Oil Palm

Generic improvement demonstration of the value of the Dural X Pisifera cross.

Genetic improvement

Demonstration of the value of the dura x

pisifera cross.: This early work led to the demonstration of the value of dura x pisifera cross which gave a progeny consisting exclusively the desirable tenera (thin-shelled) form. This has become the basis of controlled pollination and production of hybrid tenera oil palm seeds all over the world. The climax of these early efforts was the release of the D x P tenera hybrid Extension Work Seed (EWS) whose yield was more than five folds of that of the unimproved grove palms. This became the basis of the present breeding programme initiated about 1957 – 1959.


Breeding Programme and Progeny Trials

The Institute’s breeding programme was first articulated in 1957/58 based on the modified reciprocal recurrent selection procedure. From the results of progeny trials high grade Extension Work Seeds (EWS) were produced from tested dura mother palms, which gave good true to type tenera hybrid progenies in crosses with pisifera pollen palms.


Development of techniques for breaking oil palm seed dormancy

Research work at NIFOR in the early contributed significantly to the elucidation of the dormancy of oil palm seeds and the development of techniques for breaking this dormancy. This led to the solution of the problem of the germination of oil palm seeds, which was hitherto a serious constraint to large-scale seed production.

Comprehensive Oil Palm Breeding Programme:

A breeding programme based on the modification of the reciprocal recurrent selection scheme was started in 1962. The evaluation of the programme was concluded in 1975 and new parents were released for commercial seed production and for initiation of the second cycle breeding programme. Arising from the first cycle selections the following conclusions were made:

  • Progeny testing was essential for bunch yield evaluation as a result of the high environmental effect on yield;
  • The continued adoption of the reciprocal recurrent selection scheme for the second cycle of breeding and selection is justified by the highly significant estimate of non-additive genetic determination of total yield. Consequently, 13 tenera and 13 dura were selected to comprise the foundation for the second recurrent selection cycle;
  • The yield improvements which has been attained in the first cycle of selection through accurate reproduction of the best tenera progenies is between 75 – 150% as shown in Table 1 below:
  • Forty seven progenies were selected for seed production among 230 hybrids in progeny trials.

Seed gardens and second cycle breeding population: A new 25 ha seed garden of parents of the first cycle was planted in 1987 for enhanced seed production, while progenies of the second cycle breeding population was planted during the same year.

Table 1. Improvements in NIFOR EWS planting materials


Type of material

Yield in tonne/halyear


1930s- 1950s

Open and controlled pollinated DxD, DxT and DxP crosses of selected grove palms

2.5 -5.0 0.5 -1.0

Late 1970s – late 1980s

DxP controlled reproduction of elite tenera progenies of the first cycle of the reciprocal recurrent selection programme

15.0 – 18.0 3.0 – 3.6

Late 1980s –present

Evaluation and selection of parentsand controlled reproduction of elite

tenera progenies among the second

cycle breeding population

20 0- 25.0 4.0 – 5.0

20 0- 25.0 4.0 – 5.0


  • The elaborate breeding programme articulated over time in NIFOR has led to the development of high yielding, early maturing, disease resistant / Fusarium tolerant hybrid oil palm variety (the tenera hybrid) which yields 15 — 20 tonnes fresh fruit bunch (FFB) and 3-4 tonnes of palm oil as against 3-5 tonnes FFB or 0.5 tonnes palm oil per hectare of unimproved palms in the natural I wild groves, representing five-fold increase. These materials also come into fruiting 3-4 years after planting as against seven years for the unimproved palms. Some estates in Nigeria already record yields of 19 – 25 ha in mature plantings of these materials. From selections among materials in the second breeding cycle, superior materials yielding 20-25 tonnes FFB per hectare per year have been identified, and are being multiplied to establish a new seed garden from which planting materials will be produced for farmers in the very near future.


  • Elucidation of techniques for breaking the natural dormancy of oil palm seeds has led to development of techniques for large-scale seed production, which ensures early, uniform and high percentage (up to 90%) germination. Consequently elite tenera hybrid seeds and seedlings of oil palm are now produced in large quantities for distribution to farmers. Between 1993 and 2004 NIFOR supplied about 24 million sprouted improved oil palm seeds to farmers in Nigeria (equivalent to 120,000 ha of oil palm assuming all were planted) and produced 4.04 million oil palm seedlings (equivalent to 20,000 ha, assuming all were planted).


  • NIFOR now has the capacity to produce up to 8 million sprouted oil palm seeds annually and is the sole supplier of improved oil palm seeds in Nigeria. This capacity is now being expanded to meet the challenges of increased activity in the sector and of future needs.


