Making a Living through Oil Palm Farming
African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) is widely grown in West and Central Africa as a source of edible oil. The crop is traditionally cultivated in tropical rain forests where people simply harvest the Fresh Fruit Bunches (FFB) when ripe and extract the oil by either local or mechanised form for home consumption or commercial uses.
With new derivatives from oil palm emerging daily, oil palm is now cultivated commercially as a raw material for different industries.
Why Cultivate Oil Palm?
- Palm oil is the main vegetable oil produced and consumed in Nigeria.
- Commercial oil palm production has prospects of providing income and securing livelihoods of unemployed young women and men in Cross River State.
- The return on investment is high; its economic life starts from 3rd–4th year after planting and lasts between 35–40 years.
- The by–products from palm oil are useable.
- The agro–ecological features of Cross River State are favourable for oil palm production.
- There is a ready market both locally and internationally for palm oil and its products.
- Palm oil is very nutritious – rich in Vitamin A and E and naturally cholesterol free.
- Oil palm is the only fruit that can give two types of oil; palm oil and palm kernel oil.
Why Cultivate Tenera Hybrid?
- Tenera hybrid is an improved variety of oil palm which produces fruits with higher oil content. This variety can be gotten from Nigerian Institute for Oil Palm Research.
Below is a Step–by–Step Palm Oil Business Development:
Step 1 – Business Planning
- Develop a bankable business plan.
- Get quality information on oil palm production and processing.
- Conduct a market survey and work out clear outlets (target market) for your produce or processed products.
- Decide what you want to do with the fresh fruit bunch after it has been produced; if you want to sell the fresh fruits, to who? If you want to process, think about the processing technology and how to market the palm oil produced.
- If you want to sell to industries, in what form do they require it? Ask suppliers to identify the form of oil used as a base for the product that they produce.
- Determine the size of production you can handle, based on your available finance.
- Keep in mind that an average 1000 litres of oil is expected from a densely planted 100 X 100 land space, by year 6.
Step 2 – Requirements
To establish and manage oil palm farm, the following equipment and materials are needed: Land space (100 x 100), 143 seedlings, labour, fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, cutlass, wheel barrow, knapsack, hoe and file.
Step 3 – Land Selection and Planting
- Select a slightly sloppy land to avoid water logging.
- 100m X 100m land space is ideal for 143 oil palm stands.
- The farmer can use workmen to clear the land and remove stumps.
- Oil palm will grow in most soils, however for optimum yield, well drained fertile acidic sandy–loamy soil is ideal; avoid water logged, alkaline and saline soils.
- To ensure the oil palm is planted at the right density, peg out the land using 9m x 9m x 9m spacing.
- Choose best grown seedling of 1m–1.3m height with 15 leaves and good collar girth.
- Ensure that you do not lift for too long before planting, to avoid them withering.
- Protect your seedlings with wire nets to avoid rodent attack e.g. cutting grass.
- Apply fertilizer a few months after planting, to enable your oil palm to produce plenty of leaves and big bunches of fruits.
Step 4 – Harvesting
After three to four years, oil palm begins to yield fruits.
- Harvesting involves cutting of ripe bunches manually using chisel or sickle.
- Harvest only ripe fruit bunches (average of 2 loose fruits per kilo weight of bunch) and collect loose fruits for processing.
- Each tree must be visited every 10–15 days as fruit bunches ripen throughout the year.
Step 5 – Postharvest Handling
To preserve the freshness and quality of palm oil the fresh fruit bunches are sent to oil mill within 24 hours after harvesting, for processing. A small scale farmer may process ripe palm oil using traditional method of palm oil extraction. The processing methods are as follows:
- Harvest fruits and transport to processing sites.
- Steam sterilize fruit bunches to kill micro–organisms that produce fatty acids which reduce oil quality.
- Strip fruits from the bunches.
- Screen the fruits to remove chaff.
- With the fruits stripped from the bunches, go ahead to strip the loose fruits and boil them.
- Oil extraction from macerated fruit by the digester and pressing with spindle press or motorized hydraulic pressing.
- Separate the nuts from the fibre.
- Palm oil clarification.
- Storage of palm oil in containers.
- Marketing of palm oil and nuts.
