Coconut Hybrids: An Elixir of Life
Dr. Nupur Srivastava January 22, 2017
Coconut hybrids: An elixir of life
Coconut trees generally are of two types, dwarf and tall varieties. Traditionally farmers used to grow tall varieties which are hardy and yields medium to big size nuts of reasonable quantity ranging from 40 nuts to 120 nuts in a single tree per year and grows to the height of over 60 feet. Coconuts from tall variety trees are good use as mature coconuts and for copra. Whereas the dwarf variety is very delicate and requires greater management care but is capable of yielding around 150 nuts per tree per year with alternate bearing trend. Coconut from dwarf variety trees is generally good with tender coconut water but not capable of giving good copra content.
Names of varieties of coconut trees are the following:
Solomon Islands Tall
Rennel Island Tall
Over the years, research institutes have been developing different new combination of coconut trees by bringing together the genetics of dwarf and tall verities. This process is called hybridization. The process for producing coconut hybrids is quite simple but very labor intensive. The key operation is emasculation i.e. manually picking off the male flowers to prevent self-pollination. Botanically speaking, the coconut is monoecious. The pistils (female) and stamens (male) organs are borne on separate flowers on the same plant. However, because the male flowers are very numerous and are produced all year round, emasculation although easy to do is very time consuming. After the male flowers are plucked out, the female buttons are allowed to develop and be naturally pollinated with pollen of nearby tall coconut trees by wind and by insects. In order to improve seed setting, pollen grains can be collected from nearby tall palms and pollen grains from desirable male parents provided by Philippines Coconut Authority (PCA) can be manually dusted on the stigmas of receptive female buttons. This hybrid coconut from the mother palm is placed in the nursery beds and the seedlings germinated from these nuts are selected to ensure that they are hybrids and supplied for farmers use. The details of the hybridization technique can be found at http://188.8.131.52/docs/Frepub/hybrid.pdf .
Why is the hybridization technique so important for coconut-based farming systems in Philippines?
Of the 3.5 million hectares planted to coconuts, about 30% are over 60 years old and are described by the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) as senescent, unproductive and due for replanting. Coconut farmers are poor primarily because of two circumstances: 1) The primary productivity of the coconut palm is low, and 2) 80% of coconut farms are mono- cropped i.e. they depend almost entirely on copra for their income. Not until these two fundamental shortcomings are addressed, coconut farmers and the Philippine coconut industry face an uncertain future. With little to look forward in terms of income, coconut farmers allow their trees to go senile, cut down the coconut trees; generate instant cash from coco lumber, and replace the coconut with more profitable tree crops like coffee, cacao, bananas, citrus, pineapple, papaya and many other fruit crops and other high value vegetables and ornamentals. But that need not be the future scenario for the Philippine rural economy. With the rising sea levels due to global warming, the saline coastal areas in Philippines are expected to further increase and other than coconut nothing grows better. Besides Philippine beaches will lose their allure to tourists without majestic coconut palms framing the horizon. However, there is a better scenario in terms of profitability, equity and ecological sustainability: replanting with high yielding coconut hybrids and intercropping with other high value crops would be agronomically feasible and the farmers can be assured of a market for the produce. Hybrid coconut seedlings have been in demand, particularly the tall x dwarf crossing variety. Cultivating the hybrid varieties requires less manpower and is a boon to the farmers. “Climbing tall coconut trees to pluck coconuts is an impossible task nowadays owing to the lack of adequate climbers. While the normal trees take seven to eight years for flowering, the cross varieties start bearing flowers in four years. This is a huge advantage to the farmers”, an official said http://ucap.org.ph/news-and-events/good-demand-for-hybrid-coconut-seedlings. In coconut cultivation, farmers should take special care in selecting appropriate coconut hybrids that are ideally suited to the agro-climatic conditions of their area in general. Description of some studied coconut varieties are indicated in Table 1.
Why hybrid coconut farming?
The coconut industry is the source of income of about 3.5 million farmers, providing economic support to the rural communities in Philippines.
Problems and Solutions in coconut industry (see image on the left)
Table 1. Nomenclature and Description of Some Selected Coconut Varieties. (see image on the left)
Measures considered to improve and maintain the hybrid production of coconut plants
In order to reduce cost of transport of hybrid seed nuts and to insure from catastrophic losses from typhoons and other disasters, the 250 small hybrid seed producers should be strategically dispersed in the major coconut growing areas in Southern Tagalog, Bicol, Eastern Visayas and the six regions of Mindanao, in Philippines. The PCA stations in Zamboanga, Davao, Bohol, and Aurora at best can produce a million hybrid seedlings each year, good for 10,000 hectares per year. At this rate of hybrid availability, it will take approximately 100 years just to replant the current estimated one million hectares of senescent (overaged) coconuts. More problematic at this time is the institutional capability of PCA to field the technical people who will closely supervise the farmer – cooperators to make sure 1) The farmers diligently manually pick off the male flowers to prevent self – pollination, and 2) The farmers dust the male pollen supplied by PCA on the female flowers at the right time (usually mid–morning) to attain very high fruit setting. The obvious solution is to mobilize the small coconut farmers themselves and interested corporate investors to specialize in commercial coconut hybrid seed production...