July 18, 2017

Gen[e]ius coconut protection

The trees in our Papua New Guinea partnerships play a vital role in people’s lives, as a source of income and nutrition. The star of the show is a hairy nut we all know and love. The Coconut.

Approximately 500,000 people in PNG rely on coconut products for food and income. In our partnership communities, coconuts are harvested for their nutritious milk and oil used in cooking, as well as drying and smoking the nut to produce copra, sold to companies for livestock feed.

The plant is considered so important that in 1998 the International Coconut Genebank (ICG) was set up in Madang Province, PNG. The aim of the ICG is to conserve coconut varieties for the whole Asia-Pacific region and produce seed nuts for farmers.

However, the use of these versatile nuts is under threat.

Climate change is having a huge impact on the areas where coconut trees grow. The land is shrinking as sea level rise reduces the island’s mass and the salt water encroaches into the soil making it unusable. They are also being put under increased pressure from disease and pests due to large amounts of rainfall and higher temperatures.

The communities of Papua New Guinea are already feeling the impact.

In 2013, a reported outbreak of Bogia Coconut Syndrome (BCS), a bacterial disease, infected and killed multiple palm species including coconuts, betel buts and even banana plants. Not only were surrounding local farmers affected by this disease but 15km of the ICG was also impacted.

To save the coconuts, it was decided the ICG had to be moved South, to the Milne Bay Province near Alotau, as well as being duplicated in both Fiji and Samoa. This move, now part of a three-year funded Darwin project, was essential for the Genebank to be in a safer location, away from the outbreak of this disease.

Luckily for our partner communities, it’s not all doom and gloom!

Bringing this project to Milne Bay will have a huge positive impact. It will create employment opportunities and increase the area’s food security by providing access to diverse, potentially climatic resilient, coconut seedlings. As well as this they can also benefit from training and the wealth of knowledge organisations working at the centre will bring to the area.

Although the threats from climate change are still very real the ICG will help to ensure a stable future for our communities with coconut-based livelihoods.

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