CoGent Network

Darwin Initiative "Upgrading and broadening the new South-Pacific International Coconut Genebank"

India
Coconut palm climbing with two ropes in Brazil.

From social and economic points of view, it is very challenging, especially for those who do it as part of their daily work. Follow this link to COGENT website: climbing the coconut palm

The wide range of palm-climbing techniques are illustrated by an amazing set of 20 videos of which six in HD quality prepared by COGENT in five member-countries (Brazil, Côte d’Ivoire, Fiji, Indonesia and Sri Lanka).

COGENT aims to develop an international project to ensure the safety of coconut workers and to increase the required interval between regenerations in coconut genebanks. This will be addressed in the Global Strategy for Conservation and Use of Coconut Genetic Resources, to be published by COGENT at the beginning of 2014.

Palm-climbing techniques range between: climbing the palm with bare hands; climbing with only a piece of wild vine, rope, or fabric attached either to feet or hands; climbing with a system of two ropes like in Brazil; climbing with spikes attached to feet or legs (the spikes generally damaging the trunks); climbing with ladders (various kinds); turning the trunks into kinds of staircases by carving steps in the trunk (damaging); or, like in Sri Lanka, by attaching coconut husks with ropes to the trunk; using a system of two platforms, one controlled by arms and the other by legs; using equipment based only on human power; using equipment with an extra source of power; using monkeys to climb the palms; and even harvesting the coconuts with a robot, as tested in India. 

ladder
Climbing coconut with a ladder

For the purpose of conserving coconut genetic resources, the palm-climbing technique has a significant human and economic impact. It seems quite simple to climb the coconut palm in order to stay beneath the leaf crown to harvest fruits and/or cut old leaves. It proves much more challenging to climb up the coconut leaf crown in order to reach the young inflorescences. This is needed for making controlled pollinations with bagging for research purposes, and for harvesting the ‘toddy’ (the sweet sap from coconut inflorescences) which serves to produce sugar, vinegar, wine and spirits.

For instance, for climbing the palms in Côte d’Ivoire, workers of the coconut genebank use large triple aluminium ladders which extend to a maximum height of 14 meters. They need to climb the palm to make controlled pollinations by bagging the inflorescences. Coconut varieties in genebanks need to be regenerated using this controlled pollination technique. This is the only way to ensure these varieties be conserved true-to-type during successive regenerations.

The International Coconut collection for Africa and Indian Ocean, located at the CNRA Marc Delorme Research centre, in Côte d’Ivoire is the most active provider of coconut germplasm at the international level. The height reachable with ladders is the main factor determining when palms in this genebank must be regenerated. Palms must be regenerated before their stems extend beyond 14 meters. If taller, it will be impossible to conduct controlled pollinations. Most of Tall type varieties reach this size at 25 to 30 years.

A global regeneration of the genebank was recently conducted though a COGENT/Bioversity project funded by GCDT (the Global Crop Diversity Trust) and CNRA (National Centre for Agronomic Research in Côte d’Ivoire). The total budget of this project was more than US$660 000. Using triple ladders to climb the palms, this regeneration needs to be conducted every 25 years; were another method for climbing higher palms available, this regeneration could be conducted only every 50 years. From the financial point of view, it is quite different to spend around US$600, 000 dollars every 25 years or every 50 years. Furthermore, during this regeneration process, two workers fell from the ladders and where severely injured. Therefore, to find a more efficient and secure way to climb the coconut palms is even more important from a health and safety perspective.

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