The oil palm belongs to the plant family called palmea or palm family. On commercial basis, both the oil and the kernel are important. The oil is obtained from the mesocarp and the kernel from the endocarp. The fruit is called a drupe. Oil palm is an oil crop.
The land is cleared and hoe is used to make heaps or ridges. Flat land can be used for growing oil palm. Land can also be prepared mechanically by ploughing, harrowing and ridging.
Varieties/Cultivars: Dura, pisifera and tenera.
- Dura: This variety has a thin mesocarp, thick endocarp (shell) with a large kernel. It is genetically homozygous and represented by DD.
- Pisifera: This variety has a thick mesocarp (i.e. it contains very little oil content), absence of endocarp (no shell) with small kernel. It is genetically homozygous recessive for shell. It is represented by dd.
- Tenera: This variety has a thick mesocarp, thin endocarp with moderate sized kernel. It is a cross between dura and pisifera. It is capable of producing both the oil and the kernel. It is genetically heterozygous and it is represented by Dd.
Climatic and soil requirements: Oil palm requires a temperature of 18°C – 27°C, rainfall of 150cm – 200cm per annum, a deep loamy soil, rich in organic matter, and a slightly acidic soil of pH 4.5 – 6.
Method of Propagation: By seeds.
- Pre-nursery: August – October.
- Nursery: 9 months later.
- Field: March – May (a year after).
Seed rate: 120 – 150 seeds/ha.
Germination of seeds: Seeds are soaked in water for seven days, the water being changed daily. After seven days, the seeds are placed in the shade for 24 hours to dry before being bagged (500 per bag) in polythene bags. They are then sent to the germinator which has a temperature of 39°C (102°F) for 80 days. Soaking then begins again and continues for seven days, the water being changed daily. The seeds are then dried under shade for two hours before being sent to the cooling house. After about two weeks, germination begins. This method produces a germination percentage of 85-90%.
- Seed boxes or trays are filled with top soil, rich in humus.
- The seeds are sown at a spacing of 7.0cm by 7.0cm.
- Shades are provided.
- Watering is done in the morning and evening.
- Mulching should be done.
- Pre-nursery lasts for four to five months before they are transferred to the nursery.
- It requires a level, well-drained, loamy soil.
- The nursery is ploughed and harrowed or polythene bags are used.
- Planting is done early April during which the seedlings are removed with a ball of earth.
- Spacing of 60cm by 60cm is required.
- Watering, weeding and mulching are done.
- It is done after one year of seedlings in the nursery (April – May).
- It is done with a ball of earth on the roots.
- A spacing of 9m by 9m in triangular form is required in a hole of 4.5cm deep on the field.
- The roots are trimmed to encourage the development of new ones.
- Weeding: This should be done regularly, using cutlass or herbicides, e.g ., Gramoxone.
- Fertilizer Application: Apply N.P.K. 15:15:15 fertilizer at the rate of 800kg/ha.
- Cover Crops: This should be planted to prevent erosion, evaporation and to add nutrients.
- Pruning: This should be done regularly.
Maturity Period: This is between three to seven years.
Harvesting: Mature bunches are harvested when the fruits are red or dark red in colour. The bunch is harvested with a cutlass or harvesting knife.
Processing: Oil palm fruit can be processed in two ways:
- Traditional method: The fruits are boiled after which they are pounded in a mortar. The fibres and nuts are removed and the oil is separated from the residue by floatation, after mixing with water. The crude liquid is reboiled and the oil is carefully separated. The oil is later reheated to eliminate any trace of water.
- Modern method: This involves the extraction of oil with machines.The boiled fruits are macerated to separate the oil from the fiber and the kernel. Handscrew press or the hand-hydraulic press is used to press the mixture. The oil is cleansed by allowing the mixture to settle and then boiled after the sludge and water have been removed. The oil is reheated to remove any traces of water storage. The palm oil is stored in aluminium or large plastic containers, drum, tankers tins or bottles while the kernels, are cracked, dried and stored either for local consumption or for export.
Grades of Palm oil
Palm oil is graded into three major categories based on the quantity of free fatty acids (FFA) present in the oil.
The three major grades are:
- Soft oil – It has low free fatty acid (FFA).
- Hard oil – It has high free fatty acid FFA).
- Special oil – It has very low free fatty acid (FFA).
Pests of Oil Palm
1) Rodents: Rodents like rats, squirrel, bush rats dig up and eat the seeds in the pre- nursery stage.
- Use wire mesh to surround the nursery beds.
Diseases of Oil Palm
1) Blast Disease: It is caused by a fungus which is spread within the soil.
Symptoms: include yellow-coloured leaves with some brown patches on the leaves of seedling in nursery. It may lead to the death of the seedlings.
- Regular watering and mulching of the nursery beds.
- Spray at regular intervals with captan.
2) Anthracnose: It is also caused by a fungus.
Symptoms: of the disease include black and brown patches on the surfaces of leaves in pre-nursery.
- Ensure adequate spacing within the pre-nursery.
- Spray with captan or perenox.
3) Freckle disease: It is caused by a fungus which can be spread by wind or air. It may develop in pre-nursery and later spread to nursery and the field, when it is not properly controlled.
Affected plants develop brown spots on the leaves.
- Remove infected plant.
- Spray with captan.
4) Galadima disease: It is caused by a bacterium which is spread within the soil. Symptoms include rapid wilting and death of the entire plant.
- Avoid infested soil.
- Practise crop rotation, especially in pre-nursery and nursery stages.