Minister issues plea for Pacific states to save the coconut tree

Pacific states must "get serious" about saving the future health of the region's coconut trees to preserve their central role in culture and the economy,  the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, Lopao'o Natanielu Mua, has warned. 

He made the appeal yesterday at an event on the sidelines of this week's Pacific Week of Agriculture (P.W.A.) summit, which brings together leaders in the sector from 28 countries across the region. 

Addressing the Coconuts for Life event at the  Taumeasina Island Resort, the Minister noted that some 50 per cent of coconut plantations across the Pacific are now classed as senile. 

Their replenishment is constrained by obstacles such as vulnerabilities stemming from genetic diversity; inadequate supplies of quality planting material; the cost of removing senile trees; and the delayed return on replanting. 

“[We are facing a] lack of encouraging policies and under developed industries, and increasing coconut pests and diseases, especially the threat of the Rhinoceros beetle Guam biotype and the Bogia syndrome disease," he said. 

“We all grow the coconut tree, and talk about its cultural and economic significance to the livelihoods of our people.

“But we are not being serious about collaborating to ensure that this tree of life continues to bless us.

“The International Coconut Community (I.C.C.) is the most appropriate organisation for us to strengthen our collaborative efforts. Individually, we can go fast, but together, we can go far which is why I encourage my dear friend [Executive Director of the I.C.C.] Uron Salum to use the P.W.A. to lobby for more membership from our Pacific community.”

The theme for the week-long biennial summit held in Apia this week is the enhancement of partnerships for the sustainable development of agriculture. 

“Bringing together stakeholders and strategic partners in coconut research and development and this initiative align with our Pacific region’s values to work collaboratively with existing partners and build new relationships towards harnessing a collective strength for the interests of the Pacific," the Minister said.

“The delivery of this initiative [Coconuts for Life] will build and support the enhancement of networks and partnerships for coconut collaboration to improve long-term capacity, increase productivity and profitability and resilience to climate change impacts in the coconut sector both smallholder farmers and the industry.”

Lopaoo said that the forum promoted goals including: the sustainable management of natural resources; access to international markets; and improving broad responses to climate change and disasters.

“I need not expand on the many known uses of the coconut, which we have become accustomed through time and traditional knowledge, as well as in research and technological development to increase quality production and nutritional value, in addition to those that ensure the ease of harvesting and catering to market demand," he said. 

“Coconuts provide the foundation for culture, food security and sustainable livelihoods of Pacific island and coastal communities.

“On the health and nutrition spheres, coconuts have become an important oil base ingredient in the fight against non-communicable diseases and other health issues.

“Some of our Pacific island countries and territories over the past decade have exported organically certified coconut oil for the manufacturing of key health products of high demand in the world.”

He added that there is negative propaganda promoted by the American Heart Association and others about the nutritional role of the coconut, which demanded a counter-response in the form of promotions highlighting not only coconuts' nutritional benefits but also their use as personal care oils. 

"I encourage other Pacific Island countries and territories to join the International Coconut Community," he said. 

“There are 22 Pacific Island countries and territories but only ten of us are members of the International Coconut Community."

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