Challenges in Maintaining Ex- Situ Field Gene Banks of Orchard Crops and
Plant Genetic Resources Development Section
Tel: (248) 378252/ 378712
Fax: (248) 378428
1. What resources are being used?
The Republic of Seychelles is an archipelago of about 115 islands situated from four to 8 degrees south of the equator in the Indian Ocean covering an Exclusive Economic Zone EEZ of 1.34 million square kilometers.
The total land area of the Seychelles is 45, 539 hectares of which 600 hectares have been identified as having potential for agriculture. Today, the agriculture sector is characterized by about 500 small commercial growers and more than 5000 backyard farmers. Many of the small farms are either privately owned but more so are on state land leased by government. The small farm ranges from 1000m2 to 2 hectares and the vast majority are mixed farms – with some crops and some livestock.
All plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA) with the possible exception of the coconut palm were introduced into the Seychelles over the past 230 years. The first settlers intended to establish spice plantations and so the biodiversity which exists today is scattered with the likes of cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) (which has become invasive), vanilla (Vanilla fragrans), cloves (Eugenia caryophyllata), nutmeg (Myristica fragrans), patchouli (Pogostemon cablin), cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) and other essential oil crops such as ylang ylang (Cananga odorata) and eucalyptus (Eucalyptus citriodora). Of course the new settlers also had to provide food for themselves, and their workers/ African slaves at that time. And so, root crop such as cassava (Manihot esculenta), sweet potato (Ipomea batatas), yam, cocoyam were introduced along with some tropical fruits and vegetables to supplement the abundance of fish in the sea. Several breeds of fowls and pigs were also introduced usually from Mauritius and La Reunion from where the majority of settlers would have come or would have transisted.
As the young country evolved, many new crops were introduced with migrants coming from the four corners of the globe.
The plantation economy which emerged was structured so that all PGRFA was conserved within the plantations by the workers and peasants who lived and worked on the plantations.
1900 – 1970s
Early in the century the British Colonial government assisted plantation owners to improve the production of their fields by introducing new improved varieties of the main export crops at that time which were mainly coconut, cinnamon, vanilla and patchouli. The local agriculture department assisted with the use of local soil ameliorants such as sulphate of potash, sulphate of ammonia as well as phosphatic guano, and sea weed which was locally available and relatively cheap.
Throughout the 30s and heading towards the 70s the Department of Agriculture was very active in introducing new varieties of food crops. The Grand Anse estate on the west coast of the main island was identified to conserve these new varieties in plantations and to test their performance.
This estate saved thousands from the threat of starvation during the Second World War.
In the 1970s with the opening of the International Airport, many people moved away from agriculture and into the young budding tourism industry. Many agricultural estates/ plantations were abandoned and led the way for the development of housing estates, other social infrastructure, schools, clinics, recreational areas and the development of tourism and tourism related activities.
The result was a marked and uncontrolled disappearance of many species of minor food crops which had fallen out of favour in local cuisine as the more attractive European ingredients made their way onto the Seychellois dinner plates and a booming economy allowed this to be affordable.
1. (b) The Grand Anse Research Station expanded its experimental work at the
beginning of the 1970s and provided for ex situ field conservation of some,
110 varieties mango (Mangifera indica)
80 varieties avocadoes (Persea americana)
< Banana/ plantain
> 100 varieties of citrus
Many minor/ lesser fruits
Carambola (Averrhoa carambola)
Jamalac (Syzigium samarangenese)
Chiku (Manilkara zapota)
Star apple - Caimate (Chrysophyllum cainito)
Mangosteen (Grarcinia mangostana)
Pomme Granate (Punica granatum)
Passion Fruit (Passiflora quadrangularis)
Guavas (Psiduim guyava)
Pawpaw (Carica papaya)
Custard Aple (Annona reticulate)
Soursop (Annona muricata)
Sugar apple (Annona squamosa)
Other minor tropical fruits
In the early1990s there was the development of low cost housing schemes within the periphery of the research station. With such a sudden increase in population and introduction of new families from other non-agricultural areas, there emerged an intense occurrence of praedial larceny/ petty thieving. Simultaneously, the country experienced a boom in other sectors of the economy and national funds were concentrated in the construction of adequate housing facilities and other socio-economic projects for social development. As a result, the annual recurrent budget for agriculture feel by about 10% annually.
