This section is from the book "The Planting, Cultivation And Expression Of Coconuts, Kernels, Cacao And Edible Vegetable Oils And Seeds Of Commerce", by H. Osman Newland. Also available from Amazon: The Planting, Cultivation And Expression Of Coconuts, Kernels, Cacao And Edible Vegetable Oils And Seeds Of Commerce.
According to Adam (Le Palmier a huile, pp. 118-121), an average yield of about 10 fruit heads, each weighing 13-2 lbs., and equivalent to 85 lbs. of fruit per tree per annum, may be counted on in districts favourable to the oil palm, such as Lower Dahomey. Farquhar (The Oil Palm and its Varietiesy p. 20) says that an average of five bunches is obtainable in favourable districts in Nigeria, each bunch weighing 31 lbs., but that the bunches are smaller in the dry zone and in dense forest. There is no doubt that the yields of fruit vary considerably in different localities.
West African native bringing the palm fruit into store (illustrating the cone).
The Germans were keen on introducing European methods of improvement. At the Agu plantation in Togoland, for example, the process employed there extracted the best palm oil obtainable, containing only 5 to 6 per cent, of fatty acid. And only as late as July 4th, 1914, Direktor Hupfield, of Togoland, told the Third International Congress of Tropical Agriculture that increase in exportation might be attained by (1) an extension of the districts capable of exporting by improvements in the means of transport ; (2) a more intensive utilisation of the existing palms through better methods of cultivation ; (3) a better utilisation of the crops obtained through improved methods of prepara-tion ; (4) an increase in the existing number of palms by increased activity of the present producers or the introduction of fresh producers ; and (5) methods of preparing the crop by machinery which have been elaborated within the last decade.
Both British and French are now taking up the matter more seriously, and several British firms, notably Lever Bros, and the Co-operative Wholesale Society, have taken up large concessions under European management.
Several important organised efforts have now been made to supplant the wasteful native method for recovering the yellow oil from the pericarp, by establishing modern plants within the area in which the oil palm flourishes. These modern plants offer one of the most favourable opportunities for the investment of capital, as the native labourer will soon find that the collection of fruit for these establishments is easier and more profitable than attempting to extract the oil himself. At the same time, users of palm oil in Europe will be furnished with a product which, on account of the large proportion of glycerine it contains and better average condition, will be of greater value than the variable and uncertain product that is now shipped by the West African native.
The cost of extraction by the native methods is from £10 to £12 a ton. Half that estimate should cover the cost by machinery under European management.
The problem of the mechanical extraction of palm oil has been approached from two standpoints- (1) the construction of small, cheap, portable machines capable of being worked by hand and of being transported from place to place as required ; (2) the erection of central factories dealing with large quantities of palm fruit by means of heavy, power-driven machines.
At least two hand-operated machines, very similar in principle, have been patented for the preparation of palm oil, in both of which the palm fruits are placed in a cylinder with hot water and submitted to the action of beaters, the oil and water being afterwards run off through a grid or sieve. The " Gwira " machine patented by Eglen (English Pat. 3357/1909) has been experimented with on the Gold Coast. The other machine, in which the palm fruit is beaten in hot water for extraction of the oil, is that of Phillips, a native of Lagos ; an early model of this machine was patented in 1907 (English Pat. 9733), and an improved form in 1912 (English Pat. 18370). It consists of a smooth cylinder mounted inside a cylindrical casing and around a shaft bearing beaters. The outer cylinder carries a water tank with a valve to control the flow of water, while the inner cylinder carries on the lower side a sliding sieve to separate the oil and water from the nuts and fibrous waste ; this arrangement of the sieve allows its removal so that the exhausted material can be discharged through a space in the inner cylinder. This machine was exhibited at the International Rubber and Tropical Products Exhibition held in London in 1914, and according to the advertisements issued at that time, it cost £5. Although little is known with regard to the efficiency of oil extraction by this machine, it should prove useful in econo-mising time and labour in the preparation of palm oil on a small scale by natives.
The first power-driven machinery for cracking palm nuts is believed to have been introduced into West Africa in 1877 by Mr. C. A. Moore, of Liverpool, and was devised by Messrs. Mather & Piatt, Ltd., of Salford. Hand machines were introduced about 15 or 20 years later.
In 1901 a prize offered by the Kolonial Wirtschaft-lichen Kommittee of the German Kolonialgesellschaft (Verhand. Kol. Wirt. Kom., 1909, No. 1, p. 54) was awarded for a complete set of small machines constructed by the firm of F. Haake in Berlin and designed to extract palm oil from the fruit and also to crack the nuts and liberate the kernels. Plant made by this firm was exhibited in 1909 in Berlin, and afterwards erected at Mamfe on the Cross River (Cameroons). Similar plant was also erected at Victoria in the Cameroons, and at about the same time a French firm erected a plant of French make at Cotonou in Dahomey. These early factories were all on a small scale, working about 5 tons of palm fruit per day.
Subsequent power machinery falls into two classes-(1) those in which the whole fruit is pressed without removal of the nuts, and (2) those in which the fruit pulp is removed from the nuts and pressed alone.