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Palm Kernel Meal

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Palm kernel meal is an important feed ingredient and the by-product of the oil palm ( Elaeis guineensis Jacq.). This palm tree is cultivated for its oils rich in highly saturated vegetable fats: the palm oil, extracted from the fruit flesh; and the palm kernel oil, extracted from the fruit kernel. Palm oil is both a major staple oil (a "poor man’s cooking oil", common in South-East Asia and tropical Africa) and an indispensable ingredient for the food industry ( Prabhakaran Nair, 2010 ). It has also numerous non-food applications, including as a feedstock for biodiesel. Palm kernel oil, which is semi-solid at room temperature, is economically less important. The demand for palm oil, fueled by the growth of the Chinese and Indian economies, has been growing rapidly since the 1990s. Palm oil production doubled between 1996 and 2005 and increased yearly by 10% during the 2000s. Palm oil overtook soybean oil in 2004 to be the world’s leading vegetable oil (45 million t in 2010). The production of palm kernel oil, while less important (5.6 million t in 2010) overtook that of groundnut oil in 2007 ( FAO, 2012).

The oil palm tree The oil palm is an evergreen monoecious tree, 18 to 30 m tall ( Ecocrop, 2011 ; Ataga et al., 2007). Though the tree can live up to 200 years, its productive life is about 25-35 years as older trees are too tall and impractical to harvest ( Ecocrop, 2011 ). The tree has a stout trunk, up to 75 cm in diameter, a crown made of 40-100 fronds (leaves) spirally arranged at the top, and an adventitious root system ( Rossin, 2009 ; Ataga et al., 2007). The compound leaves are up to 8 m long with 250-350 leaflets irregularly inserted on the rachis ( Ataga et al., 2007). Inflorescences are borne at the leaf axil. After pollination, female inflorescences develop into large and heavy fruit bunches bearing about 200-500 fruits ( Ecocrop, 2011 ; Ataga et al., 2007). A tree may bear between 2 and 6 bunches a year. The fruit is a fibrous, ovoid drupe, 2-5 cm long and about 2 cm broad, usually orange when ripe. The fruit has a thin epicarp, a fleshy and oily mesocarp and a hard endocarp that contains an oil-rich endosperm (kernel) ( Vaughan et al., 2009 ). Fruit bunches can be harvested 3 to 4 years after planting and the largest amount of fresh fruit bunches is obtained after 8 to 10 years ( Poonam Singh Nigam et al., 2009 ). The fruit bunches are cut off or knocked down carefully when the fruit is ripe ( Ecocrop, 2011 ).