Job opportunities in other more dynamic sectors of the economy were much more attractive and so there was also a gradual decline in the available work force for the agricultural sector.
With such rapid development, the country experienced an economic set back in the availability of foreign currency for imports. This also affected the agricultural sector and the availability of agricultural inputs such as fertilizers and small tools, equipment and machinery.
The main objective of the Grand Anse Center for food and agriculture is to
maintain healthy orchards with representative samples of the major fruit and other food crops so as to utilize the vegetative reproductive material to produce plants for sale to both commercial and non-commercial growers.
The major components being used are seeds of some plants e.g. mango variety sabre and variety blanc as rootstock material, budwood from the more refined, tasty and delicate varieties such as Maison, Dophinen, Haromanis for preparation of grafted plants for sale at subsidized prices. In other fruits such as the annonas, collection of seeds from ripe fruits provide the basis for continued propagation of these plants for sale.
There are no large scale commercial farms producing orchard crops. Few farmers keep and sell the fruit seasonally along with the main farm output – usually vegetables. The majority of fruit trees are found in home gardens where not only the crop is important but also the aesthetic value to the landscape and home beautification. The demand for fruits are by far much higher than present day supply. With the recent thrust by Government to develop agro-processing as a cottage industry, there is an even greater demand for fruit for processing
In the case of root crops particularly cassava (Manihot esculenta) and sweet potato (Ipomea batatas), sufficiently substantial areas are kept in production as to allow for the supply of planting material to farmers. At present, the demand for root crops is much greater than supply and government is encouraging growers to respond to this demand by offering free planting material and a series of other incentives including tax exemption on imported inputs to all registered commercial growers.
(a) The original size of Grand Anse estate in 1930s was roughly 200 hectares. By
early 1980, this had dwindled to about 30 hectares.
Today only 11 hectares remain for food crop conservation.
3. (b) The Grand Anse Station is situated on the coastal plain on the West Coast of
Mahe. The width of the plainvaries at different points but can be up to 1km at the widest and less than 10m at the narrowest (See GIS photo).
The soil is a coarse sandy soil of the shioya series derived from calcareous sand, has a high pH and apart from Ca and sometimes P, there is a general deficiency of major and minor plant nutrients. This is a interspersed with pockets of Seychelles Red Earth soils, derived from granite, with a low pH extremely low nutrient content.
The plant propagation center at Grand Anse have been producing plants since the beginning of the 1900s. When patchouli was an important economic crop, plants produced at Grand Anse were supplied to growers. Over the years as importance shifted towards other crops, the center also re-organized its propagation methods, facilities and crops to suit demand.
The resources today are harvested on a continuous basis since the plants are produced on a year – round basis. Crops such as sweet potato, yam and cassava are harvested at the end of the production period and the planting material, distributed to growers at a nominal fee and a portion kept for re-planting. There are no legal restrictions as such viz-a-viz the rights to harvest, cultivate or use the resources, however, the land is not protected as agricultural land. Therefore government may decide upon alternative uses e.g. housing.
The resources are monitored and reported on by the Director responsible for the station. In 1999 the Section was re-named The Plant Genetic Resources Development Section from Crop Research and Development;
Within recent years, government has been planning a pilot scheme to allocate portions of the field gene banks to individuals on a lease basis with conditions which include, supply of propagating material to the government nursery. At least three such arrangements are presently under negotiations.
These resources fall under the responsibilities of the Plant Genetic Resources Development Section. The main objectives of this Section are:
To provide a wide range of propagated materials and local seeds to the farming community as well as the general public;
To provide on request any genetic material for planting as required either within MENR or external to MENR as per a specific programme;
Any other requests for plant propagation;
To provide services of fruit tree maintenance to clients upon request;
To provide technical services of vegetative propagation to clients upon request;
To carry out education and awareness programmes to all stakeholders on production, maintenance and propagation of fruit crops and root crops.
