By R. Bourdeix, V. Saena Tuia and Alofa Leuluaialii

This website returns the information collected during two scientific visits conducted in 2001 and 2010, on behalf the Ministry of Agriculture of Samoa, the International Coconut Genetic Resources Network, the Secretatiat of the South Pacific Community, the Global Crop Diversity Trust, Bioversity International and the French Centre for Agricultural Research and Development. The objective of the second visit was to secure the conservation of the famous Niu Afa cultivar, the longest coconut in the world.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

General overview

Samoa, officially the Independent State of Samoa, formerly known as Western Samoa, is a sovereign state in Polynesia, encompassing the western part of the Samoan Islands in the South Pacific Ocean. The entire island group, inclusive of American Samoa, was known as the Navigators Islands before the 20th century because of the Samoans’ seafaring skills.

Coconut is the most predominant crop grown in Samoa. Its traditional value and multipurpose uses make it one of the most important crops in the everyday lives of Samoans as an important source of food and cash.

Landscaping two small Islands of Samoa using the Polymotu concept
Proposal for coconut conservation in the small islands of Samoa

The Old Olomanu seed garden and Genebank
Ideas for replanting the Olomanu Seed garden

Public lectures and communication

In Nuu Research Station, Samoa
Collecting the Niu Afa coconut in Olomanu seed garden
Collecting the Niu Afa variety in gardens and farmer's fields

Earliest references on the niu kafa or niu afa variety.
Old lists of coconut varieties in Samoa by Christophersen (1935and Parham, 1972.
The Westec plantation and large previous replanting projects

Smallest Islands of Samoa
A trip to Manono Island
The Niu afa coconut variety
Landscapes of Upolu Island (South part)
Landscape of Upolu Island (North part)
Coconut palms in Apia
Copra making near Olomanu seed garden
Landscape of Savai (2001)

Old books to further studied

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Earliest references on the variety niu afa or niu kafa

History of botanics in Samoa
Whistler, W. A. (1984). Annotated list of Samoan plant names. Economic Botany, 38(4), 464-487.

The first significant botanical work carried out in Samoa was done by the United States Exploring Expedition in 1839; although the expedition's naturalists made large plant collections, apparently no Samoan names were recorded. During the next half-century, several other large collections were made, mainly by 3 amateur European botanists--E. Graeffe, a Swiss physician, T. Powell, an English missionary, and J. Whitmee, also an English missionary. Of the three, apparently only Powell recorded Samoan names for the plants. In 1868, he published an extensive list which remains one of the best sources for Samoan plant names, not only because of its antiquity, but also because Powell was a meticulous naturalist who spoke Samoan.
A second phase of botany in Samoa was characterized by the activities of professional European botanists. In 1898, F. Reinecke published the first flora of Samoa, based upon his field work of a few years earlier. Reinecke's flora includes many vernacular names, apparently based primarily on his own work. Several years later, in his monumental book Die Samoa-Inseln, A. Kr~mer (1903), who was not a botanist, included an extensive list of Samoan plant names. These names were not, for the most part, obtained from original field work by the author, but were based primarily on the work of Reinecke, G. Pratt, and Powell. The botanical information in Pratt's Samoan dictionary (1911) was based in turn mostly upon Powell's list. Kr~imer's list is, however, valuable since new botanical identifications and clarifications were added. Four other professional botanists collected in Samoa shortly after Kr~imer and Reinecke's work--K. Rechinger, F. Vaupel, C. Lloyd, and B. Hochreutiner--but they recorded few Samoan names.

1845 - Tonga

Rabone, S.1845. A vocabulary of the Tongan Language, arranged in alphabetical order: to which is annexed a list of idiomatic Phrases, Vava'u. 1856.

This dictionary cites different coconut varieties:

Other kind of coconut palm are also cited:
  • Ui, s. A call ; the name of one kind of cocoa nut.
  • Kafakala, s. One kind of cocoa nut.
  • Kita, 8. Tetanus ; a relapse ; one kind of cocoa nut.
  • Loholohotahs, s. One kind of cocoa nut. (Loboloho means the the branch on which the nuts grow, so this probably spicata form)
1862 - Samoa

Pratt, G. (1862). A Samoan dictionary: English and Samoan, and Samoan and English; with a short grammar of the Samoan dialect. London Missionary Society's Press.

Niu'afa: a cocoanut from which cinnet is made.

