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Oil Palm

 Oil Palm - Elaeis guineensis


The African oil palm, Elaeis guineensis Jacq., is placed in the Arecaceae family along with coconut and date palms. Cultivars There are three naturally occurring forms of the oil palm fruit, termed dura, tenera, and pisifera. Most cultivars are the tenera form which produces fruit with higher oil content.


The African oil palm is native to tropical Africa, from Sierra Leone in the west through the Democratic Republic of Congo in the east. It was domesticated in its native range, probably in Nigeria, and moved throughout tropical Africa by humans who practiced shifting agriculture at least 5000 years ago. European explorers discovered the palm in the late 1400's, and distributed it throughout the world during the slave trade period. In the early 1800s, the slave trade ended but British began trading with west Africans in ivory, lumber, and palm oil. The oil palm was introduced to the Americas hundreds of years ago, where it became naturalized and associated with slave plantations, but did not become and industry of its own until the 1960s. The first plantations were established on Sumatra in 1911, and in 1917 in Malaysia. Oil palm plantations were established in tropical America and west Africa about this time, and in 2003, palm oil production equaled that of soybean, which had been the number one oil crop for many years.


World (2004 FAO) - 153,578,600 MT or 338 billion pounds. This is about twice the level of production of any other fruit crop, making oil palm by far the world's number one fruit crop. Oil palm is produced in 42 countries worldwide on about 27 million acres. Average yields are 10,000 lbs/acre, and per acre yield of oil from African oil palm is more than 4-fold that of any other oil crop, which has contributed to the vast expansion of the industry over the last few decades.

Top 10 Countries(% of world production)

1. Malaysia (44%)
6. Cote d'Ivoire (1%)
2. Indonesia (36%)
7. Ecuador (1%)
3. Nigeria (6%)
8. Cameroon (1%)
4. Thailand (3%)
9. Congo (1%)
5. Colombia (2%)
10. Ghana (1%)United States


Plant Oil palm can reach 60-80 ft in height in nature, but is rarely more than 20 or 30 ft in cultivation. Leaf bases are persistent for years, and prominent leaf scars are arranged spirally on the trunk of mature palms where bases have fallen. Leaves are up to 25 ft in length, with leaflets numbering 200-300 per leaf, about 3-4 ft long and 1.5 - 2.0" wide, with entire margins. Leaflets cover the distal 2/3 of the leaf, and the lower 1/3 is spined with spines increasing in length acropetally. Flowers Oil palms are monoecious, producing male and female inflorescences in leaf axils. The inflorescence of both sexes is a compound spadix with 100-200 branches, initially enclosed in a spathe or bract that splits 2 weeks prior to anthesis.

Male (left) and female (right) inflorescences of oil palm. Both are a compound spadix. Note the beetle pollinators foraging on the male flowers at the tips of the spadix branches.
Pollination Oil palms are primarily insect pollinated by various insects: in Africa, weevils (Elaeidobius spp), in Latin America, Mystrops costaricensis and Elaeidobius spp.Fruit As in many palms, fruits are drupes. The mesocarp and endocarp vary in thickness, with dura types having thick endocarps and less mesocarp, and tenera types the opposite. The exocarp color is green changing to orange at maturity in virescens types, and orange with brown or black cheek colors in the nigrescens types.

Climate - hot, wet tropical lowlands, major production regions receive at least 6 ft of rain per year, evenly distributed, with at least 4" per month if a short dry season exists; optimal temperatures are in the 80s-90s °F, with temperatures below 75°F slowing growth; 5-7 hr of direct sunlight per day is beneficial.Propagation Oil palm is propagated by seed, using F1 hybrid seed from controlled crosses that produce tenera types (dura x pisifera). Seed is produced by companies specializing in oil palm breeding.

An oil palm planting where older trees have been killed to make way for younger, smaller trees (left). Pregerminated oil palm seeds are sold by companies that specialize in hybrid seed production (right).Rootstocks - NonePlanting Design, Training, PruningOptimal plant density is 58 trees/acre with triangular patterns about 30 ft apart. During the first 3 years, little or no fruit is obtained and plantations are often intercropped with staple crops.Pruning and Training - none, old leaves are pruned off to facilitate access to the bunch at harvest. When palms reach heights of 20-30 ft, they become difficult to harvest, and are often injected with an herbicide to kill them or bulldozed down. New trees are planted among the dead and rotting trunks.


