Oil palm: a crop of
By Munawar Opel
Agriculture, a major economic activity employs half of the
country's labour force and generates nearly fourth of the
gross national product.
far, the agricultural strategy has successfully met the food
requirements of a rapidly growing Pakistani population and
has played a pivotal role in earning foreign exchange
through export of rice and cotton.
Crops, the most important agricultural sub-sector
constitutes around 60 per cent of the agricultural gross
domestic product (GDP), with production concentrated in
three broad agro-ecological zones: irrigated lowlands,
rain-fed lowlands, and mountain areas.
Crop production is well diversified, with more than half the
area devoted to cereals, one fifth to cash crops, and the
rest to fodder, pulses, vegetables, and fruits. Of 22
million hectares of cultivable land, 18 million are
irrigated and 4 million rain-fed.
Almost 60 per cent of this land is found in Punjab and about
30 per cent in the Sindh. The irrigated plains are used
mainly for the production of cotton, rice, and sugarcane,
while wheat is the main crop in the rain-fed areas.
Another 9 million hectares are classified as being
cultivable but undeveloped either because of the
environmental damage (wind and water erosion, salinity, and
water logging) or because of a lack of irrigation. Mixed
crop-livestock are of considerable economic importance,
accounting for almost 30 per cent of the agricultural GDP
and more than 10 per cent of the country's foreign exchange
It is an irony that Pakistan has yet to take advantage of
its coastal zones, comprising of 550km coastline of
Balochistan and 330km shore line of the Southern Province of
Some of its areas are best suited for oilpalm plantation
with suitable temperatures between 24°C to 35°C. In case of
less rainfall, its substitution can be humidity and
availability of canal water. Eleven districts of Andhra
Pradesh in India can do it, so why not we.
The import bill of edible oils is costing the national
exchequer about Rs50 billion of hard earned foreign
exchange. Pakistan has all the necessary ingredients to go
for massive oilpalm plantation and succeed only if we get
out of the edible oil trap.
There are eight major oils in the world today out of 16.
These are coconut, sunflower, palm, soyabeanl, cotton,
rapeseed, groundnut and palm kernel oil. The world wide
average productivity of various oil crops are soyabean 351kg
hectare per year, cottonseed 188; groundnut 384; sunflower
seed 504; rapeseed 556; sesame seed 178; palm oil 3,200;
palm kernel oil 454; and copra 356 kg/ha/year. It may be
mentioned here that one hectare equals to 2.47 acres, and
that each hectare under pilpalm yields 10 times more oil
than most of the other oil crops.
The import of palm oil in 2001-02 was 1,189,329m tons worth
Rs23,905.128 million, excluding approximately 70 per cent
taxes and freight charges and totalling 99.84 per cent
import. Coconut oil was 0.16 per cent, which was 1,881.240m
tons worth Rs53.097 million excluding approximately 70 per
cent taxes and freight charges.
The steady growth in population has been and will remain the
main factor in growth of edible oil industry in Pakistan.
Its current population is around 150 million, which ranks
Pakistan as the 7th most populous country in the world. The
population growth rate is 2.07 per cent.
However, the government target is to bring the population
growth rate to 1.8 per cent per annum in order to improve
the quality of life, as presently one-third of the
population lives below the poverty line.
The average household size in Pakistan is 6 to 8 persons,
while the rural and urban population in the country is 59
and 41 per cent, respectively, with an increase rate of
urbanization at 4 per cent, approximately.
It is essential, prudent and imperative that Pakistan should
go for oilpalm plantation as it spends about Rs50 billion on
the import of 1.400 million tons of edible oil annually and
its share of palm oil is about 1.200 million tons per annum.
The edible oil requirement is about two million tons per
annum, while the local production is only 0.634 million tons
per annum, which is only 30 per cent. Seventy per cent of
edible oil is imported every year. It is expected that the
edible oil requirement will increase by 6 to 8 per cent per
The palm produces three main economic products i.e., palm
oil, palm kernel oil and palm kernel cake. Palm oil
extracted from the fruit mesocarp. It is mainly used for
food with some industrial applications.
