Synthetic seed technology for propagating and distributing canarium nut trees in Papua New Guinea

A project undertaken at the University of the Sunshine Coast and the National Agricultural Research Institute, PNG, and supervised by Stephen Trueman

Project Team: Stephen Trueman, Helen Wallace, Shahla Hosseini Bai (University of the Sunshine Coast)
Birte Komolong, Jeffrey Waki, Joel Pilon (National Agricultural Research Institute, PNG)

This project is developing a new and highly-adaptable technology, synthetic seeds, for mass propagation and distribution of canarium nut trees in PNG. Canarium nuts are an important, nutritious food source in the southwest Pacific. Smallholder farmers, especially women, grow, harvest and sell most of the nuts. The current cutting-propagation techniques for canarium trees are slow and laborious and there is an urgent call within PNG to accelerate the propagation and distribution of high performing canarium trees. Plant tissue culture can provide much faster plant production than cutting propagation, but conventional tissue culture is often expensive and the plantlets are poorly adapted for growing-out in traditional nurseries. A feasible alternative for mass-producing canarium trees in PNG is the use of synthetic seeds, which dispense with the difficult tissue culture steps of rooting, transporting and acclimatizing plantlets. The synthetic seeds can be transported easily and planted just like conventional seeds in a simple potting mix.

The project aims to:

  1. develop synthetic seed techniques for canarium trees by determining the optimal levels of nutrients and plant hormones for germination and growth;
  2. test a new non-sterile technique for constructing synthetic seeds;
  3. train PNG researchers in Australia and in PNG in the latest techniques for synthetic seed construction;
  4. distribute synthetic seeds to greenhouses in Lae (Morobe) and Kerevat (East New Britain); and
  5. determine suitable growing conditions for canarium synthetic seedlings by measuring their germination, growth, nutrient uptake, nutrient use efficiency and water use efficiency in a range of local PNG potting mixes.

The benefits of this project will include a much more robust, convenient and cost-effective way to propagate and distribute canarium nut trees in PNG. This will help to address the major shortfalls in supply of trees to smallholder growers and cocoa plantation growers, who grow cocoa under the canopies of coconut and canarium trees. This will help to address issues of food security for smallholder farmers in lowland areas of PNG and ensure supply for developing nut-based enterprises in Kerevat and Port Moresby. The project is likely to have future benefits in supplying canarium trees in the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, where project researchers have ongoing links with newly-emerging canarium exporters.

Figure 1. Canarium nut trees in a plantation at Kerevat, East New Britain (Photo: B. Randall)

Figure 2.Synthetic seeds can be transported easily to plant nurseries (Photo: C.D. Hung)

Figure 3. Canarium nursery at NARI, Kerevat, East New Britain (Photo: G. Hannet)

Figure 4. Advanced canarium trees in the nursery at NARI, Kerevat, East New Britain (Photo: G. Hannet)