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Role of oil palm in economy                                  Home
By Dr S.M. Alam

OIL palm (Elaeis guineensis) is an important plant for obtaining edible oil and other materials. The crop grows in tropical areas as it needs sunshine and rainfall. Suitable conditions for its cultivation are 10-15 degrees, north and south of the Equator. The tree grows up to 50 feet in high rainfall areas. It produces large primate leaves. Quality seeds are suitable for good produce. It is a native plant of coastal belt of West Africa and requires spacing of 25 feet. It is being cultivated in many parts but Malaysia is the main exporter of palm oil to the world.

Cultivation of oil palm in Pakistan can not only beautify the coastal areas but will also minimize environmental pollution along with reducing considerably the edible oil import bill. There exist good prospects for its cultivation in the coastal belt of Sindh and Balochistan where climatic conditions are favourable, though there is lack of water and extreme heat with monsoons least affecting the area. The annual rainfall is as low as 25mm to 50mm. There are plans to provide incentives to people living along the coast from Karachi to Gawadar for oil palm cultivation. The 750km belt lies between 62 oF and 68 oF longitude and 24 oN and 26 oN latitude.

Acidity is the main characteristic of the region. The mean maximum temperature ranges between 32 oC to 42 oC with high humidity. The sea breeze in summer moderates the temperatures near the coast. It has been reported that these areas are suitable for cultivation of oil palm.

The country spends more than $800 million on edible oil imports annually. It has been reported that more than 8,000 acres of land in Sindh and nearly the same size along the coastal areas of Balochistan would be brought under oil palm cultivation in the near future.

The country imports seedlings for which the Pakistan Oilseed Development Board (PODB) is actively working towards achieving the goal. The plant starts to bear fruit within 3-4 years with an economic lifespan of about 25 years.

Oil palm is the most productive crop with an annual yield of about five tons of crude palm oil/ha. It is reported that after soybean, palm oil is the second major oil produced in the world.

Currently, worldwide production is nearly 22 million tons. Major palm oil producing countries are Malaysia, Indonesia, Nigeria, the Ivory Coast and Colombia. Malaysia has a unique position as it meets almost 50 per cent of the world palm oil needs and exports nearly 80 per cent of the total world trade of palm and palm kernel oils, according to figures estimated for 2004.

Malaysia has the highest yield per hectare and possesses the most modern oil palm nurseries infrastructure such as the mills, refineries, storage tanks along with high safety channels with a total area of about 3791x103 hectares. Indonesia is the second highest producing country.

The world palm oil consumption in 2003 was 27.3 million tons and the projected yield for 2005 is estimated at 30.9 million tons. The per capita consumption in 2004 for the US was 50kg, Europe 47kg, Japan 21kg, China 17kg, Bangladesh 6.7kg, India 12kg, Pakistan 11kg, and world average at 18.7kg.

Palm oil substitutes about 22 per cent of global demand for oils and fats and 49 per cent of oil export.

Palm oil is a vegetable oil and does not contain cholesterol with saturated cholesterol less than that of the coconut. It is consumed in cooking, margarines and shortening, and as an ingredient in fat blends and food products like bakery and confectionery, ice-creams and chocolates. It should be classified as both saturated and unsaturated fat. The saturated fatty acids are made up of 44 per cent palmatic acid and five per cent stearic acid.

The unsaturated fatty acids consist of 39 per cent oleic acid 10 per cent linoleic acid. A number of studies have reported that palm oil diets reduce blood cholesterol from seven to 38 per cent. The vitamin E, particularly the tocotrienols present in it suppresses the synthesis of cholesterol in liver. As a consequence tocotrienols lowers the cholesterol.

Tocotrienols exhibit anti-cancer properties. The oil prevents formation of thrombus in blood vessels. Vitamin E inhibits platlets from sticking to each other. It showed that a palm oil diet either increases production of a hormone that prevents blood-clotting or decreases the formation of a blood-clotting hormone.

Crude palm oil is one of the richest natural sources of carotenoids with concentration of 500-700ppm. The beneficial effects of carotenes on cancer and other chronic diseases have been demonstrated in studies and clinical trials. No other vegetable oil contains carotenoids in such quantities. This oil lowers blood cholesterol and bad LDL cholesterol and increases the good HDL-cholesterol and Apo A-1 levels. It is stable and versatile even without hydrogenation.

Palm oil is also used in soaps, candles, detergents, lubricants, fuel, caked residue, cosmetics, and other personal-care products. It is a rich source of vitamin E and B carotene. Pakistan is one of the biggest consumers of palm oil besides China, India, Japan, Europe and the Middle East countries.

Since the evolution of edible oil industry, palm oil has played the role of lifeblood for this sector. Despite Pakistan being an agricultural country, we face chronic shortage of it. The climate, eating habits, logistics, economy and others make palm oil the most preferential choice for Pakistan industry.

Every good quality Banaspati contains palm oil. Besides being largely used for edible purposes, its by-products are used for soap making. The major oilseeds produced are cottonseed, rapeseed and sunflower. Linseed, groundnut and sesame are butterfat.

For the promotion of oil palm cultivation the following points should be taken into consideration: Research station should be established at Karachi; Oil palm seedlings should be provided free of cost; Arrangement should be made for raising of seedlings; Marketing channels for growers should be set up so that when farmers start planting oil palm along the coastal areas of Sindh and Balochistan they should not face crop disposal problem; Irrigation facility through sweet water should be provided; Training of required manpower involved in nurseries and plantation may be arranged from any oil palm producing country; Mills for the extraction should be planned.

Courtesy: The DAWN;

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