The oil palm originated in West Africa and was spread first to Brazil and later in 1875 as an ornamental plant to what is today Malaysia. The first commercial plantings were done in Sumatra and Malaysia in 1911 and 1917 respectively.
Palm oil is mainly produced on estates owned by plantation companies. They also often operate mills where the harvested fruit bunches are processed for oil extraction. Smallholders also produce fruit bunches and these are sold to nearby mills. According to the Indonesian Palm Oil Council (IPOC) private palm plantations own 52% of the oil palm area, whereas smallholders and government have shares of 40% and 8% respectively.
Oil palm cultivation requires specific growing conditions such as sufficient sunshine, temperatures ranging between 24 and 32°C and a rainfall pattern that is evenly spread throughout the year. For these reasons the most suitable areas for cultivation of the oil palm lie between 10° north and south of the equator. The economic life period of the oil palm is around 20-25 years, after an immature phase of about 3 years.
Because palm oil has the highest oil yield per hectare it is the most productive oil bearing crop in the world in terms of land use. The global average oil yield per hectare for oil palm is about 8 times larger than for soybeans and about 6 times larger than rapeseed.
Compared to other oil seed crops the oil palm is a unique crop as it produces 2 different oils from its fruit: palm oil from the mesocarp and palm kernel oil from the kernel.
In addition to being the most productive vegetable oil per hectare, oil palm is also a very efficient crop, as it has the highest energy output versus input ratio. In absolute terms, oil palm requires the lowest input of pesticides, fertilizers and fossil fuel per unit production of oil.
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