Coconut Germplasm (and In Fact, Other Crops as Well): Either Use it or Loose It!

Indonesia is one of the countries in the world that hold the major plant genetic diversities. We as Indonesians are often very proud with the mega-diversity label attach to our beloved country. However, the real question is “Has the label brought real added value to the people of Indonesia?” Well… that might be an easy question, but might not be an easy one to answer.

One of the crop germplasm diversity existed in Indonesia is coconut (Cocos nucifera). So many different coconut germplasms with so diverse characteristics exist in many different islands of Indonesia. They have been endemics in many different part of this country and Indonesian people have benefitted from their existance since a long time ago. By in the years to come, things might be different with the progress that have happened in Indonesia. It might be possible that in the near future, the coconut will exist no-more in this beautiful so-called: “Nyiur Melambai” country and replace by other crops that people perceive as more productive that coconut.

On the April 5-9, 2013, I have the chance to visit the newly renamed “Indonesian Palm Research Institute (IPRI) at Manado, North Sulawesi, Indonesia. During that visit, I have the chance to see coconut germplasm collection curated by IPRI in their various field experiment stations.

I have the chance to see so many different coconut palm collections from various places and also exhibiting a number of uniques phenotypes. Never before have I seen such a diversity of coconuts in the field. I was also told that a only limited number of breeding materials (hybrids) existed in the IPRI’s field experimental stations.

Seeing the vast number of IPRI’s coconut germplasm collections have really taken my breath away. On the other hand, I felt so sad to hear that most of the collections were just “collections.” Utilization of the germplasm is still somewhat limited, either at the research level or at the commercial ones.

I was so sad because I remembered reading the following phrase somewhere in the social media (this is not my own phrase and I will not take a credit for it) – “PLANT GERMPLASM: EITHER USE IT OR LOOSE IT!” Remembering those phrase and seeing how little the coconut germplasm have been used make me really sad.

The challenges for IPRI staffs, and scientists, and practitioners interested and or working with coconut are two points, either:

  1. Get our coordinated acts together and use all the necessary means to utilize the available coconut germplasm for the good of the Indonesian. We need to think hard what will the future of coconut industry and their use are, to design the idiotype of ideal and new coconut varieties to meet that future demand, and to develop the means to mass produce the seedling to supply for the demand of coconut planting material.
  2. Start loosing the precious coconut germplasm because of the greedy side of the development to the point where someday none of the coconut provenance is left. Even if there is a need to develop coconut during that day, there will be none available in Indonesia since they have extinct years before. We have witnessed the rapid disappearance of the coconut provenances in situ because of land conversion or other human development activities. Similar cases have happened to ex-situ coconut germplasm collections at both Bogor Agricultural University (IPB), Bogor and IPRI, Manado, Indonesia. There used to be collections of coconut at IPB – Darmaga Campus, but their existence ceased because of the early period of Darmaga Campus development. Ever since, there was no interest in renewing those coconut germplam collections.  Such a similar case also happened at IPRI, Manado. The precious international coconut germplasm collections have been rooted out because of the land use conversion.

The failure of Indonesian scientists and coconut stake holders to show the significant scientific and development findings about coconut and its derived products have also contributed to the decline of coconut industry in Indonesia. Similarly, lack of serious good will from the policy maker and business entities may further contribute the decline. The future trend tends to predict the more serious disappearance and even less role of coconut in the agriculture lanscape of Indonesia.

Prior to the expansive development of oil palm, the role of coconut was very important in Indonesia However, with the alarming rate, coconut is replaced with oil palm in so many different areas that used to be coconut growing areas. Almost all of those because of the short term thinking that oil palm productivity is more than the coconut.

In the mean time, coconut associated scientist so far have failed completely or partially to counter the notion that oil palm is more profitable than coconut. They also unable to show the good point of growing coconut compare to oil palm. Therefore, the disappearance of the used to be major estate crop in Indonesia continues.

Unless we start reorganizing our way of thinking about coconut right now, very soon we may loose this important estate crop.  With the silence felling of the would be last Indonesian coconut tree, It would eventually disappear the so-called coconut – the tree of life from Indonesia. Although it may sound sentimental, I sure hope that that day will never come.

About PMB Lab: Prof. Sudarsono

This blog is dedicated as a communication media among alumni associated with PMB Lab, Dept. of Agronomy and Horticulture, Fac. of Agriculture, IPB, Bogor – Indonesia. It contains various information related to alumni activities, PMB Lab’s on going activities and other related matters.
This entry was posted in Coconut (Cocos nucifera), News from PMB Lab, Publications and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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