A brief history of the ASD genetic improvement program

ASD technical personnel routinely participate in different countries in events aimed at disseminating the most recent achievements of the research carried out to solve the different problems that limit the productivity of oil palm cultivation. In the month of September of the previous year, CENIPALMA of Colombia organized its international meeting, to which our colleague Amancio Alvarado was invited as the main speaker in the module about improvement. His talk on "Advances in the genetic improvement of oil palm in Central America" was a great opportunity to present the new developments in this field by ASD, the most recognized entity in this region of America. The summary of the work is as follows:

Oil palm genetic improvement in Central America is linked to the history of the United Fruit Company, which introduced and disseminated this species throughout tropical America starting in the 1930s. The experience generated in the first commercial plantations in Central America, motivated germplasm exchange projects of diverse origin, with renowned institutions in Asia and Africa. Several dura and tenera/pisifera populations were introduced to Costa Rica starting in 1970. Also, some samples of the Deli dura population, AVROS and Ekona pollen sources and DxP progenies of the compact population were later taken to Honduras. All these introductions formed the basis of the genetic improvement and seed production programs in Central America.

In Costa Rica, the ASD (Agricultural Services & Development) genetic improvement program has concentrated on three main areas: i) the development of E. guineensis varieties, ii) the selection of oleifera palms for the production of interspecific hybrids; and iii) the development of compound materials or gene mixtures of E. guineensis and E. oleifera, better known as compact varieties. This work, started four decades ago, has allowed the development of more than ten commercial varieties, with which approximately 1.2 million hectares have been planted in the main palm growing regions of the world. Perhaps the most outstanding achievement of the ASD program has been the consolidation of high density varieties and clones, as an alternative to increasing production per hectare. Other important advances have to do with the development of varieties tolerant to adverse conditions such as low temperatures, water deficits and severe spear rots, which will allow expanding the agricultural frontier of the crop in the near future.