Genetic Resources

The GR thematic team contributes to the LRD objectives through facilitating access to both traditional and improved agrobiodiversity. The Centre for Pacific Crops and Trees (CePaCT) is the genebank for the Pacific region. It houses a globally unique collection of taro, conserving diversity for present and future generations. The CePaCT also plays a key role in ensuring that the countries of the Pacific have access not only to traditional diversity but also to improved crops, which can be crucial in the management of pests and diseases, and in securing food production within a changing climate. Crop diversity can also assist countries in taking advantage of market opportunities.

Polymotu conserves special coconut varieties in the Pacific
Friday, 21 June 2013 07:53



Niu afa and other coconut seedlings for polymotu concept were
displayed at the SPC/ACIAR coconut Research and Development
meeting at Tanoa Tusitala Hotel, Apia, Samoa, 2012

The conservation of Samoa’s niu afa coconut variety using the Polymotu concept was implemented in October 2012, with activities ongoing this year by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) in collaboration with Samoa’s Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF) and the International Coconut Genetic Resources Network (COGENT). This work was supported by the Global Crop Diversity Trust (GCDT), as well by Bioversity International in conjunction with the CGIAR research programme Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (CRP6).

The Polymotu concept builds on an ancient Polynesian practice used by Tongans for conserving sweet coconuts of niu ati on Vava’u group of islands. The concept involves the conservation and reproduction of varieties of plants, trees and even animals exploiting the geographical isolation of special sites such as islands and islets. It can also be applied in mainland areas, using valleys or isolated areas and planting large trees e.g. breadfruit to act as buffer strips and prevent cross-pollination from neighboring coconut varieties.

Niu afa is Samoa’s traditional variety, producing the longest fruits in the world, which made it unique and therefore attracted global attention with funding for its safety duplication and conservation on selected islands of Samoa. Niu afa has many other uses, but its existence always links to current preservation of traditional knowledge in sinnet-making. Niu means ‘coconut’ and afa means ‘sinnet’, and the variety is used exclusively for making sinnet due to its thick husk. It is also known by several names in the Pacific such as niu magimagi in Fiji and niu kafa in Tonga.

Prior to implementation of the polymotu concept, approvals to work on the selected islands were sought by MAF from island and lessee owners and also for them to be part of the project.

Activities implemented thus far included interviews conducted with island chiefs and surveys with islanders regarding the islands’ biodiversity and history. The eight islands and islets surveyed and some visited include Fanuatapu, Namu’a, Nu’utele, Nu’ulua, Vini, Nu’usafe’e, Apolima and Nu’ulopa.

Two islands, Namu’a  and Nuusafe’e  were identified as suitable and planted with 50 niu afa seedlings and 30 fruit trees each of rambutan, avocado, soursop, mandarin, abiu and star-fruit apple. Two other coconut varieties such as the Malaysia Malayan red dwarf (MRD) (20 seedlings) and Tahitian red dwarf (TRD) (10 seedlings) were also planted. MAF provided the fruit trees and coconut seedlings.

The aim of providing three selected coconut varieties is to produce pure breeds of niu afa, dwarf seedlings and natural hybrids between Dwarfs and niu afa, whilst fruit trees provide a nutritional food source for island inhabitants as well as tourists. The two coconut dwarfs were selected based on their sweetness and dwarfism- a unique combination for creating interesting new hybrids. The size of the fruits and the color of coconut sprouts allows to visually differentiate between pure breeds of niu afa (green sprouts), the dwarfs (orange) and new hybrids produced (brown).

Afioga Meleisea Seti, the chief of the family clan owning
Nuusafe'e island agreed to conserve niu afa using the
polymotu concept

Eco-tourism links interestingly with the implementation of the polymotu concept. Both Anamu’a and Nu’usafe’e islands were landscaped with these coconuts and fruit trees since both islands are regularly visited by tourists. Niu afa nurseries will be created on the islands with the idea of each tourist planting and naming the coconut seedling after her/himself thus encouraging them to revisit the islands.

The islands can be used for distributing certified pure niu afa seedlings and new hybrids for farmers and interested people as an income generating activity. Other value added products can be made from these coconut varieties banking on its uniqueness worldwide as well as being new unique hybrids produced.

The project has generated a new crucial approach regarding the environmental management of the numerous small islands existing in the Pacific region. Many of these small islands were inhabited a century ago, but then people migrated to the mainland. The management of these islands was then reduced and the vegetation evolved without control. Even if some of these islands look now “wild”, they are not. They result from the progressive degradation of cultivated ecosystems. In many small islands, some of the useful plants brought by islanders became invasive: for instance some of the coconut palms in Nu’usafe’e and Fau (Hibiscus tiliaeus) in Fanuatapu. These islands should not be managed anymore as “wild” locations. Some local plant species should be favored; some other species should be controlled and sometimes removed from these islands.


Dr Bourdeix with team on Nuusafe’e island discussing the
landscaping of the island using polymotu concep
t

On Nu’utele Island, an attractive coconut variety with large green round fruits was discovered; the team’s recommendation was to protect and conserve this variety, to remove the other kinds of coconut palms and to plant some additional red dwarf varieties. In Namu’a and Nu’usafe’e islands, the existing coconut palms were identified as ordinary Samoan talls, aged more than 50 years and producing only a few small or medium-sized fruits. In these two islands, the polymotu follow up activities require the progressive removal of all senile coconut palms to enable the concept to work.

The concept is quite challenging especially the need to remove all young coconut seedlings and progressively all senile palms. In an area of 1.7 hectares, Nu’usafe’e island had about 350 adult coconut palms and 12,000 coconut seedlings invading the islands. The team removed all coconut seedlings and about a third of the senile coconut palms. Thus, the Polymotu concept will strongly reduce the number of coconut palms existing on Nu’usafe’e island, but it will also strongly increase the value of the coconut palms in terms of conservation and use.

Although Polymotu-based conservation takes several years to bear fruit, the support of island owners and Government to sustain activities guarantees long term storage of these varieties on selected islands. The concept also links with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment on inventory of native species found on these islands, as well as noting what tree species should be part of their conservation strategy.

Dr Roland Bourdeix, the COGENT coordinator and global coconut specialist, based in CIRAD, France provided technical advice with assistance provided by Valerie Saena Tuia, Land Resources Division Coordinator for the Genetic Resources Team at SPC, Fiji.

Polymotu is part of the “global conservation coconut strategy” within COGENT’s mandate supported by the GCDT, Bioversity, CGIAR and CIRAD. Past and current conservation work on niu afa was created as part of documentation of the project and can be viewed on this link http://coconutsamoa.blogspot.com. A movie on the project will be available soon on the COGENT Website (http://www.cogentnetwork.org).

Dr Roland Bourdeix (email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ) and Valerie S. Tuia ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ). Please contact them for further information