CoGent Network

Research ideas


There is a huge variation of the shape and size of the three coconut "eyes"
and no associated international descriptors.
(Image: R. Bourdeix)

Authors: R. Bourdeix (Bioversity, CIRAD Umr CEFE) and J.L. Konan Konan (CNRA, Côte d'Ivoire)

Estimated total budget: 30,000 USD

Budget requested from donors: 15,000 USD

Duration: 18 months

Location and potential partners: any of the International Coconut Genebanks,  in association with Bioversity and/or CIRAD.

Potential donor(s): to be identified.

Project background and rationale

Collaborative work by Bioversity International and numerous crop research establishments  aims to improve the documentation of plant genetic resources by providing a uniform series of crop descriptors.

The last revision of coconut descriptors dates back to 1992 (IBPGR, 1992). According to Laliberté & al. (1999), on average, each set of descriptors is revised approximately every 10 years.

There is a real need to refine descriptors. In the case of coconut, the observation of organs is a complex process, because the palms are large, organs are not easy to collect and compare, and significant variability linked to both environment and seasons. In fact, there has never been a proper botanical analysis of the descriptors to effectively differentiate coconut varieties.

The present descriptors for coconut are not sufficient to comprehensively identify most of the allogamous Tall coconut cultivars. These descriptors facilitate differentiation of dwarf cultivars, because autogamous dwarfs are more homogeneous, and smaller in size (so easier to observe) than the tall varieties.There are no coconut descriptors for roots, the morphology and size of female and male flowers, the morphology of pollen, the upper part of the fruit, the 3 eyes of the nut, and the top of the canopy.

This work could be conducted in an International Coconut Genebank using a technique of comparing standardized digital photographs. From a broader perspective, this project could study how digital imaging and dedicated software can be used to facilitate gathering characterization data for coconut palm varieties. 


To develop new descriptors in order to facilitate the identification of coconut cultivars

Project management and organization (to be refined)

The study  will concern: 

  • 20 Coconut cultivars (both Dwarf and Tall types)
  • 6 palms per cultivar
  • photography over 2 seasons
  • 3 photos of each organ per palm during each season (for example, 3 photos of 3 staminodes from the same inflorescence)
  • 10 organs pictured

So a total of 7200 standardized digital photographs
Measurements made on these photographs (for instance: length and with of the embryos).

List of organs to be pictured (to be refined)

  1. Male flower
  2. Staminode
  3. Top of female flower when receptive
  4. Bottom of female flower
  5. Tip of the roots
  6. Insertion of spikelets on the rachis
  7. Insertion of leaflets on the petiole
  8. Insertion of the spikelet on the mature fruit
  9. Insertion of the embryo in the albumen
  10. 3 eyes of the coconut


  • New coconut descriptors facilitating the varietal identification.
  • Definition of guidelines for standardized pictures of the concerned organs for the coconut palm.
  • Publications of 2 scientific papers on journals orientated towards biodiversity research.
  • All standardized photographs and related data available on internet in a comprehensive format (either on Cogent Web site or on another dedicated Web site)


IBPGR. 1992. Descriptors for coconut. International Board for Plant Genetic
Resources, Rome. 61pp.
Laliberté, B., L. Withers, A. Alercia and T. Hazekamp. 1999. Adoption of crop descriptors in IPGRI. In A synthesis of findings concerning CGIAR case studies on the adoption of technological innovations (L. Sechrest, M. Stewart and T. Stickle, eds.). CGIAR Impact Assessment and Evaluation Group Secretariat, Rome, Italy.



Under construction

Under construction

Under construction 

Authors: R. Bourdeix (Bioversity, Cirad, Umr Cefe), S. Weise (Bioversity), L. Baudouin (Cirad, Umr Agap) and Max Ruas (Bioversity)

Date of present version: 20 October 2011 

Total estimated budget: 160,000 USD

Budget requested from donors: 90,000 USD

Duration: 18 months

Location and potential partners:

  • 7 Cogent countries members: Côte d’Ivoire, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines and Sri Lanka.
  • Bioversity Montpellier, France.
  • Cirad, France.

