Melanesian nuts with commercial potential
Author: Russ Grayson, November 2007 Photo: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inocarpus_fagiferA version of the following article first appeared in the APACE newsletter.
The idea of commercialising Melanesia’s indigenous nut production is one of those things that comes up every so often among aid workers and agricultural economists.
There already exists a limited regional market for the nuts – they can be found in village and town markets – yet only limited attention has been paid to their potential as export crops or for an expanded national market.
Any expansion of markets could initially take advantage of the wild harvest from existing stands on customary owned lands, however, the impact on the diets of subsistence communities would need to be assessed. Over time, the plantation cultivation of selected varieties could provide commercial quantities.
The cultivation of coffee in the PNG highlands provides a model that could be copied for growing nuts. The coffee is grown as a cash crop by village-based smallholders who cultivate the shrubs in the shade of Casuarina trees. Once picked, the coffee is sold to local roasters. The advantage of this approach is that the villagers rather than owners of large plantations benefit economically.
It is not the only PNG that could benefit from commercialisation. The nuts grow in other Melanesian countries such as Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands where they are found around villages and form part of the subsistence food economy.
There are a variety of nuts with economic potential including cut not, galip, karuka, okari, Polynesian chestnut and sea almond.
Restriction by patent
There may be a problem, however, and it comes from outside of Melanesia.
In 2003, a Queensland man was granted a patent on products derived from galip nut. This has the potential to limit the benefits of commercialisation to Melanesian growers and processors.
Galip, like the other Melanesian nuts, has long been part of the traditional food supply. The patent appears to ignore the important role of the nut in local cultures and the potential it could have in improving Melanesian economies. The move will likely be seen as the ‘theft’ of a traditional product by commercial interests.
Processing the key to export markets
Just as Fiji and Thailand export taro to Australia and New Zealand, so may there be a market for Pacific island nuts.
Raw nuts could form a part of any market that may be developed, however, the greatest value-adding potentially may be in the development of processed products such as nut spreads. Evidence that there exists a market for such products in Australia comes from the almond and hazelnut spreads already on the supermarket and health food store shelves. With a little imagination and effort, they could be joined by cut nut spread and galip nut paste.
Dr Micheal Burke from the University of New England’s Department of Human Ecology has identified six nut species growing in the Melanesian region of the Pacific as having commercial potential (UNE Australian New Crops newsletter):
|Possibly a recent introduction to the Solomon Islands, cut nut has limited distribution in PNG from sea level to 500 metres in the 2000mm to 4000mm annual rainfall zone.Productivity is non-seasonal and cultivation intermittent.
|Found around villages, in mature and regrowth forest from sea level to 700 metres in the 2000mm to 6000mm annual rainfall zone. Production is seasonal and the species exhibits great genetic variation in PNG.
|Found in the 1800 metre to 2600 metre band with annual rainfall between 2000mm and 5000mm. Kakura is cultivated in the highlands where it forms part of the diet. It occurs in groves in primary forest and woody regrowth. Production is irregular and dependent on rainfall with harvests frequently following drought. Productivity is variable.
|Limited lowland distribution between sea level and 1100 metres in an annual rainfall regime of 2000mm to 7000mm. Produces regularly.
Polynesian chestnut/ aila
|Coastal and lowland species to 400 metres altitude. Found in the vicinity of villages and in regrowth. Moderate existing commercial popularity.
Sea almond/ Java almond
|A species of the beach and coastal region and found near villages to 400 metres altitude. Largely self-sown.