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1.1 BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY
Oil palm, Elaeis guineensis is believed to be indigenous to West Africa. In Africa, wild palm groves are found mainly in a 300 to 500 hundred kilometers wide Western coastal belt stretching from Gambia to Angola and extending inland toward the East as far as the equator in the region of the great Lakes (Omereji, 2015). Oil palm is a perennial plant which belongs to the family palmae, subfamily cocoideae and are of three basic types (varieties) namely the dura type, tenera type and the pisifera type, (Opeke, 2015). Oil palm is a low land crop although it can grow well up to an altitude of 900m. It has fibrous root system and prefers deep fertile well-drained soil; require plenty sunshine, thus productivity reduces drastically when subjected to areas with excessive humidity. The oil palm has large compound leaves (fronds), unbranched stem, fibrous root system, the oil palm fruit is a sessile drupe and consist of a leathery exocarp, fleshy oily mesocarp and a hard endocarp (shell) which encloses the kernel (seed) (Udoh, et. al., 2015).
A well ripe oil palm fruit changes in colour of the fruit. The changes in colour at ripening which may be from black to red, green to reddish orange with greenish tip, from white to pale yellow, depends on the type of oil palm fruit. (Udoh, et. al., 2015) also discussed various agronomic practices involved in oil palm production including:- nursery establishment, time of planting, nursery maintenance, transplanting, pest and disease control, fertilizer application, harvesting and processing of palm fruits. However this research will dwell much on the processing of the oil palm fruit.
PROCESSING OF OIL PALM FRUITS
Oil palm fruits, after harvest are processed into various products including: – palm oil, palm kernel, fibre, kernel cake, shell etc. There are basically two methods of oil palm fruit processing as identified by Udoh et. al., 2005. (i) Traditional Method: – This include • Collection of fruits bunches from the field. • Cutting of bunches into pieces (Spikelets). • Fermentation • Stripping to separate out clean fruits. • Boiling/sterilization of fruits in large drums. • Milling/pounding in mortars or buried drums. • Separation by hand to remove nuts from the oily fibres (mesocarp). • Pressing of fibres to remove oil. • Clarification to separate oil from water and dirt. • Storage/marketing of products.
(ii) Modern method of processing This involves:- • Sterilization: – This can be carried out in pots, drum or sterilization chambers. It is achieved by boiling to soften the fruits. It also disinfects the fruits and inhibits the action of lipophytic enzymes.
• Stripping: The removal of fruit from sterilized or quartered bunches. The stripped fruits are reboiled for about 30 – 45 minutes before milling.
• Digesting (Milling of Fruits): The pounding of sterilized fruits to separate the mesocarp from the kernel (de-pulping).
• Pressing or Extraction: The pounded mass is then loaded into a press and oil is extracted with the use of a screw press, hydraulic press or centrifugal press.
• Clarification: This is the removal of water from the oil. It is achieved by boiling and skimming. • Storage in Containers and Marketing
According to Ndon (2016), oil palm is the second most important source of vegetable oil in the world, oil palm produces seven times more vegetable oil per hectare than other oil yielding crops such as soybean. Palm oil, an essential product obtained in oil palm fruits processing is an integral component of meals in West Africa as well as being used for diverse industrial purposes, (Onyeka, 2012). Other palm produce include palm kernel which are further processed to kernel oil, used for medicinal purpose and kernel cake which are possible raw material for livestock feed production. Kernel shell and fibre are used as fuel source for cooking. The oil palm is an environmentally friendly crop which is also efficient in its utilization of land resources and inputs for the manufacture vegetable oil.
According to Olagunju (2014), between 1961 and 1965, world oil palm production was 1.5 million tons, with Nigeria accounting for 43%. However, since then, oil palm production in Nigeria has virtually been stagnated. But today, world oil palm production amount to 14.4 million tons, with Nigeria as one of the largest producers in West Africa accounting for only 7%. Kei et. al. (2017) compared the characteristic of the palm sectors in Malaysia and Nigeria and found out that Malaysia’s success is built on plantation management together with processing in large modern method or technique. The plantation mode of production is characterized by large scale mono-culture under unified management. conversely in Nigeria, 80% of production comes from dispersed small holders who harvest semi wild plants and used manual processing techniques. Several million small holders are spread over an estimate area of 1.65 million hectares in Southern part of Nigeria.
