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The oil palm, Elaeis guineensis Jacq is a diploid (2n = 32) monocotyledonous and perennial crop of the humid tropics. Fossil, archaeological, historic, and linguistic evidence indicate that oil palm originated in Africa (Hartley, 1977 and1988; Corley and Tinker, 2003). Fossil pollen similar to oil palm was extracted from Miocene sediments of Nigeria (Zeven, 1964), while Raynaud et al. (1996) reported oil palm pollen found in lake sediments of south-east Cameroon (Hartley, 1977; Corley and Tinker, 2003). Sowunmi (1999) discovered oil palm nut shells in a rainforest site and speculated that an increase in late Holocene times (5000 years ago) connotes the beginning of oil palm cultivation and its importance in the subsistence economy of Africa. Historical records of African origin of oil palm were traced to the major landmarks of Portuguese and English exploration and trade in Africa (Rees 1965). The short and direct translation of the West African vernacular names of oil palm is strong linguistic evidence supporting a West African origin of oil palm (Zeven, 1965; Hartley, 1988). A high concentration of natural/semi-natural groves estimated at about 2.1 million hectares occur in Nigeria and studies have shown that the Nigerian groves have the highest level of polymorphism with respect to the number of alleles, indicating that Nigeria is likely to be the centre of distribution for oil palm (Maizura et al., 2001; Rajanaidu, 2002; Maizura et al., 2006; Bakoumé et al., 2015).

Oil palm is cultivated for the oil that is extracted from the mesocarp and the kernel. It produces more than five times oil/year/hectare of any annual oil crop (Basri-Wahid et al., 2005). Palm oil is the most valuable natural oil in the diets of Nigerians both as crude red palm oil and as refined oil (olein). It has played a very significant role in the socio-economic and political life of the people of Nigeria. With the recognition of the economic potential of the crop, both as dietary and industrial fats, concerted efforts towards the genetic improvement of the plant and management practices started at the turn of the last century in Nigeria (Okwuagwu and Ataga, 1992). Today, this genetic improvement strategy using traditional breeding methods has been very successful. The most spectacular achievements are the development of E. guineensis hybrids with one or a combination of the following attributes (i) early bearing, (ii) short stem, (iii) drought tolerance, and (iv) high and stable yield (Okwuagwu and Ataga, 1985; Okwuagwu, 1989; Okwuagwu et al., 2001 and 2005). In spite of these compelling results, oil palm yield potential is yet to be fully realized coupled with the slow and expensive procedure involved in the breeding and selection programme at NIFOR. Should this trend continue, genetic gain expected through conventional breeding

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