Palm kernel oil is extracted from the kernel or seed. It is
mainly used for cosmetics, detergents and shampoo
preparations. Palm kernel cake is the residue from the
kernel after extraction of oil; it is a useful animal feed.
For successful oilpalm Plantation in coastal zone, land
preparation is to be done as for other crops like cotton and
wheat. The oilpalm variety to be sown is Tenera. The number
of plants required per acre is 64 plants, the spacing
between plants should be 25ft, and the distance from row to
row at 25ft. The sowing method should be that pits measuring
2'x2'x2' are prepared and these should be in square.
Pits be filled then by sweet soil/top river soil/silt, and
100 gram of Nitrogen phosphorous potassium (NPK) fertilizer
is mixed with the soil of one pit of about 16 to 20kg soil.
It may be ensured that pits be irrigated at least 15 to days
Thereafter, plants are put into the pit after removing the
polythene bag gently so that soil should not be disturbed or
removed from the roots. Two gallons of water should be
supplied to each plant daily up to one year after
plantation, and four gallons should be supplied to each
plant on alternate day up to next two years. It would be
better that if irrigation is done after 3-4 days upto
maturity (8th year of plantation) i.e., from 4th year of
plantation up to 8th year.
When plants are mature, irrigation may be done on weekly
basis, while the NPK fertilizer at the rate of 400gm per
plant should be applied after three month on regular basis.
As for farm yard manure (FYM), it should be at the rate of
4kg per plant after every four months on regular basis. It
is ensured that the intervals between application of the FYM
and the NPK fertilizer may be at least two months.
Infestation of pest and diseases will not be observed in
early stages. However, for boron deficiency, the crop should
be sprayed with 0.25 per cent solution of boric acid. Fruits
will appear after 3-4 years of plantation but these will be
deficient in oil contents, therefore to be removed. Firstly,
male flowers will appear and then female flowers which will
appear from the apex of leaves.
The male flowers will disappear after pollination and
emergence of female flowers take place. The crop will mature
in 7/8 years of plantation and economical production will
start from 8th year. On an average, one is likely to produce
about 12 to 15 fresh fruit bunches (FFB) per annum.
It is interesting that the plant will produce the FFB
throughout the year except in May and June and the likely
weight of one the FFB should be about 15kg on an average
basis. The expected oil content on whole FFB basis is 25 per
cent, oil content in Mesocarp of fruits is 40 per cent, and
oil content in kernel (seed) is 10 per cent.
On an average, oil yield from one acre is 2 metric tons
annually. Oil price per ton is about Rs35,000. As such,
income from one acre is about Rs70,000, while the cost of
production per acre, approximately is Rs10,5001. The net
return per acre (from 8th year of plantation) will be
However, to start with a comprehensive action plan (CAP)
should be adopted as Pakistan's coastline is 880km in length
i.e., 330km of Sindh from Karachi to Badin and 550km of
Balochistan from Hub to Gwadar. About 500,000 acres are
well-suited for cultivation of oil palm.
Out of this, 300,000 acres have been identified in Sindh in
Thatta, Badin districts, Karachi, Hyderabad, Mirpurkhas and
Sanghar (tehsils of Tando Adam and Shahdadpur) and 200,000
areas have been identified in Balochistan in the tehsils/districts
of Hub, Somiani, Vinder, Pasni and Gwadar.
Some farms of Forest Department Sindh in coastal areas of
Thatta and Badin districts, measuring 64,943 acres, can also
be utilized for Oilpalm plantation plus 200,000 acres of
sugarcane field in Sindh.
After good management, the country will be able to save Rs35
billion per annum after 10 years' of oilpalm plantation in
coastal areas of Pakistan i.e., after the crops mature.
However, during the 7-8 years' time required for maturity,
income can be generated through inter cropping of banana,
papaya, fodder and vegetables between two rows of plants.