Agronomy, Soils and Crop Protection

For sustained and optimum productivity of oil palm at all stages of its life cycle, cultural practices have been developed an&’are highlighted below:

  • Evolution of Nursery Techniques: From early studies through the present day single and double stage nursery techniques have been evolved. The single stage polybag nursery developed by NIFOR ensures production of healthy transplantable seedlings. The system is cost-effective, allows for greater number of seedlings per unit land. Compared with the double stage nursery technique, the nursery life of seedlings is reduced by about six months by the single stage nursery. Phytosanitary and modern weed control techniques for the nursery oil palm have been worked out and being further refined to ensure economic, and reduce drudgery involved in seedling production. Fertilizer recommendations have also been worked out.
  • Land clearing techniques: Studies carried out at NIFOR between 1940s to the early, 1960s have led to the development of systematic procedures for land clearing and field establishment. Land may be cleared manually or mechanically using bulldozers.
  • Palm wine production at replanting: Alcohol produced from felled palms is equivalent to 300 litres per palm or 45,000 litres per ha in two weeks can offset the cost of replanting.


  • Crop geometry in the field: Studies carried out at NIFOR on the appropriate spacing and crop geometry have shown that under, a triangular spacing 9m (giving 150 palms per hectare) is the optimum under Nigerian conditions.


  • Plantation weed management and control: NIFOR scientists have worked out packages of methods of weed control in oil palm plantations over time. The frequency of plantation maintenance has also been worked out.


  • Soils nutrition and fertilizer use: From studies carried out between the early 1940s and 1960s, changes occurring after land clearing for oil palm establishment have been clearly elucidated by scientists at NIFOR. This has formed the basis for soil fertility management techniques. The various soils supporting the oil palm in Nigeria have been characterized for their potentials and fertility management.

Critical elements: Nutritional studies carried out at NIFOR on the oil palm have shown that potassium, nitrogen, phosphorus and magnesium are the key elements required by the oil palm for optimum vegetative growth and high bunch yield. Of these elements, potassium is by far the most important for bunch production.

Critical nutrient levels. Studies at NIFOR have also elucidated the critical levels of nutrient elements in the oil palm based on foliar diagnosis. Consequently this has become a diagnostic tool in soil fertility management for the oil palm.

Fertilizer recommendations. From series of fertilizer experiments conducted by NIFOR in various locations in the oil palm belt of Nigeria, the fertilizer requirements, types and rates for the oil palm have been worked out for different ecologies.

  • Oil palm/cocoa intercropping system: From studies conducted between the 1960s to the 1970s, scientists at NIFOR in collaboration with colleagues at the Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria demonstrated the feasibility of intercropping


oil plain with cocoa. The cropping geometry which permits optimum productivity of both crops in such a cropping scheme was identified.

  • Oil palm/arable crops Intercropping systems: Studies conducted in NIFOR since the 1940s have demonstrated suitable systems that permit the simultaneous cultivation of oil palm and food crops in the early years of palm establishment.


Result of these studies show that there is no adverse effect to the oil palm from the intercrops, while the

farmers reap immense economic benefit from the system when the crops are carefully arranged and


Impact:  In most of the oil palm belt of Nigeria, the oil palm is intercropped with food crops by the small holders because of:

  • Diminishing land for food crop production in high areas of the oil palm belt; and inter-cropped with population density
  • The need to offset part of the initial investment in the oil main crop, which has a long gestation period.


This practice was for many years criticized by the World Bank, which advocated sole cropping in its Small-Holder Assisted Projects because of the fear of harmful effect of arable crops on oil palm growth and yield. Consequently these projects failed in some states because the farmers insisted on intercropping.

With the outcome of these studies at NIFOR, the World Bank now accepts oil palm/arable crop inter-cropping as agronomic and economically sound system, which should be encouraged among smallholder farmers.

  • Crop Protection: NIFOR’s scientific and technical researches at minimizing losses resulting from pests and diseases in Nigeria are many and varied. These have resulted in the development of systematic and effective package of pest and disease control methods now available to the oil palm in Nigeria.


Disease control: The aetiology of the Fusarium wilt has been fully described. Adequate methods for screening for Fusarium wilt-tolerant progenies have been developed at NIFOR and are being further improved upon through research. NIFOR now breeds for Fusarium wilt resistant/tolerant oil hybrid tenera, which is distributed to farmers.


Other important diseases of the oil palm have been described and chemotherapy and complementary agronomic practices for their control have been worked out.

Insect Pests Surveys and Control: From surveys of the insect pests of the oil palm carried out by NIFOR scientists in the main oil palm belt of Nigeria species injurious to the oil palm both as seedlings and mature field palms have been identified. The 72 identified species have been classified into major and minor pests. The seasonal abundance/occurrence, distribution have been studied as a basis for instituting sound pest control strategies. Of a great significance is the leaf-mining hispid (Coelanomenodera elaeidis), which has posed serious threat to the oil palm industry in period occurrence since about 1975 – 1977. Scientists at NIFOR have worked out effective integrated management system for the control of the pest. During the outbreak in 1975 – 1979, NIFOR scientists successfully tackled the problem. Also, NIFOR scientists first described the outbreak of a new major insect pest of the oil palm, Homophylotis catori in the 1980s when it first broke out in Risonpalm Estates in Rivers State. NIFOR scientists successfully brought this insect pest under control in the estate.

