Cook Islands

Map of Cook islands
The Cook archipelago gathers 15 islands, of which two remains uninhabited, sprinkled on 2.25 million square km of the Pacific Ocean. All the islands combined make up an area of just 240 square km. the Cook Islands have a special economy, mainly based on tourism. More than 100,000 Cook islanders are now living abroad; part of them are sending money to their family and relatives remaining in Cook Islands, which are only 14,000. In 2017, about 140,000 tourists visited Cook Island. Because of this particular economical system, the remaining islanders often have a quite easy life and some of them became quite reluctant to hard tasks such as agricultural fields work. Fields workers started recently to come from Fiji, the Philippines and sometimes Indonesia.
There is presently limited coconut Industry in the Cook Islands. Farmers do not produce any more copra and do not export coconut products. All other agricultural exports have stopped except Noni Juice. Coconuts produced in the Cook serve for feeding animals, cooking and drinking nuts. In Rarotonga, tourists buy a tender nut 4 to 6 NZD. Due to the large number of tourists visiting the islands, prices of both accommodation and food reach a high level.
Some islanders are producing coconut oil mainly by the cooking and fermenting methods. They sell oil to the market or to gift shops. Some sell it at roadside stalls. Some entrepreneurial teenagers are even selling it on Facebook. According to Rachel Reeves, a group from Nukutere College called “Freshness Cook Island” debuted its products at a trade day featuring college students from four Island. Under the brand of of “Miracle oil”, they market three type of products: oil with miri, a fragrant herb; oil with pi, an herb with medicinal properties; and pure oil. Their maximum production was 76 bottles in a week. In the early 2000’s, when the outer island population dwindled rapidly, the local supply for Miracle oil decreased, and its export grew sporadically. In 2015, the Cook Foundation bought the Mauke island two electric graters in an effort to revitalize Miracle oil production. a full equipment including electric graters was also installed in Atiu Island, but is presently used only sporadically.

1. Design and implementation of seed supply systems

Past seed supply system

Compact Brown Dwarf variety
and its owners,
Aitutaki Island, 2000
Officially, no coconut varieties have been introduced from abroad during the past 50 years. Nevertheless, both oral traditional and the inventory of existing varieties show that Cook people and coconut farmers did some introductions privately. Many varieties of different crops were introduced from PNG and other islands between 1930 and 1970. Some of these varieties have been recorded to be planted and grow in Manue Island.
Malayan Red Dwarf is found is small quantity and was introduced by churches; so are Dwarfs introduced from Papua New Guinea (called Nu Papua). The question of Compact Dwarf remains open. Compact Dwarf and their intermediate forms are very present in Rarotonga, and also found both in Aitutaki and Atiu. We still do not know if they are traditional varieties or if they came from the crossing between the Malayan Red and the Niu leka, made in Fiji in 1926. Elders say that this kind of coconut was introduced no more than 30 to 40 years ago. From our last visit in 2000, Compact Dwarfs have invaded the landscapes. We estimate that more than 70% of the coconut planted in Rarotonga during the XXI century have genes from Compact Dwarfs. There are nice red-orange Compact Dwarf that could serve in seedgarden, to be planted together with a green variety (Tall or Dwarf) to produce both red Dwarfs, brown hybrids and Green Talls. No coconut hybrids were produced, released nor imported in the Cook Islands.

Present seed supply system

Each island have its autonomy for agricultural R&D, which is placed under the island administration. The Ministry of Agriculture have a small programme to replant yearly 500 coconut palms on a community basis, along the roads and in other public places. On outer islands, people can harvest free these palms when they need coconuts.
On the two sides of the sandy road along the Atiu Island, more than one thousand coconut palms have been planted. Officers picked the seedlings growing naturally in the bush and replanted them along the road. 
The main agricultural problem of Atiu is wild pigs. Some of them have become enormous and dangerous. They sometimes attacks the people running motorbike by night. Atiu is the island in Cook where this problem is the most important. Wild pigs destroy many plantations and young coconuts. Groups of goats are not wild but they also destroy many small coconut palms.
In Atiu, officers have just recently started collecting seednuts and growing them at the nursery. In April 2018, there was only 20 to 30 seedlings in the nursery. Selection of the parent palms is conducted on advices of ex agricultural staff, and personal observations and choices of the present officers. They favour big fruits with sweet tasty water.
Seedlings are given free to farmers, who do not receive any incentive for replanting. There is no follow up of the planted coconut palms. In 2018, they are farmer databases existing for other crops, but no coconut.
In Atiu, all the equipment for making virgin coconut oil is fully available, but women groups are using it very occasionally. When asking the reason, local officers reply “lack of coconuts”, but the expert does not believe this is the main reason. They are plenty of coconuts that are not harvested in Atiu. The main reason could be the cost and/or the lack of labor for the coconut to be picked, harvested and transported to the oil production site.

