Modern Oil Palm Cultivation (Full Details)


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A modern oil palm plantation needs a grower who has learned how to cultivate oil palms.

  1. 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.

  1. 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 long 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.

  2. 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.


  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.


  1. 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.

  1. 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.


  1. 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.
  2. 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.
     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.

  1. The fruits of all oil palms are not the same.
    • They are not all of the same sizes.
    • 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.

  1. 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.


  1. 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.
  2. 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 repay the grower the oil palm needs a region:

  1. Where it is hot all the year round
    The oil palm grows well where it is hot all 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 sunshine
    Where there is a lot of sunshine, there will be strong photosynthesis, provided the oil palm is in the 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 rain
    If 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.

  2. 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 if 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.

  3. 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.

  4. Where business companies or extension services can give the grower advice.It takes much money and works 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:

    • how to choose the site for his plantation
    • how densely to plant it
    • how to look after the plantation
    • how to apply fertilizers
    • how to protect the oil palms against disease


      1. It is difficult for a grower to make the seeds of oil palms germinate.
        Growers buy young seedlings which already have four or five leaves. Seedlings can be bought from research stations or extension services.The young seedlings are then put into a nursery.
        The nursery is a small plot in which the young oil palms develop.
        When the oil palms are big enough, they are planted out in the palm grove.

        Nurseries cause a lot of expense and need much care.
        It would be very expensive for one grower alone to make a nursery; it is better to make the nursery jointly with other growers.
        It is very important to make a success of the nursery, so as to get fine young plants.
        A seedling that has not grown well in the nursery will make a poor oil palm.

        To have fine seedlings in the nursery you must:

        • choose a good site and prepare it well,
        • choose the finest seedlings,
        • water them, protect them against erosion and weeds, give them fertilizers, protect them against insects and diseases.


      1. Choosing the siteThe soil should be fairly rich and well prepared.
        It is best to clear a bit of forest for the nursery plot.
        If you clear a forest site for the nursery, pull out all the trees and burn them. Burning all the wood helps to control certain diseases which might attack the roots of the oil palms, and it also makes the soil more fertile. Spread the ashes all over the plot.

        If you put the nursery on a field which is already cultivated, pull up all the old crops: cocoa trees, coffee trees, oil palms.
        Burn all the wood.

        When the site is well cleared, it needs deep tilling.
        You should till 40 centimeters deep with a hoe or a tractor.

        To improve the soil structure, you can then sow a green-manure crop, like Centrosema or Crotalaria.
        When these crops have grown, work them into the soil by tilling again.
        Then apply fertilizers: 500 kilograms of dicalcium phosphate per hectare.


      1. 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 meters long and 3.5 meters 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 kilograms of 10:10:20 fertilizer are applied per hectare.

      1. Making holes for seedlings and transplantingTo know where to make the holes for your seedlings, make a pattern.
        At the places where you have put your little pegs, make a hole with a Richard plant setter.
        Then put a seedling with its ball of earth into each hole.

        You must give the seedlings a lot of water. But do not water when it is hot; it is best to water in the evening and the morning.

        To protect the soil against erosion, mulch it.
        Cover the ground with herbage or cluster residues. Leave a ring of 20 centimeters of unmulched ground around each seedling.
        If you mulch with cluster residues, put them down only three months after transplanting so that the insects do not attack the young leaves.
        If you mulch with herbage, you must replace the herbage when it rots. Then hoe the soil.
        If you cannot get enough water for the seedlings, transplant them into the nursery at the beginning of the rainy season.
        At the end of the rainy season, the seedlings will be strong enough to get through the drought.

      The pattern for nursery planting


      1. 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 meters 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 transplant, if the seedlings have grown well, apply monthly to each plant 15 to 20 grams of a mixture of ammonium sulfate and potassium chloride.
        Spread the fertilizer mixture in a ring 10 centimeters 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.


      1. CultivationYou must remove the weeds around the young oil palms.
        This work is done with a hoe or a machete.

        During the first year, cultivate 6 times.
        Remove all the weeds for 2 meters around each stem.
        During the first months, the weeds between rows have to be cut.
        If you leave the weeds, the cover crop will not grow well.

      2. Trimming the plantsYou must always cut away the dry leaves of the oil palm.

        In order to cut the leaves without damage to the oil palm, your tools must be well sharpened.
        Cut the leaves very close to the stem, so that no other plants can grow in the axil of the cut-off leaves.

        Remove from the trunk any plants (ferns) that may grow in the axils of the leaves.
        Remove also the male flowers.

      3. Applying fertilizerThe oil palm needs a lot of mineral salts to form its leaves and fruit clusters.
        When the oil palm is young, it needs above all nitrogen.

        When the oil palm has begun to produce, it needs a lot of potash.
        Potash increases the number of fruit clusters and makes them bigger.


      Example: Ivory Coast

      On plantations (per tree per year)

      of oil palm
      Year of planting500
      Ammonium sulfate
      Potassium chloride
      Ammonium sulfate
      Potassium chloride
      1 year750
      Ammonium sulfate
      Potassium chloride
      Ammonium sulfate
      Potassium chloride
      2 years750
      Ammonium sulfate
      Potassium chloride
      750 to 1 500Potassium chloride
      3 and 4 years and afterwards
      1 000 to 1 500Potassium chloride750 to 1 500Potassium chloride

      On natural palm groves (per tree per year):
      1 000 grams of potassium chloride

      Example: Benin

      On plantations (per tree per year)

      Age of oil palmAmmonium sulfatePotassium chloride
      Year of planting250   200
      1 year350   200
      2 years500   500
      3 years600   750
      4 years6001 000


      1. Rhinoceros and augosome beetles Strategus beetleTo protect the young trees, put in the axil of the leaves a mixture of sawdust and BHC.

      Palm weevil (Rhynchophora)

      To avoid dangerous attacks, be very careful not to wound the trees.
      The insects may lay their eggs in the wounds of the oil palm.

      There are other insects, but it is difficult for the grower to control them.

      Oil palms may also be attacked by rats and agoutis.

      Rats and agoutis can eat young oil palms.
      Protect your young oil palms against agoutis by wire netting around each tree.
      As a protection against rats, you can place little bags with poisoned maize near the oil palms.


      Oil palms may be attacked by several diseases.
      If you see distorted leaves or leaves that break, ask for advice from the extension service.


      1. 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.You must go through the plantation many times to pick the ripe clusters.

        A cluster is ripe for harvesting when the fruits begin to turn red, and when 5 or 6 fruits drop to the ground.
        If you wait too long before harvesting the clusters, harvesting takes much more time, because you must pick up all the fruits that have dropped to the ground.
        The fruits will also yield less oil, and the oil will be of less good quality.

        If you do not wait long enough before harvesting the clusters, the fruit will not be ripe enough.
        It will be more difficult to separate the fruits from the clusters and the clusters will yield less oil.

      2. The clusters can be cut off with different tools.For oil palms 4 to 7 years old
        Cut the clusters with a chisel.
        Slip the chisel between the stem and the leaf; in this way, you can cut off the cluster without cutting the leaf below it.

        For oil palms 7 to 12 years old
        Cut the clusters with a machete.
        If the clusters are too high up, climb up the tree by putting your feet on the base of the leaves.

        For oil palms older than 12 years
        Cut the clusters with a long-armed sickle.


      If the clusters are too high up to be cut with the longarmed sickle, use bamboo ladders, or else climb up the tree with a belt; you can also wear spiked shoes.

      Any clusters that have dropped to the ground should be collected in a basket.
      Fruits that have come loose must also be picked up.


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