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International coconut genebank rescue plan launched in PNG

Bogia disease advanced level

In May 2013, COGENT launched a bilingual video alerting viewers to a new lethal plant disease called Bogia coconut syndrome (BCS) in Papua New Guinea (PNG). This devastating bacterial disease (caused by a phytoplasma) is still spreading (by vectors or via infected planting material) and killing more and more coconut palms, palms of other species like Betel nut, and plants of certain susceptible banana cultivars. Earning PNG around US$740 million a year, the oil palm industry  is also keen to know if or how it may be affected.

Aside from the other plant species, at least ten million farmers and their families cultivate coconut palms worldwide on an estimated 12 million hectares, and tens of millions more people own a few coconut palms which contribute to their livelihoods. BCS, which could trigger harsh social and biological consequences, has been identified in Madang province, PNG within 15 km of an important International Coconut Genebank (ICG). Around 70 per cent of the Madang population of nearly half a million depends on coconut for food and livelihoods. The ICG conserves coconut varieties for the whole Pacific region, and is managed by the PNG Cocoa Coconut Institute Limited (CCI) at the Stewart Research Station in Madang. It holds 55 accessions acquired mainly from PNG with 6 exotic varieties, under an agreement with the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA), along with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and Bioversity International as host to COGENT.

It has been agreed that the ICG needs to be relocated to a safe site within PNG and also duplicated in other Pacific countries, Fiji and Samoa. The transfers and duplication will be supported by a consortium of institutions from across the Asia Pacific and beyond1. This initiative is linked to the Global Strategy for Coconut Genetic Resources Conservation and Use, to be published by COGENT by the end of 2015.

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© Michel Dollet. Participants of the workshop on the International Coconut Genebank for South Pacific at the Stewart Research Station, Madang, Papua New Guinea

More than 27 participants from international and regional institutes and four Pacific countries participated in two workshops, from 24 to 29 April 2015, in Madang and Port Moresby, to develop a roadmap to secure the threatened ICG. Some preparation for the workshops (sanitary diagnosis of the collection for BCS and global analyses of the biomolecular data) was done by CIRAD, funded by the CGIAR research programme Forests, Trees and Agroforests (FTA). The workshops were funded by the Australia Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and both organised and led by the Global Crop Diversity Trust (GCDT) in collaboration with SPC, COGENT and ACIAR, with the local support of PNG’s Kokonas Indastri Koporesen (KIK), and the CCI.

Workshop delegates aimed to contribute to the roadmap and support KIK and CCI in planning the ICG relocation to Punipuni in Milne Bay Province, once the material has passed screening tests in a quarantine site on Misima Island. Discussions also considered safety duplication in Fiji and Samoa. The Asian and Pacific Coconut Community (APCC) proposed a follow-up meeting towards the end of 2015, to further materialise safety duplication to future potential hosts of the international genebank, Fiji and Samoa. The Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) also agreed to collaborate with the South Pacific countries on disease containment. The governments of Fiji and Samoa expressed their additional support. Other scientists offered perspectives on biosecurity for safe relocation, including policies for exchanges of germplasm (pollen or embryos) and review of alternative methods for preserving coconut using embryo culture and cryopreservation based on recent studies in Australia, Côte d’Ivoire, India, the Philippines and Sri Lanka. (see for example Guidelines on coconut embryo transfer).

1. These include the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR); the Asia Pacific Coconut Community (APCC); Bioversity International; CGIAR (CRPFor4ests trees and Agroforests); the Centre de Coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement (CIRAD); COGENT; FAO; the Global Crop Diversity Trust (GCDT); Government ministries from Fiji, PNG  and Samoa,  Kokonas Indastri Koporesen (KIK), the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA); scientific and technical institutions in PNG and Vanuatu, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC); and the University of Queensland, Australia.

The Coconut Genetic Resources Network (COGENT) aims to promote national, regional and global collaboration among coconut-producing countries and
partner institutions in the conservation and use of coconut genetic resources for enhanced livelihoods.

The COGENT website is maintained by Bioversity International - Montpellier office.

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