Oil Palm Research (NIFOR) and commonly referred to as the extension work seeds. In terms of comparison, the fruit of the Tenera variety contains 25% oil, by weight, and the Dura variety 18%, so the same amount of Tenera can yield 30% more oil than the equivalent fruit of the Dura.
This could either be carried out either manually or mechanically with the use of machineries for each process. There are various stages involved in the processing, these include:
· Threshing: which entails removal of the fruits from the bunches.
· Sterilization of bunches: This involves cooking of the fruits. Fruit cooking weakens the pulp structure, softening it and making it easier to detach the fibrous material and its contents during the digestion process.
· Digestion of the fruit: Digestion is the process of releasing the palm oil in the fruit with the aid of a digester.
· Pressing: Extracting the oil, this is achieved either by wet or dry method.
· Clarification of the oil to separate the impurities.
The Nigerian oil palm belt covers twenty-four states, including all nine states of the Niger Delta. The Niger Delta’s 9 states account for about 57% of total Nigerian palm oil production. 80% of production comes from dispersed smallholders who harvest semi-wild plants and use manual processing techniques. Several million smallholders are spread over an estimated area ranging from 1.65 million hectares to 2.4 million hectares and to a maximum of 3 million hectares. The estimate for oil palm plantations in Nigeria ranges from 169,000 hectares (72,000 ha of estate plantations and 97,000 ha of smallholder plantations) to 360,000 hectares of plantations.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Nigeria was a leader in the world palm oil market. The production of palm oil exceeded the domestic consumption and the excess was exported to the world palm oil market. However, during the past decades the country has become an importer of palm oil. While in the early 1960s, Nigeria’s palm oil production accounted for 43% of the world production, nowadays it only accounts for 7% of total global output.
Nigeria is now a net importer of the product. Nigeria produces only 1.3 million metric tons of vegetable oil and imports over 350,000 metric tons of vegetable oil annually, expending an average of the naira equivalent of USD 500 million in foreign exchange.
The oil palm transformation agenda by the Federal government of Nigeria is poised to reposition the Nation to her lost glory as the highest producer of oil palm. An expected 250,000 hectares of land is projected to be under cultivation by 2015. The implementation plan has already seen the distribution of 1,395,000 nuts; capable of establishing 9,300 hectares being made available to 18 oil palm estates at an average of 75,000-82,500 nuts.
World demand for vegetable oils is rising sharply, from 100 million tons in 2005 to an estimated 150 million tons in 2020, as the world population continues to grow and the standards of living increase in many developing countries. The role of oil palm as a supply of relatively inexpensive and versatile edible oil is, therefore, expected to become ever more prominent.
For more information on the palm oil industry and opportunities contact us using firstname.lastname@example.org
 Culled from: http://www.palmoilhq.com/palmoilnews/crisis-after-crisis-only-made-palm-oil-emerge-stronger
 RSPO, “One third of European palm oil could now be labeled ‘sustainable.’” In RSPO News Flush. 25 June 2009. Please contact RSPO EU Communications Helpdesk at email:
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