Maturity As fruit ripen, they change from black (or green in virescens types) to orange, but have varying degrees of black cheek color depending on light exposure and cultivar. However, fruit abscission is the best index of bunch ripeness. Harvest Method Fruit bunches are harvested using chisels or hooked knives attached to long poles. Each tree must be visited every 10-15 days as bunches ripen throughout the year.Postharvest Handling Oil extraction is a complex process, carried out by large mills that may process up to 60 tons of fruit per hour, or by small scale mills in rural villages that produce only about 1 ton of oil in an 8 hour shift.


FFB Processing

For mature plantations not exceeding 40 ha, a hand-operated hydraulic press will be enough for extraction of oil. In the case of large-scale plantations, the hydraulic press will not be economical and as such, mechanically driven oil mills have to be established. The fruit bunches brought to the factory are first quartered by means of a chisel. They are then sterilized in steam or boiling water for 30-60 minutes. The objective of this process is to inactivate the fat splitting enzymes, which are present in the fruit, which may raise the free fatty acid content of the oil and also to soften the fruits for easy pounding. The sterilized fruits are stripped off from the bunch and then pounded. The pounded fruit mass is then reheated and squeezed using a hydraulic press. It is then boiled in a clarification drum where the sludge will deposit and pure oil float over the water. The oil is then drained out.






Oil Palm Physiology

Palm oils consist mainly of glycerides and, like other oils in their crude form, small and variable portions of non-glyceride components as well. In order to render the oils to an edible form, some of these non-glycerides need to be either removed or reduced to acceptable levels.
In term of solubility study – glycerides are of two broad types: oil insoluble and oil soluble. The insoluble impurities consisting of fruit fibres, nut shells and free moisture mainly, are readily removed. The oil soluble non-glycerides which include free fatty acids, phospholipids, trace metals, carotenoids, tocopherols or tocotrienols, oxidation products and sterols are more difficult to remove and thus, the oil needs to undergo various stages of refining.
Not all of the above non-glyceride components are undesirable. The tocopherols and tocotrienols not only help to protect the oil from oxidation, which is detrimental to flavour and keep ability of the finished oil, but also have nutritional attributes, a- and b-carotene, the major constituents of carotenoids, are precursors of vitamin A. The other impurities generally are detrimental to the oil’s flavour, odour, colour and keep ability and thus influence the oil’s usefulness.
The aim of refining is therefore to convert the crude oil to quality edible oil by removing objectionable impurities to the desired levels in the most efficient manner. This also means that, where possible, losses in the desirable component are kept minimal