Step 6 – Viable Markets for Oil Palm
- Home consumption
- International markets
- Industries producing vegetable oil
Fatty Acid Derivatives from Oil Palm:
- Soap and detergent manufacturing industries
- Greases and lubricants manufacturing industries
- Industries producing candles
- Cosmetics industries
- Food service industries
Palm Kernel Oil:
- Home consumption
- International market
Step 7 – Environmental Management
It is important that growers do not damage their environment while carrying out their economic activities; they can manage and mitigate the environmental impacts resulting from their farming activities through a combination of measures.
- Farmers should avoid indiscriminate application of fertilisers and pesticides on oil palm plantations, as this can contaminate groundwater and soils, thereby harming biodiversity and local people.
- The use of predators can be adopted to reduce rat populations as an alternative to fumigation.
- Planting of leguminous cover crops can also be used to discourage insects and pests from breeding in oil palm farms as an alternative to fumigation. Oil palm processors should ensure that Palm Oil Mill Effluent (POME), is properly discharged, as this is highly acidic and damages the environment.
- Avoid discharging POME into waterways. POME can contaminate drinking water and can be particularly harmful to aquatic ecosystems by creating highly acidic environments.
The Fishery Business
Fishery is highly technical, scientific and time consuming – but the return on the investment can be high! This industry is best suited for the young entrepreneur with a scientific aptitude, but it can also be learned by those who have an attitude of embracing new things.
There are several levels in this industry; however, the four main areas of opportunity are:
- Fingerlings (seed) production
- Table size production or blue stock
- Processing technology (smoke, dry, salt, grill, roast, canning)
- Producing feed for fish (self or to sell)
Opportunities in the Value Chain
Fingerlings and Table size (or blue stock): For the fingerling stage you acquire and raise parent stock.
However, catfish do not like to hatch in captivity so synthetic hormones are used as they grow. There is a very technical process required to strip the eggs out, remove the testis from the male and use to fertilize.
Water temperature affects productivity of breeding so a temperature of 26°C or higher needs to be maintained. Hydrogen, iron levels, and acidity of water also affect productivity so these things need to be monitored closely.
Under normal conditions, the eggs will hatch into tadpoles (fry) in 48 hours. Then to grow from fry to fingerlings takes approximately 3 weeks – or fingerlings to juvenile 5–7 weeks.
Fingerlings can then be sold at this point to farmers who are in the table size or blue stock production level of the chain.
The fingerling process has quick turn–around and the best profit margin; however, there is a very technical process invloved in feeding the fish.
You can continue to grow from fingerling to table size, but more space is needed to grow the fish beyound fingerling size. The blue stock stage is the most costly (because of the length of time) but one blue stock can sell for 4000–5000N.
Processing Technology: In the Processing Technology sectore you purchase table size fish from those growing from fingerling, and process it using charcoal, wood or electricity. Processing simply means drying, smoking or grilling it. This process takes only 1–2 days to accomplish then it is ready for the consumer.
Producing Fish Feed: Producing fish feed has a huge market potential since 60% of a farmer’s costs are in feeding. You would be buying the raw materials, then grind, mix and bag but start up costs are high and it is very technical.
Things to Watch Out for:
- High cost of fish food
- Space or land to have fish ponds
- During the Harmattan season when temperatures are lower, the water temperature has to be kept at 26°C
- Proper balance of chemicals in the water is neccessary in order for the fish to breed
Table Size Production:
- Accessibility and affordability of fingerlings may be limited in some LGAs
- Selling in the open market in rainy season may be harder
- In areas like Calabar South there is a high presence of middle men who buy low, then sell themselves much higher.
Processing Technology: (smoke, dried, salt, grilling, can)
- Many LGAs do not have a fish processing factory available for canning
- Using firewood or charcoal during the rainy season can be limited
Fish Feed Production:
- Expensive start up because of need for specific machinery
- Very few fish feed marketers
Fishing from rivers can be replaced with portable reservoirs to make fish farming more of an indoor business. Disposing of fish parts properly is also important so that the ground is not contaminated. Improper drainage of pond water is dangerous because the stagnant water can become a breeding ground for mosquitoes and the transmission of malaria. Building proper drainage channels is very necessary.