Technology for control of other pests such as Rhyncophorus sp, Oryctes monoceros and Cantatops spissus spissus, termites and rodents are also now available to farmers.

Impact: To a large extent, the agronomic soil fertility management and crop protection practices adopted in cultivation of the oil palm in Nigeria and indeed elsewhere, are based on recommendations emanating from the output of research in NIFOR.  This has guaranteed good and sustainable yields under the climatic and soil conditions of Nigeria. For example in well managed estates such as the Okomu Oil Palm Co. Plc, yields of 15 – 25 tonnes fresh fruit bunches per ha per year are obtained.

Palm oil processing, end uses and waste utilization.

Palm oil processing: The traditional and semi-mechanised methods used by small holders for processing fruit bunches are inefficient. Consequently, losses of between 25 – 50% of potential palm oil production are incurred.

During the early 1920s the Department of Agriculture attempted to improve the efficiency of the traditional processing techniques by incorporating the screw press for extracting palm oil. This had little improvement on the extraction rates. The United African Company introduced the pioneer oil mills into Nigeria in the 1930s, in the attempt to make palm oil processing more efficient. This mill was improved upon by the incorporation of the stork hydraulic hand press designed and tested in 1959 by S.C. Nwanze at WAIFOR. The extraction rate of the hydraulic hand press was higher than that of the pioneer mill and was for many years used for extracting palm oil in Nigeria and across West Africa. With the need to improve upon palm oil processing by smallholder farmers and processors, NIFOR has overtime developed appropriate and efficient equipment.

The Institute in collaboration began in 1974 with the UNDP designed and fabricated an integrated small scale processing equipment (SSPE) comprising

  • Sterilizer/cooker
  • Rotary stripper
  • Horizontal digester
  • Hydraulic hand press and
  • Clarifier

Further improvements have been made to the equipment and the hydraulic hand press has been replaced with a digester screw press

To cater for the needs of different categories of farmers/processors, NIFOR has designed and now fabricates three categories of the SSPE namely

The NIFOR Large: 0.5 -1.0 tonne FFB/hr, capable of processing FFB from 50-100 hectare plantation

The NIFOR Medium: 0.25 -0.5 tonne FFB/hr, designed for farmers with holding of 20 – 50 hectares.

The NIFOR Mini: Designed for farmers with less than 20hectares, and appropriate for cottage palm oil production.


  • is robust, efficient and cheap and reliable compared with imported mills of similar capacity.
  • is simple and has no problems of installation.
  • fabricated locally at NIFOR and widely copied by other local fabricators
  • has an extraction rate of 18%
  • has a processing efficiency of 90% and produces palm oil with free fatty acid (ffa) content of about 2 – 5% and moisture content of less than 0.2%
  • it is time and labour saving.

Economic analysis of the NIFOR SSPE shows high returns to investment even in the first year of operation.

Development of palm kernel recovery unit: NIFOR has also designed a palm kernel recovery unit comprising

  • A nut fibre separator
  • A nut cracker and
  • A kernel/shell separator.

This unit can be integrated with any of the categories of the NIFOR SSPE or run separately as a palm kernel mill. The features of this unit include

  • extraction efficiency of 78% and
  • capacity of over 1.0 tonne palm nuts per hour

An upgraded version of the nut cracker, the automatic palm nut cracker/kernel-shell separator capable of handling one tonne per hour of nuts has been designed and fabricated.

Development of Value Added Products

 The Institute has designed and fabricated a small – medium scale plant to utilize the many types of oils produced from her mandate crops

  • Development of an economic methods and processes for production of foam boosters using crude palm oil as feed stock.
  • Development of processes for canning of banga sauce, which is a rich diet of the people of Southern Nigeria.
  • Development of protein rich palm oil mill effluent (an otherwise waste slurry of palm oil processing) as a poultry feed stuff
  • Procedures have been developed for compacting wastes of oil palm processing such as empty bunch refuse; palm oil mill effluent and nut-fibre have been developed into convenient briquettes for energy source.

Impact: Small/medium scale oil palm farmers account for over 60% of palm oil output in Nigeria. It has been widely accepted among small-scale oil palm farmers in Nigeria and has impacted greatly on palm oil output by these farmers. This equipment is being widely copied by other oil palm growing countries.

NIFOR has between 1995 and 2004 contributed over 80 tonnes FFB/hr (i.e. about 20%) to the total national milling capacity estimated at 471 tonnes FFB/hr outside the traditional and semi-mechanized fabricated mills of the informal sector, through fabrication and supply of the small scale processing equipment.