Proposed contribution of CIDP to the national coconut seed supply system

The new concept of delocalized community-based genebank
In Rarotonga, land is scarce. Totokoitu was an agricultural centre, but landowners reclaim the land within the last 10 years and it is no more managed by the Ministry of Agriculture. Matavera serves as genebank for several crops (Bananas, yam, sweet potatoes) but no for coconut. Its total land area is 2 acres only.  Troubles with landowners prevents to create another agricultural research centre in Rarotonga. For a coconut genebank, an area of at least 10 hectares is required, and this is impossible to secure such an area in Rarotonga. Thus, in the Cook islands, it seems almost impossible to create a classical coconut genebank because of land scarcity and land tenure questions.

The expert would like to introduce the new concept of delocalized community-based coconut genebank: Each coconut palm planted in a public place should be from a variety perfectly identified; its identity and its localisation (latitude and longitude, date of planting) should recorded in a database available online. If the Ministry apply this advice, Cook will probably have after ten years the largest coconut genebank in the world – without devoting any dedicated land to this activity. This genebank will be directly available to all citizen who can access information by the online database.

What was recently done in some islands – taking thousands of unidentified seedlings in the bush and plant them along the road – should never be done again. Regarding database management, It is advised to release information online only when the coconut palms will start to fruit; otherwise there is a risk for the seedlings to be stolen. Therefore, the database system should include the option to release or not the individual information on line.
According to expert advices, with agreement of relevant ministries and local stakeholders, the following activities could be implemented under the CIDP project.

Table 1. Suggested activities in Cook Islands
 for coconut production and seed system

Incentives for replanting dedicated to schools and other similar communities. 2 NZD for 1000 coconut palms, management and follow-up, production of a leaflet explaining good planting and selection practices. Register all palms planted in public places in a database as part of the delocalized genebank.
Buying 500 coconut harvest hooks and use them as an incentive for replanting 10000 coconut palms (20 palms planted for one hook given). Record recipient farmers in a database.
Assessing and extending the number of efficiently selected parent palms for seednut production (400 palms analysed, 10 to 20% chosen, 1500 seednuts released); and creating a comprehensive parent palm database.
Implementing the new concept of delocalized community-based coconut genebank. 500 palms from 10 well identified varieties planted in public places, and recorded in a database available online. Data should include a number for each palm, local and international name of the variety, date of planting, latitude and longitude, number of the parent palm.

2. Preparation of the training package

Here under is a short movie on a farmer's method for planting coconut in Atiu Island, Cook archipelago. this movie seems important for two main reasons:
  1. This is the first documented case in Polynesia where a farmer plant many coconut palms and remove the baddest. I found that most pacific farmers are generally very conservative and, once a coconut palm is planted, they keep it for a long time, be it a good or a bad producer. Jokingly, we could say that most of these farmers treat coconut palms as members of their families. This movie demonstrates that I was wrong and that, at least in some cases, farmers are applying the technique that is recommended in our website: to plant more coconut palms and to remove those which are not producing well.
  2. We were surprised to see that this farmer is applying the criteria for selecting coconut fruits similar than the one developed in the method proposed here.There is a scene where the farmer is discarding the biggest fruits and keep only the one with thin husk and big coconut inside. So our method is well connected to some traditional practices, here in Atiu, Cook Islands. It's pleasant and reassuring, because we did not know the link with traditional practice at the time when we developed this method.

Click on the link to see:
The new inventory of coconut varieties in the Cook Islands
Compact Red and Yellow Dwarfs from the Cook Islands
Surprising lessons from the late "Seven in one" famous coconut palms.
Compact  Green and Brown Dwarfs from the Cook Islands
Papua Dwarf and Semi-Dwarf
Malayan Red and Yellow Dwarfs
Tall-types palms from the Cook Islands
Varieties and forms with special characteristics

3. Train the trainers meeting and public lecture