Other interesting informations to study further;

A, an affix to some nouns to form adjectives, signifying full of, abounding in ; as, niu a cocoanut : niua, full of cocoanuts.
  • 'A'ano, s. flesh of animals. 2. The kernel of a cocoa-nut.
  • 'Afa'afa, o. strong, robust; applied to tnen. 
  • Niu,s., Malay, niyor and niula. 1. The cocoanut tree (Cocos nucifera). 
  • Ipitfi, s. a soft edible cocoa-nut shell thought yo be medicinal. 
  • La'ita, 8. a cocoa-nut bearing large clusters of small nuts. 
  • Le'a, s. 1. One kind of 'ava. 2. One kind of cocoa-nut.
  • Niu’afa, s. A, 8. a large kind of cocoa nut, the husk of which produces long fibres from which sinnet is made. 
  • Niualava and Niuui, s. two kinds of cocoanut. 
  • Niufetepulu, s. Cocoanut with much husk and a small nut. 
  • Niula'ita. See La’ita. 
  • Niule’a, s. one kind of cocoanut
  • Niumagumagu, s. the name of popo (old cocoanuts) at Sapapalii. (note from RB : to be linked to the variety Niu magi magi in Fiji). 
  • Niumea, s., one kind of cocoanut. 
  • Niutetea, s. lit. the albino cocoanut, a pale-leafed cocoa-nut. Sasave, s. one kind of cocoanut having no stem to the fruit (note from rb : spicata). 
1865 - Tonga

West, Rev Thomas. Ten Years in South-central Polynesia: Being Reminiscences of a Personal Mission to the Friendly Islands and Their Dependencies, Illustrated with a Portrait and Maps. J. Nisbet & Company, 1865.

"the natives (from Tonga) reckon at least nine different kinds of cocoa-nut trees, for all of which they have distinctive names, such as the niu-kafa, niu-ui, niu-leka etc....."

1868 - Samoa

Powell, Thomas. "On various Samoan plants and their vernacular names." J. Bot 6 (1868): 278-285.

Niu (Cocos nucifera), of which there are several varieties, viz. : — Niu-'afa : the long kind esteemed for the length of its fibre, and preferred for making the 'afa (cinnet). Niualava : the strong-fibred kind. Niui vel Niuni : the dark kind. Niufetepulu : much husk and small nut. Niule'a : a low tree. Nut small. Fruit sweet. Fruits early, so that for years persons may pick the fruit while stand on the ground ; never (?) attains a great height. Niu mea

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Landscaping two small Islands of Samoa using the Polymotu concept

The conservation of Samoa’s niu afa coconut variety using the Polymotu concept was implemented in October 2012, with activities ongoing this year by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) in collaboration with Samoa’s Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF) and the International Coconut Genetic Resources Network (COGENT). This work was supported by the Global Crop Diversity Trust (GCDT), as well by Bioversity International in conjunction with the CGIAR research programme Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (CRP6).

The Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Le Mamea Ropati, explaining the Polymotu concept during the ACIAR meeting on Coconut Research and Development  held in Apia, in November 2012.
The Polymotu concept builds on an ancient Polynesian practice used by Tongans for conserving sweet coconuts of niu ati on Vava’u group of islands. The concept involves the conservation and reproduction of varieties of plants, trees and even animals exploiting the geographical isolation of special sites such as islands and islets. It can also be applied in mainland areas, using valleys or isolated areas and planting large trees e.g. breadfruit to act as buffer strips and prevent cross-pollination from neighboring coconut varieties.
Niu afa is Samoa’s traditional variety, producing the longest fruits in the world, which made it unique and therefore attracted global attention with funding for its safety duplication and conservation on selected islands of Samoa. Niu afa has many other uses, but its existence always links to current preservation of traditional knowledge in sinnet-making. Niu means ‘coconut’ and afa means ‘sinnet’, and the variety is used exclusively for making sinnet due to its thick husk. It is also known by several names in the Pacific such as niu magimagi in Fiji and niu kafa in Tonga.
Dr Bourdeix, Dr Valerie Saena Tuia and Alofa Leuluaialii on Nuusafe’e island discussing with team the
landscaping of the island using polymotu concep
Prior to implementation of the polymotu concept, approvals to work on the selected islands were sought by MAF from island and lessee owners and also for them to be part of the project.
Activities implemented thus far included interviews conducted with island chiefs and surveys with islanders regarding the islands’ biodiversity and history. The eight islands and islets surveyed and some visited include Fanuatapu, Namu’a, Nu’utele, Nu’ulua, Vini, Nu’usafe’e, Apolima and Nu’ulopa.
Two islands, Namu’a and Nuusafe’e were identified as suitable and planted with 50 niu afa seedlings and 30 fruit trees each of rambutan, avocado, soursop, mandarin, abiu and star-fruit apple. Two other coconut varieties such as the Malayan red dwarf (MRD) (20 seedlings) and Tahitian red dwarf (TRD) (10 seedlings) were also planted. MAF provided the fruit trees and coconut seedlings.
The aim of providing three selected coconut varieties is to produce pure breeds of niu afa, dwarf seedlings and natural hybrids between Dwarfs and niu afa, whilst fruit trees provide a nutritional food source for island inhabitants as well as tourists. The two coconut dwarfs were selected based on their sweetness and dwarfism- a unique combination for creating interesting new hybrids. The size of the fruits and the color of coconut sprouts allows to visually differentiate between pure breeds of niu afa (green sprouts), the dwarfs (orange) and new hybrids produced (brown).
Representation of Nuusafe’e  Island landscaped with the Polymotu concept
Eco-tourism links interestingly with the implementation of the polymotu concept. Both Anamu’a and Nu’usafe’e islands were landscaped with these coconuts and fruit trees since both islands are regularly visited by tourists. Niu afa nurseries will be created on the islands with the idea of each tourist planting and naming the coconut seedling after her/himself thus encouraging them to revisit the islands.
The islands can be used for distributing certified pure niu afa seedlings and new hybrids for farmers and interested people as an income generating activity. Other value added products can be made from these coconut varieties banking on its uniqueness worldwide as well as being new unique hybrids produced.

Afioga Meleisea Seti, the chief of the family clan, beyond the graves of his ancestors in
Nuusafe'e island. The family clan agreed to conserve niu afa using the
polymotu concept.
The project has generated a new crucial approach regarding the environmental management of the numerous small islands existing in the Pacific region. Many of these small islands were inhabited a century ago, but then people migrated to the mainland. The management of these islands was then reduced and the vegetation evolved without control. Even if some of these islands look now “wild”, they are not. They result from the progressive degradation of cultivated ecosystems. In many small islands, some of the useful plants brought by islanders became invasive: for instance some of the coconut palms in Nu’usafe’e and Fau (Hibiscus tiliaeus) in Fanuatapu. These islands should not be managed anymore as “wild” locations. Some local plant species should be favored; some other species should be controlled and sometimes removed from these islands.
On Nu’utele Island, an attractive coconut variety with large green round fruits was discovered; the team’s recommendation was to protect and conserve this variety, to remove the other kinds of coconut palms and to plant some additional red dwarf varieties. In Namu’a and Nu’usafe’e islands, the existing coconut palms were identified as ordinary Samoan talls, aged more than 50 years and producing only a few small or medium-sized fruits. In these two islands, the polymotu follow up activities require the progressive removal of all senile coconut palms to enable the concept to work.
On the magic Nu’utele Island, coconut palms are also playing an important role to fight marine erosion. See the amazing women face naturally drawn by the cliff (click to enlarge the picture).
The concept is quite challenging especially the need to remove all young coconut seedlings and progressively all senile palms. In an area of 1.7 hectares, Nu’usafe’e island had about 350 adult coconut palms and 12,000 coconut seedlings invading the islands. The team removed all coconut seedlings and about a third of the senile coconut palms. Thus, the Polymotu concept will strongly reduce the number of coconut palms existing on Nu’usafe’e island, but it will also strongly increase the value of the coconut palms in terms of conservation and use.
Although Polymotu-based conservation takes several years to bear fruit, the support of island owners and Government to sustain activities guarantees long term storage of these varieties on selected islands. The concept also links with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment on inventory of native species found on these islands, as well as noting what tree species should be part of their conservation strategy.
Dr Roland Bourdeix, the COGENT coordinator and global coconut specialist, based in CIRAD, France provided technical advice with assistance provided by Valerie Saena Tuia, Land Resources Division Coordinator for the Genetic Resources Team at SPC, Fiji.
Polymotu is part of the “global conservation coconut strategy” within COGENT’s mandate supported by the GCDT, Bioversity, CGIAR and CIRAD. Past and current conservation work on niu afa was created as part of documentation of the project and can be viewed on this link A movie on the project will be available soon on the COGENT Website (
Dr Roland Bourdeix (email: ) and Valerie S. Tuia ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it " ). Please contact them for further information