The raw material which is used by physical plant is crude palm oil (CPO) from the CPO storage tank. CPO is feed at the flow rate about 35-60 tons/hour. The initial temperature of CPO is at 40 – 60°C. The feed is pumped through the heat recovery system, that is plate heat exchanger to increase the temperature around 60 – 90°C.
After that, there is about 20% of the CPO feed to into the slurry and mix with the bleaching earth (6 – 12kg/ton CPO) to form slurry (CPO + Bleaching earth). The agitator inside the slurry tank will mixed the CPO and bleaching earth completely. Then, the slurry will go into the bleacher.
At the same time, another 80% of the CPO is pumped through another plate heat exchanger (PHE) and steam heater to increase the CPO temperature to 90 – 130°C (it is a desired temperature for the reaction between CPO and phosphoric acid). Then, the CPO feed is pumped to static mixers and the phosphoric acid is dosed at 0.35 – 0.45 kg/ton. Inside there, the intensive mixing is carried out with the crude oil for precipitation up the gums. The precipitation of gums will ease the later filtration process, avoid the scale formation in deodorizer and heating surface. The degumming CPO then will go into bleacher.
In the bleacher, there are 20% slurry and 80% degummed CPO will mix together and the bleaching process occur. The practice of bleaching involves the addition of bleaching earth to remove any undesirable impurities (all pigments, trace metals, oxidation products) from CPO and this improves the initial taste, final flavor and oxidative stability of product. It also helps to overcome problems in subsequent processing by adsorption of soap traces, pro-oxidant metal ions, decomposes peroxides, colour reduction, and adsorbs other minor impurities. The temperature inside the bleacher must be around 100°C – 130°C to get the optimum bleaching process for 30 minutes of bleaching period. The low pressure steam is purged into bleacher to agitate the concentrated slurry for a better bleaching condition.
The slurry containing the oil and bleaching earth is then passed through the Niagara filter to give a clean, free from bleaching earth particles oil. The temperature must be maintain at around 80 – 120°C for good filtration process. In the Niagara filter, the slurry passes through the filter leaves and the bleaching earth is trapped on the filter leaves. Actually, the bleaching earth must be clear from Niagara filter after45minutes in operation to get a good filtration. Bleached palm oil (BPO) from Niagara filter is then pumped into buffer tank as a temporary storage before further processing.
Usually, a second check filter, trap filter is used in series with the Niagara filter to double ensure that no bleaching earth slips occur. The presence of bleaching earth fouls deodorizer, reduces the oxidative stability of the product oil and acts as a catalyst for dimerizaition and polymerization activities. So, the “blue test” is carried out for each batch of filtration to ensure the perfect filtration process. This test indicates whether any leaking is occurring in Niagara filter or trap filter. Hence, any corrective actions can be taken intermediately.
The BPO comes out from the filter and passes through another series of heat recovery system, Schmidt plate heat exchanger and spiral (thermal oil: 250 – 305°C) heat exchanger to heat up the BPO from 80 – 120°C until 210 – 250°C.
The hot BPO from spiral heat exchanger then proceeds to the next stage where the free fatty acid content and the color are further reduced and more important, it is deodorized to produce a product which is stable and bland in flavor.
In the pre-stripping and deodorizing column, deacidification and deodorization process happen concurently. Deodorization is a high temperature, high vacuum and steam distillation process. A deodorizer operates in the following manner: (1) dearates the oil, (2) heat up the oil, (3) steam strips the oil and (4)cools the oil before it leaves the system. All materials if contact are stainless steel.
In the column, the oil is generally heated to approximately 240 – 280°C under vacuum. A vacuum of less than 10 torr is usually maintained by the use of ejectors and boosters. Heat bleaching of the oil occurs at this temperature through the thermal destruction of the carotenoid pigments. The use of direct steam ensures readily removal of residue free fatty acids, aldehydes and ketones which are responsible for unacceptable odor and flavors. The lower molecular weight of vaporized fatty acids rises up the column and pulls out by the vacuum system. The fatty acid vapor leaving the deodorizer are condensed and collected in the fatty acid condenser as fatty acid. The fatty acids then is cooled in the fatty acid cooler and discharged to the fatty acid storage tank with temperature around 60 – 80°C as palm fatty acid distillate (PFAD), a by-product from refinery process.
The bottom product of the pre-stripper and deodorizer is Refined, Bleached, Deodorized Palm Oil (RBDPO). The hot RBDPO (250 – 280°C) is pumped through Schmidt PHE to transfer its heat to incoming BPO with lower temperature. Then, it passes through another trap filters to have the final oil polishing (120 – 140°C) to prevent the earth traces from reaching the product tank. After that, the RBDPO will pass through the RBDPO cooler and plate heat exchanger to transfer the heat to the CPO feed. The RBDPO then is pumped to the storage with temperature 50 – 80°C.

Seeds of Oil Palm

A modern oil palm plantation needs a grower who has learned how to cultivate oil palms.
Growing selected oil palms is not just a matter of picking the fruit; it is a modern crop.The grower must learn how to do his work well.The grower should ask for advice, so that he learns to do better and better.
The grower must think about his work and plan it, so that he can always do his work at the right time.Selected oil palms give the grower much more work than the natural trees, but they yield much more.
An oil palm grower is a modern farmer.With the money he earns he can buy for his family what they need, and he can modernize his farm.

An oil palm begins to produce 3 or 4 years after it has been planted.During that time the grower must spend money and work hard, without harvesting any fruit or earning any money.
To make a modern oil palm plantation takes money.
Most often you will have to pay workmen for clearing the site of the plantation and removing tree stumps.
Then you must buy seedlings and fertilizers.Unless you apply fertilizers to the oil palms when they are still young, they will not grow well and you will have to wait a longer time before you can begin to harvest.
You may also have to pay workers to help you look after the young plantation. Weeds must not be allowed to get in the way of the oil palms, and the trees must be protected from damage by rats and agoutis.
All this work takes a lot of time, and this means that you may not have enough time to look after large fields of food crops.You may have to buy food for your family.Before you start an oil palm plantation, you must calculate carefully whether you will be able to pay all these expenses.
To grow oil palms takes a lot of work.
Before planting your oil palms, you have to clear the forest and remove the tree stumps.Then it takes a lot of time to sow the cover crop, dig holes in the plantation, take the seedlings out of the nursery, carry them to the plantation and plant them.
All this work needs to be carefully done; you must take your time.Never hurry if you want to be successful with your plantation.
Once the oil palms are planted, you must put wire netting around the young trees, you must spread fertilizer and keep watch over the plantation.Young oil palms need a lot of care. It is better to make a smaller plantation, but look after it carefully.
Once the oil palms have begun to produce, the fruit must be harvested at the right moment.If you cannot pick the fruit at the right moment, it becomes too ripe, many clusters will drop and the quality of the fruit will be less good.
4. To grow oil palms takes much time and much care.
Do not try to cultivate too large an area, or the work will be badly done.It is better to cultivate a small plantation and to do the work well.A small plantation that is well looked after can yield more than a large plantation that is badly looked after.