Potential donor(s): Global Crop Diversity Trust, Bioversity international, Cirad and Co-funding from other donors

Project background and rationale

The need to update the Coconut global conservation strategy was discussed in 2009 during a Cogent meeting held in Korea. One of the main limiting factors of this updating process was identified as "making decisions with incomplete or obsolete information". During the last decade, not enough information was shared between the Cogent coconut genebanks. Thus, we do not have an overview of which accessions were rejuvenated, of which new germplasm has been collected, and of which germplasm has been lost during this last 10-years period.

Even so, we know we are facing an emergency situation. As most coconut varieties are allogamous, the main limiting factor of conservation is regeneration by using controlled pollination. In the case of coconut, this technique is very costly. It requires climbing many tall palms many times, bagging hundreds of inflorescences, and preparing the pollen in a dedicated laboratory. A seednuts from controlled pollination costs from 10 to 15 USD, and 100 to 200 seednuts are needed to rejuvenate one accession only.  At 25 to 30 years old, the palms grow up to 15 m high, and it becomes almost impossible to reach the inflorescences for making the controlled pollinations. 50 % of global coconut accessions are more than 25 years old. These accessions urgently need to be rejuvenated, otherwise they will be lost.

Most of the countries do not have the equipment, the laboratory, and the trained manpower required for making the controlled pollinations. Some countries even began to regenerate their accessions using open pollination. Except for self-pollinating dwarf varieties, open pollination must be avoided. In coconut genebanks, a great amount of genetic diversity is conserved: so, if inappropriate methods are used for regeneration purposes, the risk of mixing varieties is bigger in the genebanks than in farmers' fields.

Between 1992 and 2002, the Coconut Genetic Resources Database (CGRD) has been developed to manage and disseminate information about the accessions in the Cogent genebanks. Presently, 1459 coconut accessions from 28 collecting sites in 23 countries are recorded in the database. The database includes 79 passport descriptors, 121 evaluation descriptors and of 9 molecular markers (microsatellites) descriptors.

Development and management of the CGRD database was stopped in 2003 when funding was no longer available for this activity. Except for the Côte d’Ivoire genebank, the data was not updated. For 84% of the accessions, the latest inventories of the palms recorded in the CGRD date back 11 years or more. Many palms may have disappeared from this time. Characterization data stored in the CGRD database were never analyzed in a comparative approach. In the mid-term, it is envisioned to delegate the management of the CGRD database to one of the international genebanks.

The first step towards refining the conservation strategy is to update and analyze the data about the current status of world coconut germplasm. Ideally, this survey should be conducted in 7 major genebanks of the Cogent network, with the collaboration of Bioversity and Cirad. This survey needs to be conducted not only on the germplasm conserved, but also on the techniques used to conserve and to reproduce this germplasm, and on the cost of conservation.

Then, updated information will be used to refine the Global Coconut Conservation Strategy. This process will be conducted by using a participative approach involving the 7 genebanks in the project and other Cogent members. New conservation concepts have been recently developed, such as virtual/networked genebanks and Polymotu. The Cogent network will have to make decision about the opportunity to use these new concepts and the importance to give to them. 


  1. To update the data in the Coconut Genetic Resources Database for 8 major genebanks: Brazil, Côte d’Ivoire, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and Sri Lanka. This will include both entering existing data and some field measurements to collect missing data.
  2. To analyse the data first at country level and then at global level (for both passport data and characterization data, including molecular markers). 
  3. To make the CGRD data easily available on the Cogent Website, and to integrate CGRD  in other larger global databases. This work will mainly be conducted by Bioversity in Montpellier.
  4. To define a standard procedure for assessing the quality of accessions conserved in coconut genebanks. The project will focus on the appraisal of genealogies and the controlled pollination process, and the use of molecular markers to check genealogies.
  5. To gather information about the cost of conservation and the manpower needed for coconut conservation purposes.
  6. To update the global coconut genetic resources conservation strategy by using a participative approach involving the 7 genebanks in the project and other Cogent members.

Project management and organization

In order to reduce costs, to strongly involve countries and to strengthen research capabilities, we suggest to offer scientific internships to 9 students at Masters-level, as follows: 5 students in the international genebanks (Brazil, Côte d’Ivoire, India, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea);  3 students, one in each of Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Fiji ; and one student at Bioversity Montpellier, France.