In different agro-ecological zones of Nigeria, women are predominantly engaged in the processing of oil palm fruit. Report has it that women are responsible for at least 70% food production in Africa and are as well important in marketing cash crop and livestock (Ibekwe, 2014). Adeyeye (2014) noted that women spent about 1.4h daily in food processing vis-à-vis only 0.25h spent by men on similar activity. Still in comparing female labour with that of the male counterpart, Ibe and Nweke (2011), Onah (2017) and Ogbonna (2015) indicated that female labour are more productive than male labour in food processing and also that women account for more than half of the labour force in oil palm processing. Before the boom in crude oil sector which has become the mainstay of the economy, the country depended an agriculture particularly oil palm fruit processing and marketing in the Southeastern state. During the past decade, Nigeria has become the net importer of palm oil from Malaysia. Nigeria’s palm oil production which in the past accounted for 43% of the world production now only account for 7% of the world production (National Agriculture Project, 2017).
1.2 STATEMENT OF PROBLEM
Several traditional methods of oil palm processing still abound in the study area including manual separation of kernels from fibre after maceration, pounding in a mortar, squeezing out of oil by hand and water displacement. However, most of these processes are being replaced by modern method (Omereji, 2015). The oil palm processors are seen to be reluctant to adopt modern processing technique. Beside this, virtually all the processors engage in small scale of oil palm production leading to decrease in the total quantity of product. Not withstanding this rapid decline in palm oil production, oil palm fruit processing still provides for about 70% of rural small-scale farmers in which women forms a great percentage. However, with the tripartite burden of child bearing, domestic chores and other agricultural activities, women in the study area are sand witched between several constraints in the processing of oil palm fruit. Despite the constraints, the participation of women in processing of oil palm fruit is increasing as a result of increasing demand of the growing urban population for palm oil. Since the major processors of oil palm fruits are the rural farm household in which majority are women, the study is targeted at the role of women and their constraints in the processing of oil palm fruit in Etim Ekpo L. G. A. of Akwa Ibom State.
Often Women’s Voices are ignored when research priorities are set and their needs are thus not addressed. But for the fact that women contribute immensely in socio-economic development of the rural areas with less authority and opportunity than men implies that the socio-economic constraints militating against their efficient resource management must be fully understood. This would suggest possible solutions to their efficient performance. It is against this background that the following research questions become relevant:- (1) What are the socio-economic characteristics of oil palm processors? (2) What is the level of women involvement in oil palm processing in the study area? (3) What are indigenous knowledge practices used by women oil palm processors in the study area? (4) What are the different technological practices open to them in the study area? (5) What are constraints to oil palm processing faced by women in Etim Ekpo Local Government Area?
1.3 BROAD OBJECTIVE OF THE STUDY
The broad objective of the study is to determine women involvement in oil palm processing in Etim Ekpo Local Government Area.
1.4 SPECIFIC OBJECTIVES OF THE STUDY
To meet the broad objectives, the study will specifically focus on the following objectives; (1) To examine the socio-economic characteristics of oil palm processors in Etim Ekpo Local Government Area. (2) To ascertain the level of women’s involvement in oil palm processing in the study area. (3) To asses the indigenous knowledge practices used by women oil palm processors in the study area. (4) To determine the technological practices they are exposed to in the study area. (5) To determine the constraints to oil palm processing faced by women in the study area.
1.5 HYPOTHESIS OF THE STUDY
There is no significant different between socio-economic characteristics and constraint to oil palm processing in Etim Ekpo Local Government Area.
1.6 THE JUSTIFICATION FOR THE STUDY
Oil palm processing is a major source of income and employment to a large proportion of the resource poor rural population in Nigeria especially in the South-South/South-eastern part of the country. This study will generate information on constraints or set backs women encounter in oil palm processing in Etim Ekpo Local Government Area with the purpose of suggesting the possible solutions to the constraints. The results of the study will provide basis for developing appropriate policy by government that will enhance efficient and sustainable performance by women in oil palm processing. Furthermore, research institute, agricultural organization and students of agricultural extension will benefit from the study.
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