African Oil Palm
The African Oil Palm refers to Elaeis guineensis, a palm tree used to produce palm oil and palm kernel oil. In parts of Africa where the oil palm is an important traditional crop, it also provides a number of other products such as sap and construction materials. The oil palm grows from about 8 to 20 meters tall. Trees have both male and female flowers in separate clusters. Female flowers form in large clusters of 200 or 300 that are close to the trunk. After pollination, the flowers turn to plum-like oblong fruits, about 3.5cm long and 2 cm wide. The fruits are black when rip but red at the base, and with ivory-white flesh. The fruits weigh about 3.5g each.
Origin and Ecology
The oil palm originated in the tropical rainforest region of West Africa "in a region about 200-300 km wide along coastal belt from Liberia to Angola" (including Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Republic of the Congo, and Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as Liberia and Angola). By the 1980s, the palm had spread as far north as Senegal and as far south as Angola and eastwards toward the Indian Ocean. The oil palm "occurs wild in riverine forests or in freshwater swamps." It requires adequate light and soil moisture but it can tolerate temporary flooding or a fluctuating water table. Ecologically, it ranges from savanna to rainforest. The areas the oil palm is native to usually get between 1,780 and 2,280 mm (70 to 90 inches) of rainfall per year.
Traditional African Cultivation
On a global scale, the main uses for the oil palm are the production of palm oil and palm kernel oil. In Africa, where it is traditionally cultivated, the oil palm provides a number of other products.
"Palm oil is extracted from the fleshy mesocarp of the fruit which contains 45-55% oil which varies from light yellow to orange-red in color, and melts from 25° to 50°C." A 1983 article notes that it was already used in soap and candles but was beginning to be used in margarines and cooking fats. By then, it was already "used extensively in tin plate industry, protecting cleaned iron surfaces before the tin is applied" and as a lubricant in the textile and rubber industries. For more information, see the article on Palm Oil.
Palm Kernel Oil
"Palm kernel oil is extracted from the kernel of endosperm, and contains about 50% oil. Similar to coconut oil, with high content of saturated acids, mainly lauric, it is solid at normal temperatures in temperate areas, and is nearly colorless, varying from white to slightly yellow." By 1983, palm kernel oil was already used "in edible fats, in making ice cream and mayonnaise, in baked goods and confectioneries, and in the manufacture of soaps and detergents."
The remains of the palm kernel after oil extraction can be used as livestock feed.
Palm wine is made from sap extracted from the oil palm. "The sap contains about 4.3 g/100 ml of sucrose and 3.4 g/100 ml of glucose. The sap ferments quickly, and is an important source of Vitamin B complex in diet of people of West Africa."
Traditional African Medicine
In Africa, the oil is used medicinally.
In addition, the central shoot of the palm is edible, leaves are used for thatching, and other parts of the plant are used for fencing and mulching. Ash derived from burning waste parts of the plant is sometimes used in soap-making.
Resources and Articles
Related SourceWatch articles
- James A. Duke, Elaeis guineensis Jacq., Handbook of Energy Crops, Purdue University, 1983, unpublished, Accessed September 26, 2011.
- Amanda Logan, "Oil palm, arboriculture, and changing subsistence practices during Kintampo times (3600-3200 bp, Ghana)," Quarternary International, in press, 2011.
- A. C. Zeven, "The partial and complete domestication of the oil palm (Elaeis guineensis)," Volume 26, Number 3, 274-279, DOI: 10.1007/BF02861041.
- W. Gerritsma and M. Wessel, "Oil Palm: Domestication Achieved?" Netherlands Journal of Agricultural Science 45 (1997) 463-475.