Papua new Guinea

By R. Bourdeix, 2020

Location of coconut genebanks and research facilities
 in Papua New Guinea. 1. First coconut genebank
 at Kapogere. 2. Second at Keravat
3. Third near Madang
4. Next planned in Puni Puni
Papua New Guinea is a country in Oceania, occupying the eastern half of the island of New Guinea and numerous offshore islands (the western portion of the island is part of Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua). It is located in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, in a region defined since the early 19th century as Melanesia. It is one of the most diverse countries on Earth, with over 850 indigenous languages and atleast as many traditional societies, out of a population just under 6 millions.
The coconut industry is the oldest agricultural industry in PNG and has played a significant economic and development role since the 1940s. However, the industry over decades has declined in its status and is now the fourth major commodity after oil palm, coffee and cocoa.
In 1986, the PNG Cocoa and Coconut Research Institute was established to conduct research for the cocoa and coconut industries in the country. In 2003, the Papua New Guinea Cocoa Coconut Institute (PNGCCI) was formed by the merger of PNG Cocoa and Coconut Research Institute (CCRI) and PNG Cocoa and Coconut Extension Agency (CCEA).

Coconut production

In 1909, the area planted was estimated at 16,000 hectares. Almost 106,000 ha were planted between 1910 and 1940. According to McGregor and Sheehy (2017), the coconut area in Papua New Guinea was  about 220,000 hectares in 2017, for an estimated average density of 120 palms per hectare, each palm producing in average about 56 coconuts per year. In the expert opinion, this yield is probably overestimated.
Pacific Islands countries make up over 50% of world copra exports – with Papua New Guinea being the largest copra producer and exporter. The total copra production of PNG was 146, 256 tons in 2011 and 86,873 tons in 2015.

Past coconut Seed systems and genebanks

In the first decade of the XXth century, the government established agricultural centres at Rigo, Kapogere and Gobaragere to supply material for planting such crops as rubber, coconuts, cocoa and sisal, and to test a wide range of other crops and shade trees.
The PNG Cocoa and Coconut Research Institute established in 1986 is the research arm of the cocoa and coconut industries in the country. 
In 1988, the CCRI purchased a 1000 hectare property in the Bouganville Province for the coconut research and development programme. Bouganville produced about 40% of PNG copra exports. Infrastructural development had been completed and the research programme initiated when civil problems began. All work there has been suspended to date. Copra production fell to zero levels.
In 1993, the CCRI purchased a plantation of 500 hectares near Madang, on the mainland of the country, principally for coconut research and also for servicing the cocoa and coconut industries requirements on the mainland. The new research station offices, laboratories, houses and workshops were funded primarily by the Copra Marketing Board. The major land clearing was completed in December 1993. About one third of the land has been planted to research trials and collections. This plantation is called the Stewart Research Station (SRS).
The Stewart Research Station of CCRI, located at Murunas in Madang Province, conducted breeding and evaluation studies, as well as agronomy and entomology research. In the 1970s, a number of exotic coconut populations were brought into PNG, initially as planting material. Local populations believe that large but fewer nuts involve less labour while still giving similar copra yield to that from palms with smaller but more numerous nuts.
The Coconut Breeding Section of CCRI conducted a nationwide coconut prospection surveys from 1987 to 1992. Collecting of selected populations started in March 1993. A hybridization programme has been formulated to cross selected local tails with three dwarfs: Malayan Yellow Dwarf (MYD), Malayan Red Dwarf (MRD) and PNG Brown Dwarf (PBD). Both pollen and seednuts were collected from original sources at the same time. Many seednuts of the hybrid between Malayan Dwarf and Rennell Island Tall were released to farmers.

Present coconut Seed system

The CIDP project did not fund any activities related to planting material and seed system in PNG. In 2019, the seedgarden producing DxT hybrids are no more producing seednuts, because they are located in a zone where the Bogia disease is active.

Coconut varieties and genebanks

Spicata Red Dwarf,, a rare coconut variety originating from PNG 
In 1998, the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) establishing the International Coconut Genebank for the South Pacific (ICG-SP) in Papua New Guinea was signed between PNG and IPGRI/COGENT, with the FAO as trustee. The Stewart Research Station hosts the ICG-SP for the conservation, evaluation and use of important germplasm from the South Pacific region. Substantial progress has been made on the establishment of the ICG including land clearing, renovation of the embryo culture laboratory, training local staff, establishment of local and Dwarf accessions.
As the Stewart Research Station and its coconut collection is now threatened by a phytoplasma disease called Bogia disease, plans are underway to move the collection to Puni Puni, in the far southeast of the country.

Other coconut-related topics

Ms Emma Eliza Coe (1850-1913), also known as "Queen Emma of New Guinea", was a business woman and plantation owner of mixed American/Samoan descent. She brought Samoan coconut varieties to Kokopo (East New Britain Province) in the late eighteen century made the first recorded coconut introductions. Subsequently nuts were brought in from many sources including the New Hebrides (Vanuatu), New Caledonia, Solomon Islands and Java. Later, more coconut varieties were also brought in from Asian and Pacific areas. Demonstration plots of various cultivars were planted during the early 1930s at the Bubia Lowland Agricultural Experimental Station. In 1964, it was decided to plant a new trial at Kapogere Agricultural Station in the Central District, Papua. The scope of the trial was broadened to include at least nine foreign introductions: New Hebrides, Solomon Islands, Malaysia, Rennell Island, Singapore, Ceylon-Random, Ceylon-Selected, Maldives and Fiji Talls. 

McGregor, A., Sheehy, M., (2017). An overview of the market for Pacific Island coconut products and the ability of industries to respond. Farmers Organisation Network. Pacific Community (SPC), Fiji.