These students will be supervised by the genebank curators in conjunction with Bioversity. It is envisioned that at least 2 researchers from Cogent countries will be associated as experts in the projects; after being trained to CGRD management, they will visit other genebanks for sharing information and knowledge.

The tasks of the experts and curators will be:

  1. To guide, check and improve the work made by students and other curators.
  2. To help to define a standard procedure for assessing the quality of conservation of accessions.
  3. To help to define the participative approach to refine the lobal conservation strategy.

The task of the 8 students in the genebanks would include:

  1. To update the CGRD database for their country for both passport data and characterization data (data already measured in the field but not yet computerized.)
  2. To list the data remaining to be collected in the field, and eventually to make further characterization, both phenotypic and molecular.
  3. To send the updated data to Montpellier.
  4. To receive from Montpellier a new set of global data.
  5. To analyse the data from their own country in comparison with the global data and to prepare scientific publications.

The task of the student in Bioversity Montpellier will be:

  1. To make a few improvements to the CGRD database; make CGRD more easily available on Cogent Website, connect the CGRD database with other international databases; to define procedure for checking the data.
  2. To interact with Cogent countries in order to update the CGRD database for both passport data and characterization data.
  3. To receive data from all countries, check it and integrate it to the database.
  4. To analyse the data at the global level and prepare scientific publications.


  1. Comprehensive germplasm information of 8 major genebanks updated and available on the Cogent Website (Brazil, Côte d’Ivoire, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Papua new Guinea, Philippines, and Sri Lanka).
  2. Data analysed at country and global levels, and published (see below) in scientific journals.
  3. One scientific paper from each participating genebank (8) presenting the data analyses.
  4. Guidelines for assessing the quality of accessions conserved in coconut genebanks.
  5. The global coconut conservation strategy is updated using a participative approach.

Outcomes and impacts:

  1. 8 students and 7 researchers trained to coconut germplasm management.
  2. Strengthened international collaboration and more effective prioritisation.
  3. Better disposition to attract long-term funding and other support for future work with coconut genetic resources.
  4. Germplasm more effectively conserved at national and global levels
  5. Stakeholders along the coconut value-chain benefiting, economically and otherwise, from effective coconut genetic resources conservation and management


Bourdeix R., Johnson V., Baudouin L., Tuia V S, Kete T., Planes S. Lusty, C. and Weise SF. 2011. Polymotu: a new concept of island-based germplasm bank based on an old Polynesian practice. In:  A new era of island study - towards sustainable symbiosis of human and nature. Ogasawara Research, special feature, 37, p. 33-51. Available on line.

Konan JL, Bourdeix R.,  Saraka D., Allou K. and  Zakra N. 2010.  Regeneration of old coconut accessions in the international genebank for Africa and the Indian ocean. Paper presented at the PALMS 2010 International Symposium on the biology of the palms family. Montpellier, France, 5-7 May 2010.

R. Bourdeix, Weise SF. , S. Planes, L. Guarino, T. Bambridge and C. Lusty. 2009. The concept of "Networked collection" or "Virtual collection": revisiting the classical delineation between "in situ" and "ex situ" conservation and its consequences on database management. . Paper presented at the congress of the Biodiversity Information Standards (TDWG), 9th-13th November 2009, Montpellier, France. Weitzman, A.L. (ed.). Available on line.

 Bourdeix R., M.L. George, L. Baudouin, H.I.  Joly, L. Guarino and J. Engels. 2009. The concept of “Networked collection” or “Virtual collection”: new developments and their applications to the conservation of the Coconut palm. Paper presented at the 2nd European Congress of Conservation Biology, 1-5 September 2009, Prague, Czech Republic. Available on  line.

Bourdeix R., L. Baudouin, T. Bambridge, H.I. Joly, S. Planes, and M. L. George. 2009. Dynamics and conservation of the Coconut Palm Cocos nucifera L. in the Pacific region: towards a new conservation approach. Paper presented at the 11th Pacific science inter-congress, March 2-6, 2009, Tahiti, French Polynesia. Available on line.



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