The oil palm industry in Ghana has evolved over the last five decades to become the second most important industry in the agricultural sector after cocoa.It is estimated that oil palm contribution to Ghana’s GDP is about 1% and it employs about 0.6 million households which translates to about 3 million people along the oil palm value chain. Notwithstanding these contributions, the oil palm industry of Ghana still has more room for improvement and needs to be given the needed attention to enable it impact more on the country’s GDP and socio-economic development since it has been identified as an important contributor to the attainment of Sustainable Development Goals (SGD 1and 2) which seeks to eradicate poverty and hunger by 2030.The inclusion of oil palm in the mandate crops of Tree Crops Development Authority (TCDA)is therefore heart-warming and could mark the beginning of strategic direction towards maximizing the development of the industry and its contribution to the country’s wealth creation and economic growth.
Planting material is one of the key foundation pillars for the development of the oil palm industry. The Oil Palm Research Institute (OPRI) of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) is mandated by the State to generate relevant scientific information and demand-driven technologies through research to support the entire development of the oil palm industry among others. In line with its mandate, the CSIR-OPRI has developed improved oil palm planting materials through breeding programmes that spanned a period of over 50 years. These planting materials are potentially capable of taking the development of Ghana’s oil palm industry to next level. It is therefore important for all stakeholders of the oil palm industry to have deep insight into these planting materials.
Source of germplasm
The CSIR-Oil Palm Research Institute was established in 1964 to take over the functions of the defunct West African Institute for Oil Palm Research (WAIFOR) which was responsible for the provision of planting materials and research support for Anglophone countries in West Africa. As a result of long association with WAIFOR which later became Nigeria Institute for Oil Palm Research (NIFOR),the CSIR-OPRI acquired an impressive collection of oil palm germplasm representing the WAIFOR/NIFOR parent materials. These materials had high yields, good fruit and bunch characteristics, disease and drought tolerance and high adaptation to the West African climatic conditions resulting in all-year-round fresh fruit bunch production. This genetic base has further been broadened with the introduction of wild local accessions from all the forest and northern regions of Ghana.Advanced materials obtained from exchange programmeswith Dami Oil Palm Research Institute, Papua New Guinea; Chemara Research Institute, Malaysia; United Fruit Company, Honduras and Bah Lias Research Institute, Indonesia have been added to the CSIR-OPRI wealth of genetic base for oil palm improvement.
Development of improved planting materials
The development of improved oil palm planting material, D x P hybrid (Tenera), is a highly technical and scientific venture that can only be successfully undertaken by crop improvement outfits with requisite seed gardens (breeding populations and parent stocks), highly trained human resource and well equipped laboratories. The breeding programme of the CSIR-OPRI seeks to develop high quality planting materials with increasing yields of fresh fruit bunch and oil per hectare, disease and drought tolerance, slow height-wise growth (for longer exploitation) and improved oil quality.
In the breeding programme of CSIR-OPRI, two basic populations (palms that produce few numbers of large bunches – deli duras and palms that produce large numbers of smaller bunches – African materials, teneras) are maintained and separately improved.Dura and tenera palms are selected from these populations based on bunch and fruit characteristics. Duras and teneras are crossed in various combinations (test crosses) and are planted in trials to assess their performance based on the parameters earlier mentioned. The duras and teneras involved in the test-crosses are self-pollinated and planted at the same time as the trials for future seed production. The best combinations (after evaluation of 10-15 years accumulated vegetative and yield data) are reproduced as D x P hybrids where the mother palms are selected from the duraselfings and dura x dura crosses and the pisifera from the teneraselfings and tenera x tenera crosses for commercial seed production.The selected mother palms (Duras) and the compatible male lines (Pisiferas) are then used for commercial production of improved oil palm seeds.
Commercial production of improved oil palm seeds
The commercial production of improved oil palm seeds by CSIR-OPRI is currently the responsibility of Ghana Sumatra Limited (GSL), a private company located at the premises of CSIR-OPRI at Kusi near Kade in the Eastern Region. The GSL was initially set up as a joint venture company by CSIR and a partner research facility in Indonesia in 2008/2009. It is currently a private company owned wholly by CSIR and ISO-9001-2015 certified. The Company is a classic example of the utilization of research results by a private company to the ultimate benefit of the country.
The GSL having access to CSIR-OPRI selected mother palms (Duras) and compatible male lines (Pisiferas), routinely undertakes isolation of young female inflorescences on Dura palms using appropriate isolation bags; and at flower opening (receptive stage), artificially pollinate the receptive flowers with pollen from the compatible Pisifera palm. Fertilized female flowers develop into bunches and are ready for harvest after 150 days. The harvested bunches are processed individually and the seeds kept under good storage conditions for pre-germination.
In the wild, oil palm seeds go through a period of dormancy from several months to many years before germination. This process of germination is erratic and span a long period of time with low germination rates. For commercial production, the seeds are stimulated through treatment which involves soaking in water and heating at 39-40 oC to end dormancy and induce uniform germination after about 100 to 120 days.
Current attributes of planting materials
The oil palm planting materials released by CSIR-OPRI have high adaptation to West African climate, good tolerance to drought and high resistance to Fusarium wilt disease. Maturity age ranges from 30-36 months depending on rainfall and quality of agronomic practices.Average bunch weight falls within 15-18 kg facilitating processing at the mill. Annual yield potential varies from 22-26 tons/ha for fresh fruit bunch (FFB)and 5.5 – 6.5 tons/ha for crude palm oil (CPO). The FFB has oil mill extraction rate of 23-25% and kernel to bunch ratio of 3%.The trees enjoy economic life span of 25-30 years and annual stem elongation of less than 60 cm making a longer exploitation period possible.
Evidence of field performance
Early yield performance on estate plantations reported by Wilmer/Benso Oil Palm Plantations for the first 3 years of harvesting indicates an impressive average FFB yield of 3.72, 6.30 and 13.76 tons/ha respectively for years 1, 2 and 3. Outside Ghana, CSIR-OPRI oil palm planting materials are even performing better under optimum rainfall and good agronomic practices. A case in point isthe early yield performance (Figure 1 a) and a cross-sectionof fruit (Figure 1b) from a 3-year old oil palm plantation established with CSIR-OPRI planting materials at Olam Palm, Gabon. On small-scale farmers’ fields, yield records from Solidaridad West Africa indicate an annual FFB production of 23.39 tons/ha at 8 years after planting under best management practices.
The marketing of CSIR oil palm planting materials is done either as pre-germinated seedsby GSL(Figure 2a) or transplantable seedlings by the CSIR-OPRI (Figure 2b). The GSL produces and markets ISO-certified seeds both in Ghana and outside Ghana,especially within the West and Central African countries (Nigeria, Liberia, Togo, Sierra Leone, DR Congo and Gabon).The CSIR-OPRI raises pre-germinated seeds at its nursery into transplantable seedlings for clients who prefer the seedling option.
The pricing of CSIR-OPRI planting materials is done with affordability by Ghanaian farmers and competiveness at the global market in mind. Affordability by farmers is important for the development of the oil palm industry since small-holder farmers constitute over 80% of oil palm producers in Ghana.Currently, GSL sells its ISO-certified seeds to Ghanaian farmers and the general public at a price estimated to about 8-fold cheaper than the international pricefor the same or comparable quality of oil palm planting materials.
Volunteer planting materials
Oil palm seeds or seedlings collected under existing plantations to establish new farms are called volunteer seeds or seedlings. These type of planting materials are economically unproductive as they result in low fresh fruit bunch and oil yields and poor returns on investment. Be sure of the source of your oil palm planting material. Never go for volunteer seed nuts or seedlings.