Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Varieties, challenges of oil palm cultivation in Nigeria

Oil palm is predominantly grown in the eastern and southern parts of the country and is produced mainly by smallholder farmers.

• January 24, 2024
Oil palm plantation used to illustrate the story
Oil palm plantation used to illustrate the story [Photo credit: Palm Done Right]

Palm oil is the most consumed type of vegetable oil in the world. Due to the widespread industrial use of this product, a crucial ingredient of packaged foods, cosmetics and cleaning products, Nigeria has a high demand for it. In the early 1960s, the country was the largest palm oil producer globally, contributing almost half of the world’s production. 

However, the palm oil farming market is currently dominated by Southeast Asian countries: Indonesia and Malaysia. Nigeria ranks fifth with less than two per cent of the market. Oil palm is predominantly grown in the eastern and southern parts of the country and is produced mainly by smallholder farmers.

Farmers use traditional farming methods, which are only sometimes effective. Modernization of Nigeria’s agriculture is a must. Otherwise, local production will continue to fail to meet consumer needs.

The government and private sector are trying to revitalize the industry. They create tax incentives, increase investment and promote agricultural technologies to improve productivity and efficiency. 

Growing oil palm in Nigeria

The largest palm oil-producing states in Nigeria are Ondo, Edo and Delta. Palm oil plantations around the globe prefer a humid climate and temperatures ranging from 21 to 33°C. This tropical crop needs a lot of sunlight to develop properly. This crop also consumes a lot of water. 

Most types of soil are suitable for oil palm cultivation. When growing this crop, it thrives in loamy soil that has a depth of at least 1 meter to enable root expansion. Proper drainage, abundant humus and organic matter are also crucial. 

Soil pH levels of 4.0 to 7.0 is ideal for oil palm growth. Use limestone or dolomite to increase pH if the soil is too acidic. Avoid using alkaline soil for growing oil palms.

In Nigeria, most oil palm farmers rely on rain. It reduces the yield potential of oil palms, as one mature palm can require up to 50 litres of water per day. Drip or sprinkler irrigation is recommended. Drips are placed near the roots. Sprinklers can help to create a preferable microclimate around the palms. Furrow irrigation is the least preferred form because it can lead to palm root rot.

Palm oil tree farming involves multiple plantings and replanting. Seeds are sown and left for three months for proper germination. They are then transplanted into containers for 4–5 months until a forked leaf is visible. The seedlings spend around a year in the nursery. Once they develop 15 green leaves, they are ready to be planted.

Ball-of-Earth is the best transplanting method. Transplanting should be started at 10–12 months old, when the rains begin, and finish two months before they stop.

Oil palm plantation requires large amounts of nutrients for optimal development. The list of necessary macroelements for this crop includes:

  • nitrogen
  • potassium
  • phosphorus
  • calcium
  • magnesium

Oil palm requires various micronutrients, including molybdenum, sulfur, boron, etc. Adding 50-100 kg of well-rotted manure to each planting hole and 400–450 grams of superphosphate fertilizer to each planting hole is recommended. The substances should be added to the palm crop soil four times a year for hand fertilization.

Fertigation is an alternative method to apply soluble fertilizers to oil palms. This method involves introducing soluble fertilizers into the root zone of the oil palm.

The main threats to the palm crop include rats, leaf-eating insects, rhinoceros beetles, and stem rot. To prevent pests and diseases from damaging the plantation, follow these steps:

– Maintain a healthy cover of soft weeds or legume plants.

– Keep the plantation clean by removing rotting palm trunks.

– Preserve snakes and other predators to control rat populations.

– Ensure good access to the palms and identify outbreaks of pests and diseases early.

Growers should apply pesticides only when necessary, always wearing fully protective clothing.

Varieties of oil palm in Nigeria

  • The Nigerian oil palm is a drought-tolerant variety, but not resistant to pests and diseases. This palm tree takes 6–8 years to begin bearing fruit.
  • Tenera is a hybrid oil seed variety obtained by crossing the Pisifera and Dura varieties.
  • The Pisifera variety is distinguished by its thick shell. These palms are short in stature and have proven high yields. There are few palm trees of this variety in Nigeria.
  • Dura is a shellless variety that is still suitable for oil production. It’s not a commonly planted type of crop in Nigeria. 

Limitations to oil palm growth in Nigeria

There is a range of obstacles to the development of palm tree farming. Access to planting materials and fertilizers is limited, and the delivery of these resources does not always occur on time. Verification of those farmers who need subsidized inputs is also not always carried out correctly. Access to information is also limited, and levels of commercialization still need to be higher. There are also several problems in the area of ownership and long-term lease of land, which leads to a decrease in the efficiency of investments.

Tropical forest ecosystems are under threat due to the expansion of plantations. In this regard, it is necessary to implement sustainable practices to increase the productivity of existing plantations and reduce the negative impact of oil production on the environment.

The federal and state governments are implementing programs to revive the palm oil sector. These programs include policies for developing oil palm plantations by private investors, focusing on including smallholders. One such example is the land concession policy of the Edo and Ondo State governments.

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