the african palm unfolds in Monte Plata
The african palm (Elaeis guineensis) or african oil palm, is a tropical plant, typical of warm climates. Its origin is rooted in the western and central region of the African continent, specifically in the Gulf of Guinea. Hence, its scientific name Elaeis guineensis. It is characterized by a solitary, erect trunk that can grow more than 40 meters in height. Among the oleaginous plants, it has the highest yield in metric tons of oil per hectare, thus its oil is the most widely produced, together with soybean oil.
Since ancient times, this plant has been used to obtain oil. It produces two types of oil: one from the fruit and one from the seed. The edible oil is sold as margarine, creams and other derivatives. Because of its high content of saturated fatty acids, it is very stable and of unlikely oxidation or risk of turning rancid, therefore it maintains its properties when used for frying. Additionally, because of its texture, it is used in the pastry industry. A great amount of vitamin D makes this food suitable for strengthening the skin and bones; moreover, it contains vitamin E, which benefits the circulatory system, and vitamin A (beta-carotene). In addition, industrial oil is used for the production of cosmetics, soaps, detergents, candles, lubricants and production of biodiesel. African palm oil represents around 25% of world vegetable oil production.
The african palm tree has been used to obtain oil, throughout history. It is originally from West Africa, located East of the Gulf of Guinea, where it was being extracted 5,000 years ago. Nonetheless, it was not until the 15th century that its cultivation extended to other regions of Africa. But its spread began in the 16th century, brought by the Portuguese, specifically to Brazil. In some countries of America, the first african palm was introduced for ornamental purposes at the beginning of the 20th century; by mid-century, many countries in the continent began to cultivate it for commercial purposes. In the Dominican Republic, its large-scale cultivation began in the early 1980s and thrived, thanks to the incentives offered by the Agroindustrial Law.
Requirements for cultivation
The african palm grows in areas that have monthly average temperatures ranging between 25o and 28oC, provided that the minimum temperatures are not inferior to 21 degrees Celsius. Favorable conditions for this species are determined by the amount and distribution of the rainfall, with ranges that fluctuate between 1,800 mm and 2,300 mm per year. The rusticity of the african palm allows it to adapt to a wide range of agroecological conditions and a diversity of soils, within the environmental framework of the humid tropics. Optimum soils are those of clay loam texture that are deep, with good drainage.
Elaeis is a genus of palms that includes three species of oil palm: the African Palm, the Noli or the American Palm Noli and the Corozo Colorado. Only one genus of oil palm exists, but with other species. The Elaeis guineensis is originally from West Africa and its cultivation is of great economic importance since it provides the largest amount of palm oil worldwide. The Elaeis Oleifera (Noli) is common in tropical America and the Elaeis Odora (Corozo Colorado) is not well known, although it has potential.
African palm planting and production in the Dominican Republic
Planting of african palm in the Dominican Republic began in the early 1980s, with the importation of 25,000 seeds. Thus, the first palm oil plantation was born in the country in the area of San Francisco, in Monte Plata Province. With the purpose of expand- ing the plantation, in May 1983 another 710 hectares were sown in the area of El Valle, in Hato Mayor Province. For the selection of these areas of cultivation, weather conditions that guaranteed good crop development were taken into consideration, especially good precipitation, above 1,800 millimeters, well distributed throughout the year. Also, average temperatures that fluctuate between 25o–26oC; and finally, determining that the crop would receive more than 1,500 hours of sunlight throughout the year. Other plantations were developed towards the end of the 1980s and early 1990s, reaching an area greater than 7,013 sown hectares.