The oil palm may have a very long life.
It is important to know about the life of the oil palm.If you know all about the life of the oil palm, you will understand better how to cultivate them.If you do not take care of the seeds, they will germinate only after several years.At the research stations, the seeds are kept in a room where it is always very hot.This makes the seeds germinate sooner, after 90 to 100 days.
Each seed germinated is planted in a small plastic container.A new leaf grows every month.The young seedling stays in the container for 4 to 5 months.When you see a left with two points (bifid leaf) coming up, transplant the seedling out into the nursery.
The seedling stays in the nursery for 1 year. When it has about 15 green leaves, it is planted in the palm grove.The seedling is therefore 16 to 18 months old when it is ready to be planted in the palm grove.
When the young oil palm has been planted in the palm grove, it produces male flowers.The flowers form at the base of each leaf.For several months, the oil palm produces only male flowers.After that, for several months, it produces only female flowers.
The male flowers are grouped in spikes.The female flowers form other spikes.The male flowers fertilize the female flowers.Fertilized female flowers turn into a cluster of fruit.
The oil palm has no branches.
It has a trunk and leaves. The trunk, sometimes called a stipe, is the stem of the palm.At the tip of the stem there is one bud - one only:This is the growing point, which makes the oil palm live and grow.
If the growing point dies, the tree dies as well.
The growing point of the adult oil palm produces 20 to 25 leaves every year.It is most important that the growing point should produce many leaves, because there will be a flower at the base of each leaf.If there are many leaves, there will be many flowers. And if there are many flowers, there will be many clusters of fruit.
The oil palm grows well and produces a lot in regions where it is very hot, where the sun is very strong, and where it rains a great deal.

The clusters consist of spikelets.
The spikelets contain the fruit.Before getting the oil out of the fruit, the fruit must be separated from the spikelets.
The fruits of the oil palm consist of the following parts:Pulp: the pulp is yellow; when the pulp is crushed it yields palm oil.Seed: inside the shell of the seed is the kernel; when the kernel is crushed, it yields palm kernel oil.The kernel also contains the germ.
The fruits of all oil palms are not the same.
They are not all of the same size.
The pulp is not equally thick in all of them.
The shell is not equally thick.
Some kernels have no shell at all.
There are different varieties of oil palm:
dura palms have kernels with a thick shell;
pisifera palms have kernels with no shell;
tenera palms have kernels with a thin shell.
When oil palms bear many and large fruit clusters, they yield a lot of oil.
But to get a lot of oil, each fruit must also contain a lot of pulp, a shell that is not very thick, and a big kernel.
Research stations have developed varieties of oil palm which produce many large clusters with fruits that have a lot of pulp, a thin shell and a big kernel.These are selected oil palms.
In order to get a lot of oil, the female flowers of a dura palm are fertilized with the pollen from a pisifera palm.Once they are fertilized, the female flowers turn into fruits.These fruits are of the tenera variety.
The fruits of the tenera palm have a lot of pulp, a thin shell and a big kernel.

In traditional farming, nobody cultivates oil palms.
People simply pick the clusters of fruit from the oil palms that grow in the forest.
But these oil palms produce little.The oil is extracted by traditional methods, and a lot of oil is left in the pulp and the kernel.But nowadays oil palms are grown on modem plantations.These contain selected oil palms with big yields.The clusters of fruit are sold to mills which extract all the oil from the pulp and the kernels.
These oil palm plantations bring in money
for the growers who sell the fruit,
for the workers who work in the mills,
for the government which can sell the oil to foreign countries.
The growers can also earn money by raising beef cattle.Beef cattle can be fed with the green fodder from the cover crop grown in the palm groves.The grower can also feed his cattle with palm-kernel oil cake, that is, what is left over after extraction of the palm kernel oil.Palm-kernel oil cake is a protein-rich food.

