12 Nov 2013

Asian countries to benefit from Pacific coconut DNA

6:10 pm on 12 November 2013

Coconut producing countries in the Pacific are to supply genetic materials and resources to Asia countries to replant their old coconut plantations.

This was one of the agenda items when an experts consultation meeting on the development of the coconut sector was held last month in Bangkok.

The meeting brought together representatives of 13 countries which are members of the Asia Pacific Coconut Community.

Dr Roger Malapa, who represented Vanuatu along with the minister of agriculture, David Tosul, told Hilaire Bule that coconut production in the Pacific has been stagnant for 30 years with the accent on copra production.

He says average Pacific production has been 30 to 40 tonnes per hectare per year.

ROGER MALAPA: For the Pacific as a whole the production of coconut has been stagnant for the last 30 years and mainly the production of coconut was driven towards the copra production, with an average of 30 to 40 tonnes per hectare per year for the Pacific countries, which is very small compared to the major producing countries of Asia whose production can be counted at a million tonnes per year.

HILAIRE BULE: I understand that the Asian countries, they want to replant their plantation, but they need genetic material from Pacific countries. What is the contribution of Vanuatu?

RM: Because replanting of the coconut has been stagnant for almost 20 years the Asian countries now will face in the next 15 years a decrease of their production so for sure they will need planting material and genetic resources from other countries to improve their planting material, 'cause coconut plantations are low-yielding right now and do not reach the average of the improved material that we have. So they have to look for other genetic resources. And of course this can be done in the framework of the FAO, Food and Agriculture, framework, which we can trade or transfer technology for planting for genetic resources.

HB: Vanuatu has those genetic resources?

RM: Not only Vanuatu, but we have to think about the Pacific island countries as a whole. So our germ plasm of coconut is now located in Papua New Guinea. So this is the genetic resources that we can exchange with Asian countries and then take advantage of the processing unit or technology of processing to develop our coconut sector in the Pacific.

HB: What are the advantages that we can get from the Asian countries?

RM: Different technologies are available and the Asian countries have been producing many, many by-products or products from the coconut, going from virgin coconut oil to desiccated coconut and also by-products such as timber, activated carbon and coir fibre, as well as new marketing products that is in high demand now - coconut water. So for that technology, we can ask for the technology that they use right now to do this product, but as far as our small-scale economy is concerned, we have to choose the right technology and the specific market that we can identify to produce a product that can be sustained for the next coming years.