Evolution of oil palm industry: CSIR-Oil Palm Research Institute leads way

BY: Daniel Agyei-Dwarko & E. Andoh-Mensah
An oil palm tree
An oil palm tree

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 one per cent and it employs about 0.6 million households which translates to about three 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 to 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 (SGDs One and Two) which seek to eradicate poverty and hunger by 2030.

The inclusion of oil palm in the mandate crops of the Tree Crops Development Authority (TCDA) is, therefore, heart-warming and could mark the beginning of strategic direction towards maximising the development of the industry and its contribution to the country’s wealth creation and economic growth.

The 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 span a period of over 50 years.

These planting materials are potentially capable of taking the development of Ghana’s oil palm industry to the 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 programmes with 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.

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.

The 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 dura selfings and dura x dura crosses and the pisifera from the tenera selfings 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.

The writers are a Senior Research Scientist & a Principal Research Scientist respectively, both of CSIR- Oil Palm Research Institute