Oil palms are cultivated in the regions where they grow well and where there are oil mills.
To repary the grower the oil palm needs a region:
Where it is hot all the year roundThe oil palm grows well where it is hot all the year round: between 25 and 28 degrees C.If the temperature drops, the oil palm produces fewer leaves and is more often attacked by diseases. It therefore yields less.A hot temperature enables the oil palm to make many leaves and to produce many clusters of fruit.
A lot of sunshineWhere there is a lot of sunshine, there will be strong photosynthesis, provided the oil palm is in soil which gives it water and mineral salts.The leaves grow large, the fruit ripens well, and there is more oil in the fruits.
Plentiful rainIf it does not rain much, or if it does not rain for several months, the leaves do not grow well.If there are few new leaves, there are few flowers and few clusters of fruit.There is less yield.
Where the soil is flat, deep, permeable and rich.
The oil palm needs a flat soil.If the soil is not flat, transport is difficult and costs a lot.Erosion is severe; the water carries away the earth.
The oil palm needs a deep soil.The roots of the oil palm cannot develop il they meet a hard layer.They cannot take up water and mineral salts that are deep down.If the oil palm does not have enough water, yields are low.
The oil palm needs a permeable soil.The oil palm does not grow well if water remains around its roots for too long.
The oil palm needs a rich soil.In order to produce many large clusters of fruit, the oil palm needs a lot of mineral salts.If the soil is poor, mineral salts can be added by applying fertilizers.
Where there are oil mills.
With traditional methods, a lot of oil is left in the pulp and the kernels.The machines of the oil mills extract all the oil contained in the pulp and the kernels.
Selected oil palms produce many clusters of fruit.To get all the oil out of these clusters yourself, you would have to spend a lot of time.Before planting selected oil palms, make sure you can sell the fruit clusters to a mill.
Where business companies or extension services can give the grower advice.
It takes much money and work to make an oil palm plantation.The grower must use modern methods in order to pay for his expenses and earn money. He will need advice on:

Palm Nursery

Nursery practices

The fruits are separated from the bunch and seeds are extracted by scraping off the exocarp and mesocarp with a knife, or by retting in water. The seeds are then dried by spreading them on concrete or wooden floors under shade for two days. Such seeds can be stored for 3-9 months at about 27 ºC without much reduction in viability.Seeds are soaked in water for five days, changing the water daily. Thereafter, the seeds are spread out to dry for 24 hours. The dried seeds are put in polythene bags and placed in germinator maintained at a temperature of 40 ºC. After 80 days, the seeds are removed from polythene bags, soaked in water for 5 days changing the water daily and dried in the shade for two hours. The seeds are then put back into bags and kept in a cool place in order to maintain the moisture content. Germination commences in about 10-12 days. The percentage of germination obtainable by this method is 90-95.

Raising nursery

Polybags (preferably black) of 400-500 gauge measuring 40 x 35 cm are used. The bags are filled with topsoil and compost and are arranged at a spacing of 45 x 45 cm and one sprouted seed is dibbled per bag. A good mulching during summer is desirable. Watering the seedlings weekly thrice is recommended. A fertilizer mixture containing 15 g N, 15 g P2O5 and 6 g K2O at the rate of 8 g in five litres of water for 100 seedlings may be applied when the seedlings are two month and eight month old.


Nursery bed is the name for the strip of soil where the oil palm seedlings are planted.It is best to make the nursery on flat ground.But, if the ground slopes, the beds must lie across the slope.The beds should be 45 metres long and 3.5 metres wide.The soil of the beds should be well worked to make it quite flat.After that, apply a dressing of fertilizer. For instance, at La Mé, Ivory Coast, 250 kilogrammes of 10:10:20 fertilizer are applied per hectare.


In certain regions shelter has to be put up over the nursery.This protects the young seedlings from a disease called blast.
These shelters are made with posts and bamboo sticks.To make the shelters more solid, put two posts together.The posts should be 2.5 metres high. The bamboo sticks are tied to the posts with lianas.

Finally, put palm fronds over the bamboo sticks.In Benin, shade for the young oil palms is provided by planting castor-oil plants in the nursery.
If you make a shelter, you need not mulch, but you must hoe very often.Get rid of all the weeds, and always keep the soil loose.

Three months after transplanting, if the seedlings have grown well, apply monthly to each plant 15 to 20 grammes of a mixture of ammonium sulfate and potassium chloride.Spread the fertilizer mixture in a ring 10 centimetres from the seedling and water.Hoe to work the fertilizer into the ground.

The seedlings stay in the nursery for about 1 year.You must plan, therefore, to make the nursery about 1 year before you want to plant your palm grove.

ABNORMAL PLANTS (3 Month In Nursery Palm Oil)





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