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Early Samoa, Niu afa and the naming of Niue Island

Niue  is an island nation in the South Pacific Ocean. It is commonly known as the "Rock of Polynesia", and natives of the island call it "the Rock" for short. Niue is 2,400 kilometres  northeast of New Zealand in a triangle between Tonga to the southwest, the Samoas to the northwest, and the Cook Islands to the southeast. The land area is 260 square kilometres (100 sq mi) with about 1,400 people who are predominantly Polynesian.

Niue had several earlier names. One tradition is that the island was renamed after a chief’s sons and their followers travelled to their ancestors’ original homeland in Sàmoa, Manu‘a. There they were welcomed and entertained as kin. When they decided to return to Nukututaha, the chief of Manu‘a, Moa, gave them two special coconuts and explained why each one was special. On arrival back at Nukututaha, the chief’s sons held up these special coconuts and said “Ko e Niu è!” (Behold, the coconut!).

The coconuts were planted. One is the niu pulu, the coconut grown especially for making the sennit rope that is used in constructing traditional buildings and making canoes. The other coconut is the niu tea, the medicinal coconut. Its juice, husk, leaves, and just about every other part are used as medicine for a variety of ailments as well as for drinking and as food. According to this tradition, the name of the island was changed to Niue to honour the arrival of these two special varieties of coconut and to remember the chief of Manu‘a, who gifted them.

2010. Haia ! An Introduction to Vagahau Niue. Teacher’s guide and support materials learning languages serie. Published for the Ministry of Education by CWA New Media, Box 19090, Wellington 6149, New Zealand. ISBN 978 0 478 34123 2. 385 p.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Proposal for coconut conservation in the small islands of Samoa

The Polymotu concept is to use geographical and reproductive isolation to conserve and reproduce varieties of plants and trees. When a small isolated place is planted all with the same variety, the plants conserved there breed only within the same variety, and certified seed and seednuts can be produced at the lower cost. These isolated places can be small islands or small valleys; they can also be located in flat mainland, with landscaping designed to create pollen barriers.

We are suggesting the Samoan researchers and people to manage some of the small islands like Apolima, Fanuatapu, Manono, Namua, Nuusafee or Nu’utele by planting only three coconut varieties per island: a green tall (for instance Niu Afa Tall or Niu Vai Tall), Malayan Red Dwarf and Tahiti Red Dwarf (red orange fruits), as shown in the following plate.

Click on the plate to enlarge it. 

It is possible to identify varieties in the nursery by looking at the color of the sprout when the seedlings are germinating. If both a Green tall and red dwarfs are planted in the same isolated place, we will have this figure for seedlings in the nursery:
- Fruits harvested on Green Tall and giving green sprouts when germinating: pure and cheap Green Tall seedlings obtained without costly controlled pollination.
- Fruits harvested on Green Tall with brown sprouts: natural hybrids between Green Tall (as female) and Red dwarfs (as males), which can be used by farmers for plantation in OTHER islands.
- Fruits harvested on red dwarfs with red sprouts: red dwarfs due to the 95% selfing rate of these varieties
- Fruits harvested on red dwarfs with brown sprouts: natural hybrids between dwarfs (as female) and Green Tall (as male), which can be used by farmers for plantation in OTHER islands. If more of these hybrids are needed, it is possible to make some emasculation of inflorescences on the dwarf palms.

So, with only one small island planted, 6 different varieties will be produced naturally, without using costly hand pollination. For this purpose, it is necessary to spend time in these islands in order to check the available coconut germplasm. The existing coconut palms will have to be progressively removed when the new palms will began to bear.

The following plate illustrates the design for a small island (click on the image to enlarge it). It is estimated that a distance of 500 m from mainland is sufficient for the island to be isolated enough for coconut conservation purposes. Then, a very large majority of the crosses between coconut palms will occur within the island. May be the reproductive isolation will not reach 100 %. Anyway, a purity of 97% can be considered as acceptable for both conservation and breeding purposes. Phenotypic traits are often be used to detect and remove the few illegitimate palms that are unwanted mix between varieties.

