OIL PALM CULTIVATION

The oil palm cultivation in Pakistan will not only beautify the barren coastal area, but also reduce considerable amount of foreign exchange

By Dr. S.M. ALAM & Dr. M.H. NAQVI, NIA, Tandojam.
Mar 03 - 09, 2003

The oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) is an important plant for obtaining edible oil for human consumption and manufacturing varieties of other consumable materials. The oil palm crop grows under the tropical condition that is hot and humid. The crop needs lot of sun shine and rainfall uniformity ideal condition for cultivation of this crop exist 10-15 degrees, north and south of the Equator. It can grow up to 50 feet in high rainfall areas. More decorative and suitable for a garden when young. If well looked after, will produce large primate leaves in abundance. Seeds germinate poorly. It is better to buy good seedlings, if they are available. For planting in avenues, a spacing of 25 feet is sufficient. It is a native plant of coastal belt of west Africa. Now, its cultivation has been widely spread in many parts of the world. Malaysia is the main country in the world, where oil palm trees are extensively grown. This country is also a main exporter of palm oil in the world.

The oil palm cultivation in Pakistan will not only beautify the barren coastal area and minimize the environmental pollution, but also reduce considerable amount of foreign exchange spent on importing edible oil. There are good prospects for the cultivation of oil palm in the coastal belt of Sindh and Balochistan, where climatic conditions are absolutely favourable for the cultivation of oil palm. Now the chances of bringing millions of acres land, along the coastal area from Karachi (Sindh) lying barren desert and unused are bright and suitable for cultivation of oil palm seedlings. The area is handicapped by lack of water and subject to extreme heat. The area is least influenced by summer monsoons. The annual rainfall may be as low as 25 mm to 50 mm. People living on the sides of long coastal areas from Sindh to Gawadar would be given incentives to sow the crop on a large scale. The area from Karachi to Gawadar covering a distance of about 750 kilometers lies between 62 S and 68 S longitude and 24 N and 26 N latitude.

Acidity is the main characteristic feature of this region. The mean maximum temperature of the hottest month ranges from 32C to 42C. Humidity is high and there is steady fast sea breeze in the summer, owing to which, the temperature is slightly moderate near the coast. It has been reported that these areas are suitable for the cultivation of oil palm. If the cultivation of oil palm become successful in these areas then the country will be in a position to produce edible oil locally and this will reduce the huge import bill of this commodity. The country spends more than 800 million dollars on the import of edible oil annually. Informations have been gathered that more than 8000 acres of land on the coastal areas of Sindh and nearly same size of land along the coastal areas of Balochistan would be brought under oil palm cultivation in near future.

Pakistan is also importing seedlings of this plant from oil palm producing countries. The Pakistan Oilseed Development Board (PODB) is very active in the cultivation of oil palm tree in the country. The oil palm seedling plant starts to bear fruit within 3-4 years after planting in the field and has an economic life span of about 25 years. Oil palm is the most productive oil crop with an annual yield of about 5 tons of crude palm oil/ha. It has been reported that after soybean, the palm oil is the second major oil producer in the world. Currently, the production of palm oil over the world is nearly 22 m.tons. The major oil palm producing countries in the world are: Malaysia, Indonesia, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Colombia,, etc. Malaysia has an unique position among the palm oil producing countries. Malaysia produces almost 68 per cent of the world palm oil and exports nearly 80 per cent of the total world trade of palm and palm kernel oils. The oil palm has become a cornerstone of Malaysia Agricultural Sector. With a planted area of more than 2.5 million hectares and a crude oil production in excess of 9 million tons and rising, palm oil has surpassed rubber as Malaysia's top earning agricultural commodity. This country has the highest yield per hectare of palm and palm kernel oils and possess most modern oil palm nurseries infrastructure such as oil mills, refineries, storage tanks and other safety measures infrastructures.

Palm oil is a major natural dietary and is a wholesome source of energy. Palm oil is used in various food products such as cooking oil, vanaspati, margarines, shortenings, frying fats, mellonne, bakery fats, biscuits, cream and confectionery, fats, ice cream, filled milk, coatings, creamer and chocolate fats. The palm oil is also used in the manufacture of soaps, resins, esters, candles, detergents, laury alcohols, lubricants, fuel, glycerol, caked residues, cosmetics, ink, polishing liquid and other personal care products. Palm oil like other vegetable oils, contains almost no cholesterol. It is a rich source of vitamin E and B carotene. It contains about 40 per cent oleic acid, 10 per cent cisinoleic acid, about 44 per cent palmatic acid and 4 per cent stearic acid. Its digestibility therefore present little problem. It has good stability agent oxidation. Pakistan is one of the biggest consumers of palm oil besides China, India, Japan, Europe and the Middle East countries. Palm oil is a major force in the world's oils and fats trade.

Research at the University of Limburg, Holland, has confirmed that palm oil possesses anti-thrombotic properties which are unexpected from its fatty acid composition. It has been proposed that palm oil could contain an anti-thrombotic component which is suff'ciently strong to evercome the thrombotic tendency normally attributed to other saturated fats. Little actual research, apart from those mentioned above has been conducted using palm oil. Usually palm oil has been simply compared to other saturated fats and various parallels drawn from such comparisons. But research on the anti-thrombotic and atherogenic properties of palm oil itself has provided evidence contrary to the normal expectations.

The consumer report has errorneously stated foods fried in beef tallow are nutritionally superior to that of foods fried in palm oil. There is no concrete scientific evidence supporting this statement. Indeed animal fats such as beef tallow contain naturally occurring cholesterol load when consumed. On the other hand, all vegetable oils including palm oil will not contribute to this cholesterol load when consumed.

Research has also been directed on the effect of dietary fats in cancer promotion. It has been demonstrated that fats could play a promoting role in certain types of cancers and that polyunsaturated fats are more effective cancer promoters than saturated fats. Hence, excess consumption or total dependence on any one type of dietary fat could have its drawbacks. On the other hand, the carotenoids, which are precursos for Vitamin A, are said to possess anti-cancer properties. Palm oil has a unique composition being almost 50% saturated and 50% unsaturated. Its carotene and tocoperol (Vitamin E) contents are added nutritional bonuses for the consumers. In a preliminary experiment, rats were treated with a chemical carcinogen to induce tumor growth and then fed various high fat diets consisting of polyunsaturated oils and palm oil. It was evident that tumor growth was enhanced in all animals fed the high polyunsaturated diets. Palm oil fed with animals had a much slower rate of tumor growth. This was true for both crude palm oil as well as refined palm oil used in the experiments. Research is now indicating that palm oil possesses unexpected nutritional properties, which would be most beneficial to the consumers. Indeed palm oil could yet prove to be the surprise dietary fat as far as human nutrition is concerned.

There is an urgent need to promote the cultivation of oil palm in the southern areas of the country. The following points should be taken into consideration: i) Establishment of oil palm of research station in Karachi; ii) Oil palm seedlings should be proved free of cost to growers to make its cultivation a success; iii) Arrangement should be made for raising of seedlings of oil palm; iv) Establishments of marketing channels for the oil palm growers so that when farmers start planting oil palm along the coastal areas of Sindh and Balochistan, they should not face crop disposal problem; v) Irrigation facility through sweet water should be provided for raising the seedlings; vi) Training of required manpower involved in oil palm nurseries and plantation may be arranged in any oil palm producing country; vii) There should be establishment of mills for extraction of palm oil.