Solomon Islands

Guadalcanal Island, picture R. Bourdeix
Solomon Islands groups six major islands and over 900 smaller islands in Oceania lying to the east of Papua New Guinea and northwest of Vanuatu. The country's capital, Honiara, is located on the island of Guadalcanal. Most of the Population of the Solomon Islands live in rural areas. Agriculture contributes 38% of the country’s GDP.  Dr R. Bourdeix visited the Solomon Islands from to 27th February to 14th of March 2018. He visited the islands of Guadalcanal, Rennell and Yandina.

Coconut production

It is estimated that nearly 59000 ha are under coconut. Most Coconuts are grown in the western province areas. Fluctuating prices and production levels has meant that the value of coconut exports has not been steady. A high level of senile trees (up to 70%), is one of the challenges that will need to be addressed.
Improved Solomon Island Tall
Pictured in Africa by R. Bourdeix

Past coconut seed systems

At the beginning of the 19th century, the major coconut areas were the islands in the Western province (Choiseul) and part of New Georgia Province close to Papua New Guinea. Since the half of 19th century, new cultivation areas were developed: Isabel, Central Coast of Malaita and Guadalcanal.
In 1905, Levers Pacific Plantation Limited arrived in Solomon Islands and set up large plantations of coconut in Russell Islands (Mbanika) and Guadalcanal (Lungga). Levers plantations imported some exotic accessions especially during the Joint Coconut Research Scheme (1960s). They also collected and widely promoted the Tall-type coconut varieties from Rennell and Bellona Island.
From the 1950s to 1970s, the research activities were implemented by Levers' Plantation in Yandina. A large collection was established in the 1960s and breeding work involved crosses between a number of tall accessions (including Rennell, Local tall, West African tall and Malayan tall) and dwarfs notably the Malayan Red Dwarf. As the result of the breeding programme, the MRDxRIT hybrid has been recommended.
In Russell Islands, seed gardens of MRD were established at Yandina Island, Bulolo island, and Sifola Island but are not in use from at least the 2000s. Two other seed gardens of a five hectare area each were located in New Georgia Island and Guadalcanal and the establishment of a third one was planned in Choiseul Island. They produced hybrids for dissemination to smallholders in the framework of Farmers' Support Programme (EU funded). The research activities on coconut breeding terminated at the end of the 1980s.
Archives from the Yandina Research Center

It is of crucial importance to retrieve information and map of the Yandina research centre, and to locate the plots where this improved Solomon Tall is still growing. This is the place from where seednuts should be sourced. The difference in production with ordinary Solomon Tall could be huge, probably about one ton of copra per hectare per year.

Present coconut seed systems

Since the 2000’s, the Ministry of Agriculture is no longer releasing seednuts of seedlings to farmers. Thus, selection of parent palms in only done by the farmers themselves. Taking into account the relative high number of coconut hybrids (MRDxRIT) in the country, farmers very probably harvest many seednuts on hybrids, and this is not a good practice. 
In Guadalcanal, Rennell and Yandina islands, we searched to visit farmer’s coconut nurseries, but we did not find any, except an old one near the Coconut Technical center in Honiara. For replanting, farmers are mainly taking the forgotten germinated seedlings available in their fields. The only coconut nursery we found was at the KoKonut Pacific Company, and it was far under international standards. The Ministry of Agriculture is not managing anymore coconut nursery. On the other hand, we visited an oil palm plantation very well managed by a private company (GPPOL, Guadalcanal Plains Palm Oil Limited). We saw immense nurseries managed professionally, young oil palms plantation well protected against the beetle. 

Our visit to oil palms nurseries and plantations demonstrated that all the required technology is fully available in the Solomon islands to make high yielding coconut plantations, such as those visited by the expert in Brazil, producing 160 to 180 mature fruits per palm per year. Technology is in the hand of private companies presently planting only oil palm.

From 2004, the company KoKonut Pacific Solomon Island (KPSI) constituted farmer’s groups for use of the Direct Micro Expelling (DME) technology for production of virgin coconut oil. This company now works collaboratively with over 600 certified organic farms in the Solomon Islands, with almost 40 village-based DME® processors installed on height provinces (Malaita, Makira, Central Islands, Isabel, Western, Guadalcanal, Temotu and Choiseul). Extension officers from CTC (coconut technology centre, presently funded by KPSI and KP) visited all farms during organic certification and made GPS measurements of the farms, that represents about 989000 palms (of which more than half in Malaita).
In October 2016, the company started to implement a coconut-replanting program funded by the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock ender RDP (Rural Development Project). Farmers are replanting 200 hectares. The fund provides incentives and cash money for those doing replanting: Nursery – SBD 4 per coconut; Field planting - SBD 5 per seedling planted. The company selected twenty DME sites. Each selected DME had to designate 10 farmers, each of them replanting one hectare (200 coconut in nursery and 160 seedlings to be planted in the field). Farmers select the seednuts in their own farm on criteria that are not well established, mainly healthy palms with large fruits. I seems that some of them simply take the forgotten germinated coconut in their fields, and this practice is not recommendable because forgotten coconut are often small and with low kernel content. All farmers received their nursery payment in 2017. This year (2018) they should receive their field planting incentive. The total cost for Incentive is estimated at 320 000 SBD (33600 Euros), if all is well planted. Four extension officers from CTC visit the sites, they expenditures are around 100 000 SDB per year.

In Western Province, Dr and Rev Vernon Smith, for the company Coconut Bio-Energy, ordered 200 Dwarf x Tall Hybrid plantlets cultivated in Vitro from DeeJay farms in India. In March 2018, only 20 seedlings were sent airfreight first to make sure they survive the flights. Cost of seedlings was US$10 each. They will be planted them at the company own site on New Georgia, Western Province. The flee name and specification of the chosen was not given to the expert. The plantlets are quite expensive so it was planned some of them will be planted in a remote location to source pure strain seed nuts when the palms bear suitable material. The expert made the following comment: What DJ is sending from India is Dwarf x Tall hybrid. It is not advised to source seednuts from these hybrids because you will obtain an heterogeneous mix of Dwarf, Hybrid, Tall and intermediate forms with average production, much lower than the initial hybrid. So the wish "to source pure strain seed nuts" is hopeless, at least if you want to continue to plant true-to type hybrids in the future. Anyway, this demonstrate that there is a market for good quality coconut planting material in the Pacific Region.

Coconut varieties

As shown in the
detailed descriptions above, the evaluation of the Solomon Island Tall in Côte d’Ivoire proven that this variety is among the most productive within Tall-types. Production is excellent from the 6th to the 9th year, producing 51-97 fruits per palm per year. It then increases further and fluctuates between 91 and 131 fruits up to the 18th year. In terms of copra weight per ha, the SIT is the highest yielding traditional variety observed in Côte d’Ivoire. From the 9th to 18th year, it has produced an average of 2.9 t of copra per ha, i.e. 80% more than the local West African Tall variety. Only hybrids reach or exceed that level of production. What was received in Côte d’Ivoire is NOT the ordinary Solomon Tall, but the Solomon Tall variety bred at the Yandina Research centre. Very probably, researchers in Yandina conducted several cycles of breeding to improve the Solomon Island Tall.

About the Maren hybrid (MRDxRIT), please read the detailed descrition of the MAREN hybrid at the end of the publication devoted to "False and true ideas about coconut hybrids".

Sourcing planting material in Rennell Island (4-6 March 2018) reports a visit to the Rennell Island and the Mangano lake for searching the emblematic coconut variety.

An interesting website on Bellona and Rennell Islands


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