The oil palm (Elaeis guineensis Jacq): nature’s ecological endowment to eastern Nigeria
The paper highlights oil palm as a multipurpose tree crop symbolizing nature’s endowment to the people of South East, Nigeria, and presents available evidence that the center of origin for the palm is within the area. The structure of the natural habitat of the oil palm – the groves, from where several genetic collections have been made for the improvement of the crop worldwide – is described. The oil palm is viewed as closely interwoven with the people providing their requirements in terms of food, medicine and materials for infrastructural development. In a wider context, the ecological, socio-economic, and socio-cultural and traditional values of the palm are discussed. The history of efforts to exploit the potentials of the crop through domestication and genetic improvement is given. Because the potential of oil palm is yet exhausted, the action plan for further development in the natural habitat and plantations is also given, highlighting the prospects of increased oil palm production as well as some of the constraints on the way to realising this all-important project. The paper identifies areas needing action research towards the sustainable development of oil palm. Among other suggestions in this direction, the paper recommends the creation of a center of excellence in oil palm studies within the South East, Nigeria to expand the scientific exploitation of the natural groves and encourage plantation establishment for the benefit of not only the people whose God-given gift is now a highly valuable crop in the world, but the entire country and even beyond.
Keywords: multipurpose tree, natural groves, oil palm plantations, agricultural growth, South East Nigeria