The cost and income of production of oil palm and inter
cropping worked out for 25 acres is Rs262,500 and Rs260,000,
respectively, while income from oilpalm and inter cropping
shall be Rs1,487,500 and 595,000, respectively. Rice cannot
be inter cropped.
The potential areas suitable for oilpalm plantation are
Math, Tando Muhammad Khan, Nindo Shah, Tando Bago, Kunri,
Umer Kot, Digri, Jhudo, Jamesabad, Tando Allahyar, Tandojam,
Mirpurkhas, Khipro, Hala, Talhar, Keti Bandar, Ghora Bari,
Shah Bandar, Pir Putho, Ghuhar Jamali, Thatta, Ghulamullah.
The total area comes to around 558,641 hectares.
The Coastal Development Authority has launched a scheme for
oilpalm plantation on 2,000 acres in coastal areas of Thatta
and Badin Districts, which has been reflected in the ADP
Its economic analysis shows that by 2011-12, the net benefit
shall start rising from Rs2.9 million to Rs70.00 million
each. Experience of the CA and the Pakistan Oilpalm
Development Board in the coastal areas of Balochistan and
Sindh has testimony to the fact that oilpalm plantation can
As for socio-economic benefits, Pakistan is in a win-win
situation. The likely socio-economic benefits would be
self-sufficiency in edible oils or at least moving in that
direction, savings of foreign exchange, encouragement of
industrialization, improvement of per acre income of
growers, utilization of rural manpower round-the-year,
improvement of natural environment, substitution of
sugarcane, each hectacre under oilpalm yields 10 times more
oil than most other oil crops, and income far exceeds
expenditure when both oilpalm is planted, and intercropping
is done simultaneously.
In 30 to 40 years, Pakistan can become an exporter to the
Gulf and the Middle Eastern countries, if properly managed.
This sector shall be the most effective, efficient income
generating and poverty reduction tool. Besides, Oil palm is
known to be consumer and environment friendly.
There are 34 reasons to substantiate. However, an oil palm
forest, with its perennial green cover and closed canopy,
displays the main features of a tropical rainforest. It is
also a more efficient carbon sink than a tropical rainforest
and helps absorb greenhouse gases.
The oil palm forest assimilates 44 tons of dry
matter/ha/year compared to 25.7 tons by a rainforest. Dry
matter production remains high throughout the 25-year
economic lifecycle of the oilpalm forest, which can then be
During planting, several measures are taken to prevent soil
degradation and to conserve fertility. The empty fruit
bunches (EFBs), rich in organic and potash are recycled back
to the soil as mulch. In some mills, the EFBs are burnt
together with fibre and shell to generate extra energy.
Fibre from the EFBs can be used for pulp and paper
production, and to make panel products. When composted, the
EFBs make good organic fertilizers and soil conditioners.
The EFBs are used to produce bunch ash, a high value potash
Palm oil mill effluent (POME), which is rich in nutrients,
is recycled back to land. POME, after biological treatment,
is increasingly applied to oil palm land for fertilizer and
Solids are processed into organic fertilizer or animal feed.
Compared to other major annual oilseed crops, the
cultivation and processing of oilpalm requires less input of
fertilizers, pesticides and fuel energy to produce one ton
of oil. This means that less emissions and pollutants are
generated, thereby, preserving soil, water and air quality.
Leguminous (pulses like mattar, channa, masoor ki dall,
grams, gohaar phali) cover crops reduce reliance on
herbicides during the early years. Bio-control is also
promoted through rearing of sheep, cattle and goats on major
plantations. During replanting, palm trunks can be used as
lumber to manufacture planks.
Fiber extracted from trunks and fronds is useful to
wood-based industries as a raw material. Palm kernel cake, a
by-product of kernel oil extraction, is an established,
nutritious and safe animal feed, which is exported world
wide. Pulverized fronds and trunks tissues can also be used
as roughage in some animal feed.
Biogas production can be harnessed for heat and electricity
generation. Palm-based diesel is a clean and 'green' fuel
that promises to be a source of renewable energy. A new
technique eliminates the traditional practice of burning
felled palms during replanting.
Courtesy: The DAWN