One problem with growing oil palms (Elaeis guineensis) is that the seed germinates with difficulty, sometimes taking two years! The Methodist Relief and Development Fund’s magazine MRDF: Africa Link highlights some ways of improving germination in the June 1999 issue.
“A one-foot deep pit is dug and the bottom is lined with male inflorescence [flower] from the oil palm. Next a layer of ripe oil palm fruits (taken from the inside layers of the fruit bunch) is laid down and covered with a thick layer of grass, then a layer of soil, and finally a layer of banana stems (to prevent chickens from scratching out the contents).”
This ‘compost’ germination pit is watered lightly each day to encourage the contents to heat up as in a normal compost pit. After five or six months the pit contents are opened up, by which time there should be the start of good germination. The seedlings are taken from below the surface as soon as the growing shoot appears through the shell (up to 1 in [2.5 cm] in length), and then transplanted into prepared polyethylene bags around 12 in (30 cm) height and 7 in (17.5 cm) diameter.”
The seed can also be placed in a cloth or burlap bag with soil, watered and buried in the ground beside the cooking fire for a month before hanging in the rafters for three weeks, at which point germination should begin.
A new variety of oil palm has been developed that will grow in higher altitudes. (The ‘Dura’ type will grow in the highlands but has lower yields of oil.) The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and a Costa Rican company called ASD bred the new hybrid from ‘Dura’ and the highyielding ‘Tenera.’ The result is a high-yielding variety of oil palm for the highlands. It has been tested in Ethiopia to 900 meters.