Technical recommendations from the CIDP meeting on Coconut Production and Seeds Systems in the Pacific Region held from 7 to 20 April 2018 in Nadi, Fiji.

By R. Bourdeix, N. Hussein and D. Dore

A Training on Coconut Production and Seeds Systems in the Pacific Region was organized from 17 to 20 April 2018, Tanoa International Hotel, Nadi, Fiji.
Thirty participants from fifteen countries and territories in the Pacific region joined this meeting. They included officers from the Ministries of Agriculture, members of NGOs, researchers and staff of SPC and CIRAD, and managers of farms and private companies from the following countries and territories: Cook Islands, Fiji, Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, French Polynesia and Hawaii. All participants agreed on the 24 regional technical recommendations presented here under.
Planting material and seed production system
The situation in Pacific countries regarding planting material is highly variable. It ranges from situations where 1) no seedlings are provided to farmers by any institution; 2) seednuts are provided free to farmers with or without financial incentives for replanting, 3) international import of Dwarf x Tall hybrids seedlings cultivated in vitro at 10 USD per unit (Solomon), to 4) selling of special Dwarf seedlings at 100 USD per unit (Hawaii). Taking into account both the disparities and the commonalities between these situations, the group agreed on the following recommendations.
1. National Agricultural Services should allow farmers a primary role in making their own varietal choices, and consider advising against farmers growing only a single coconut variety (Tall, Dwarf, Hybrid, or other). At the national level, agricultural services and other stakeholders should provide farmers with a range of at least six different coconut varieties, including Tall, Dwarf, Compact Dwarf, Hybrid, and eventually composite varieties; and explain to farmers the specificity of each variety regarding environmental adaptation and cultural practices. To reduce overall risk, farmers should be encouraged to plant more than one variety. Local stakeholders (men and women farmers, private enterprises, NGOs and CSOs) should be encouraged to become more involved in supplying quality germplasm. Farmers and other stakeholders should be taught how to autonomously produce quality seedlings of hybrids and other varieties, using the Polymotu concept or any other accepted method.
2. In order to better assess and to boost the coconut value chain, the group recommends agricultural services create and/or strengthen national coconut farmer’s databases and create well-documented coconut parent palm databases by using the method and datasheets recently developed by R. Bourdeix, V. Kumar and V. Mataora. These databases should be conceived and implemented to link with other existing farmer’s databases. They should also integrate with Geographical Information Systems.
3. The meeting noted that nothing can replace well-designed, regular and sustainable breeding programs conducted by well-trained professionals. Expertise is needed to assess the coconut breeding programs presently existing in the Pacific Region; to help developing local skills; to create new programmes and to facilitate international collaboration between these programmes. SPC could play a crucial role in the process by ensuring safe germplasm exchanges between countries.
4. The suggestion of organizing coconut varietal contest should be encouraged at local, national and regional level, in order to increase awareness of the diversity existing within the countries and the region. Such contests could be integrated in yearly cultural events organized in most PICTs (such as Aloha festival in Hawaii of Teuila festival in Samoa).
5. The new concept of delocalized community-based coconut collection will be tested in the Cook Islands as a CIDP-funded activity, and should be extended to other countries.
6. Vanuatu should play a leading role as training centre for technical activities related to coconut breeding and germplasm conservation.
General management of coconut plantations
7. Recognize the importance of intercropping with a diversity of species, which are already being used by farmers, such as coffee, kava, cocoa, banana, noni, pineapple, fruit crops and vegetables for food security. Ministry of Agriculture and others can provide specific recommendations adapted to land capability regarding the best species to intercrop.
8. Focus on maintaining and enhancing soil fertility and microbiology by working with natural processes and maintaining high levels of biodiversity.
9. Replant young coconut palms under the old coconut palms and removing the old only when the young starts to fruit.
10. When rehabilitating old coconut groves without replanting, it is generally not profitable to apply fertilizer. The degradation of the roots of the forest regrowth will be enough to feed the coconut trees during some years.
11. New designs of cluster planting should be further tested by both farmers and scientists, as they could improve the economics of intercropping and improve cyclone stability of palms.
Organic management of coconut plantations
Presently, many coconut by-products are used for organic cultivation of other crops, but not for cultivation of the coconut palms. In most Pacific Islands, coconuts contribute to feed organic chicken and pigs. The group made the following recommendations:
12. Recognize the crucial importance of organic coconut cultivation for the Pacific region, both for environmental and market reasons. Seednuts must come from certified organic origins, and conform the Pacific Organic Standard and/or other standards that are operating. The policies developed in Vanuatu, Fiji, Solomon Islands and Samoa will support the growth of organic coconut industry.
13. Recognize that coconut palms are widely used for organic cultivation of other crops and organic breeding of pigs and chickens. Thus, farmers can benefit from coconut cultivation both by using the coconut by-products for their own other crops and/or by selling these by-products for preparation of organic fertilizers and substrates.
14. Encourage and strengthen the use of nitrogen fixing cover crops such as Pueraria, Mucuna or other species adapted to atoll conditions (e.g. Vigna marina) because they both improve the soil and strongly reduce the weeding work. Where possible, the technique of propagation by cuttings rather than seed, currently used in Solomon Islands, should be disseminated regionally.
15. At the nursery and planting stages, encourage the use of organic fertilizers for coconut cultivation. For container planting, husks, manure and biochar or charcoal could be added in the bag when filling it with soil. When planting bare-rooted seedlings, both coconut husks, dried and green leaves, manure and biochar/charcoal can be placed in the planting hole. Amendments depend on the nature of the soils, and the atoll soils need special attention regarding micro-nutrients (such as iron); there may be some advantage in inverting the A and B horizon so that more fertile soil is immediately available to the emerging roots.
16. Coconut husks are rich in potassium and retain moisture and coconut leaves make good ground cover to protect soil. It is preferable, instead of using them for compost, to surround the base of the coconut palm with a first layer of coconut husk and a second layer of coconut leaves; this will both feed the palms and reduce weed growth.
17. Study the possibility of preparing mulch from coconut stems by using closed spaces in which the Oryctes beetles can enter but cannot go out, and feed chicken and young pigs with the beetle.
Pests and diseases
18. Strengthen the communication between experts and groups working on coconut planting material and those working on coconut pests and diseases. Public awareness materials and actions on pest and disease management should include a component on selecting good planting material, nursery management and planting.
19. Investigate ways to obtain value from the huge quantity of Oryctes larva and adults presently harvested (up to 15 tons per month in some oil palm plantations).
20. Further work should be undertaken to look at ways to recover value from old palms as this will assist in financing establishment of new plantations. Opportunities exist in areas such as cocowood, cocowood veneer, use of the coconut heart, and conversion of old stems to biochar, but more work is needed on the practical implementation of these approaches. Further research is also needed on affordable and preferably organic products that are safe but can be used for stem injection to prevent Oryctes proliferation in the trunk; 3) kill the palm, 4) preserve and treat the wood for future utilization.
21. Recommendations need to be developed on proper disposal of coconut and other wood wastes, which can be possible breeding sites for Oryctes.
22. Destruction of coconuts by beetles may have significant impact on tourism, particularly in Solomon Islands, Guam and Papua New Guinea and with significant economic flow-on effects. More investigation into the tolerance of diverse coconut varieties, the role of adequate plant nutrition, and other factors such as general phyto-sanitation be part of the solution. As it is easier to manage short palms than tall ones against Oryctes, the many Compact Dwarf varieties and their hybrids with local varieties should be tested and diffused, together with local Tall varieties. The meeting also endorses and supports the high-level priorities that have been agreed at the Heads of Agriculture and Forestry Services meeting in Vanuatu in 2017.
23. Biosecurity awareness material should include advice to all member countries about activities being undertaken in countries where the new beetle strain is already present. Inter-island shipping biosecurity is critical e.g. farmers transporting compost or plant materials between islands.
24. Given the emerging risks to the coconut industry and need for large scale replanting, the group recommended that more dedicated resources be focused on coconut planting material, seed systems, and plantation management. In the small island developing states, at least one research and one extension officer should be dedicated to coconuts.  Larger countries should consider the establishment of separate coconut units within their Ministries with a team focused on coconuts.

Citation: Bourdeix, R., Hussein N., and Dore, D. (2018) Technical recommendations from the CIDP meeting on Coconut Production and Seeds Systems in the Pacific Region held from 7 to 20 April 2018 in Nadi, Fiji. In: Bourdeix, R., Labouisse, J.P., Mapusua, K., Ollivier, J. and Kumar, V. (2018). Coconut planting material for the Pacific Region. Available at the URL: https://replantcoconut.blogspot.com. Seen on 09/11/2018.