To maintain a range of varieties of the more popular orchard crops, mango,
avocado, citrus etc.;
To maintain a range of varieties of lesser important and traditional crops;
To provide planting material to Grand Anse nursery for plant propagation;
To keep in conservation, as many of the current and traditional fruit species
and varieties as possible.
The Director responsible for this section forwards quarterly reports of the entire section to the Minister and the Department Chief Executive.
There is no need for licenses since the use of the resources are within government and used to offer/ provide a service to the public. Short term and medium term management decisions are taken by the Director and Senior Management of the Ministry with the portfolio responsibility for agriculture.
Long term decisions are taken by government at Cabinet or National Assembly level.
The resources in the strictest sense are not traditional nor are they used traditionally. The management of the resources are mainly through modern day, widely accepted, methods of crop husbandry suited for the humid low land tropics.
The harvest quotas are only in lieu of the demand at the nursery. A variety of plants are sold amounting to about 1500 annually (See list of plant sold)
Some are short term plants such as pawpaw, pineapple, grafted eggplant, banana and plantain.
6. The resources are not subjected to harvest quotas as such because plants are prepared
year round for sale. Bud wood is harvested continuously from mature healthy parent stock. In the case of seed collection of
citrus rootstock varieties
mango rootstock varieties
other minor fruits
are harvested seasonally when fruits are ripe.
One of the constraints to the sustainable management of the resources is of course the restricted economic incentives because plants are sold at subsidized prices and provide a government service rather than operated as a profitable business. Local entrepreneurs have been emerging slowly over the past few years however they are restricted to ornamentals and plants which do not require vegetable propagative techniques such as budding and grafting.
None of the crops conserved at the station are endemics or have their origins in Seychelles. All varieties sold were imported over the past 25 – 30 years or even earlier and have proven to perform relatively well under the local soil and climatic conditions.
One conservation method that is being tested is the use of private individuals to manage and maintain field genebanks. In fact the idea of encouraging civil society to participate in PGRFA conservation has been theme of the annual Agricultural Show for the past five years where every home is encouraged to have a garden.
Government is also keen to encourage private entrepreneurs to pursue plant propagation and sale as a viable business option.
The theme of conservation of neglected and underutilized PGRFA has been an advocacy theme for several years now. Many radio and tv programmes have been aired and a guide written. Many newspaper articles written many partnership build.
Plant Genetic Resources Development Section (PGRDS) and Wildlife Clubs of Seychelles to develop heritage gardens at all schools to include
Threatened non-food plants
PGRDS and Elderly Homes
And other public institutions
PGRDS and community prizes in competitions (shows/ games)
In 2005 PGRDS donated 288 plants
In 2006 (Jan – Sept) donated 169 plants
7. Constraints and Limitations
The more immediate day to day limitations include a shortage of material such as polybags, fertilizers, budding and grafting tape and knives and other bits and pieces that need to be imported from abroad due to a shortage of foreign exchange.
The recent socio-economic changes have negatively affected the areas under conservation and the increased housing and population has resulted in non-availability to ripe fruits the seeds required for propagation. Areas once used to excavate soil for preparing the potting mix are now no longer available and have been taken up by housing.
With limited agro-chemicals, there has been a marked increase in pests and diseases occurrence as well as a shortage of healthy bud wood.
The Section does not have the requisite numbers of qualified staff and the personnel to head the maintenance of the orchards and propagation of plants for sale are certificate holders. With modern scientific and technological principles guiding plant genetics conservation and utilization, there are tremendous shortcomings in the unavailability of professionals.
One major global constraint has been recognized as the lack of legislation to protect agricultural land and to legally designate the area for biodiversity conservation.
The station has in the past 30 years been able to produce/ propagate more than 30, 000 plants which have been disseminated to farms, households, hotel grounds, public landscape and in general to merge with the overall biodiversity. Although a proportion may have been destroyed due to development of infrastructure, neglect or other forms of wastage, some varieties still survive in many kreol gardens.
The Grand Anse collections were once the pride of East Africa. The Seychellois are culturally attached and attracted to plants and production of food crops. The ex-situ field gene banks at Grand Anse has been a show piece of what possibilities exist with adequate funds, infrastructure and human resources, as well as the limitations and constraints in managing such a collection.