In this design, not all the island is planted with coconut palms; land remains available for other crops and landscaping. The palms are planted with a spacing of 9 m on a triangular design, giving a maximum of 143 coconut palms per hectare. There are 120 green coconut palms from a unique Tall variety, 20 Malayan Red Dwarf and 10 Tahitian Red Dwarf. In this case, the total design will require a surface of 1 to 2 hectares for the conservation of one Tall coconut variety only.

Yearly production is estimated at 50 fruits per palm in average. In these conditions, if the Red Dwarfs are not emasculated, it is estimated the island will produce annually 7500 seednuts, as follow:

• 5400 certified seednuts of the Green Tall variety
• 600 seednuts of TxD hybrids (Green Tall as female and Red dwarf as male).
• 900 seednuts of Malayan Red dwarf
• 450 Seednuts of Tahiti Red Dwarf
• 150 Seednuts of DxT hybrids (Red Dwarfs as female, Green Tall as male)

This organization could be achieved not only in small islands but in any places where geographical isolation is feasible. See the message about Olomanu Seed garden for more information.

By this way, farmers will be able to produce by themselves various kinds of coconut seednuts, be they hybrids, tall and dwarf varieties. This will help to diversify the coconut varieties available to farmers. Most of farmers do not like to be unforced to choose a unique variety. Farmers should have the choice between a set of varieties including 2 or 3 hybrids, and 2 or 3 tall varieties. Giving the choice to farmers will very probably result in both the plantation of more coconut hybrids and better conservation of traditional varieties.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Ideas for replanting the Olomanu Seed garden

Small Islands are not the only places where coconut germplasm can be maintained in reproductive isolation, for both conservation and production of hybrid seednuts.

In the mainland, any place can be used as far no coconut palm is planted all around at a 500 m distance. In this case, the total design will require a diameter of 600 to 700 m and a surface of 20 to 22 hectares for the conservation of only one Tall coconut variety. Such an area may be difficult to find for coconut conservation purposes. Anyway, it will depend on the geographical structure of the land. For instance, many small isolated valleys could fit this design in Fiji and French Polynesia. In the Dhofar region of the sultanate of Oman, some irrigated coconut plantations surrounded by a sandy desert zone can also fit this design.

In the mainland again, it is possible to use a 300 m wide zone planted all around the coconut palms with forest trees or another perennial crop. Such a buffer forest zone will be enough to maintain a reproductive isolation for the coconut palms. In this case, the total design will require a diameter of 400 to 500 m, and a surface of 12 to 16 hectares for the conservation of one Tall coconut variety only. Such an area may be difficult to find for conservation purposes. Anyway, this design is planned to be used in Côte d’Ivoire, inside the Oil Palm and Rubber plantations of the National Agronomic Research Centre.

In the mainland again, a smaller isolation distance can be used if the surrounding zone is all planted with the same coconut variety. If a given coconut palm is surrounded in all directions by a radial line of at least 10 palms from the same variety; then we estimate than the seednuts harvested on this given palm will be true to type at more than 97% in average. An isolation zone of about 100 m wide is then sufficient.

The following plate gives examples of possible planting designs, with less or more dwarf red palms and producing less or more hybrid seeds (click on the image to enlarge it). Seednuts from the Tall variety will be harvested only on the zone colored in light green. Seednuts from the Red Dwarfs will be harvested on all red and orange hexagons, except the wider one. In this case, the total design will require a diameter of 300 to 400 m and a surface of 8 to 10 hectares for both conservation of one Tall coconut variety and production of hybrid seednuts.

The zone colored in light green, where seednuts from the Tall variety will be harvested, initially counts 137 useful palms. Why to plant 137 palms when the standard procedure requires only 96 palms for conservation purposes? Most of the Tall coconut varieties collected nowadays is mix between traditional varieties. When the palms will began to fruit, it will be necessary to remove 10% to 30 % of these palms, those which are not true-to-type. Anyway, these removed palms could be replaced later.

The advantage of the hexagon design is that different units can easily be planted close the one to the other, as shown in the following plate (click to enlarge). This theoretical design could produce 6 tall varieties, 2 dwarf varieties and 18 hybrid varieties. Such an organization could be applied to the Olomanu seed garden.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

In Nuu Research Station, Samoa

The Niu Afa coconut seednuts harvested both in Olomanu seed garden and in farmer's fields were sent to the Nuu research station for characterization and extraction of the embryos. All the entire fruits (3 per parent palms) were pictured. See messsages related to Olomanu and farmer's field surveys for more details.