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Advancing Global Coconut Genetic Resource Conservation: ICC - COGENT Revitalization Meeting Propels Regulatory Framework Establishment, Collaboration and Innovation

The International Coconut Community-Coconut Genetic Resources Networks (COGENT) recently convened a high-level virtual meeting on March 14, 2024, bringing together key stakeholders including the Steering Committee members, ITAG Leaders and Members, Donor Agency Representatives and Coconut Sector Experts. This meeting served as a platform to discuss the challenges, opportunities, and future directions for the global coconut genetic resource conservation.

Dr. Jelfina C. Alouw, Executive Director of the ICC, during the welcome remarks, expressed her confidence that the meeting would address critical issues, set priorities, and clarify roles in achieving COGENT's objectives. She emphasized the urgent need to proactively address challenges such as germplasm exchange, pest and disease management, and the establishment of focal points to liaise with Member Countries and International Coconut Genebanks (ICGs).

Newly appointed Assistant Director of the ICC, Mr. Nuwan Chinthaka, in his introductory speech highlighted the importance of leveraging new technologies, such as AI and Blockchain, to enhance data management and facilitate coconut germplasm conservation.

Ms. Irene Kernot of ACIAR underscored the significance of research in the coconut value chain, particularly its benefits for smallholders. Also, she encouraged the ongoing collaborations with organizations like the Pacific Community (SPC) and CIRAD. Dr. Carmel Pilotti of SPC provided updates on ongoing research projects focused on coconut genetic conservation in the Pacific region. She highlighted efforts to safeguard germplasm threatened by diseases such as the Bogia Coconut Syndrome (BCS), in collaboration with partners like FAO. Dr. Andrea Garavito-Guyot of CIRAD elaborated on the progress of a project aimed at constructing a facility to facilitate germplasm exchange within the Pacific and Southeast Asian regions, with potential expansion globally. Dr. Daniele Manzella of ITPGR-FAO emphasized the need for greater attention to policy issues and expressed readiness to facilitate future policy dialogues within COGENT under the guidance of the ICC. Dr. Nelissa Jamora of Crop Trust outlined priority actions for coconut genetic conservation, including data consolidation, establishing a monitoring system, and addressing urgent upgrading needs, in collaboration with ICC and COGENT.

Dr. Jelfina Alouw provided insights on integrating COGENT into the ICC, expressing gratitude to supporting organizations and member countries for reactivating COGENT as a program of the ICC. She announced the upcoming 51st International COCOTECH conference and Exhibition, scheduled for July 2024 in Surabaya, Indonesia. Mrs. Erlene Manohar, COGENT Coordinator, briefed participants on COGENT's structure, challenges, and accomplishments. She presented the action plan for 2024, focusing on strengthening germplasm exchange, enhancing data management, and revising the COGENT Steering Committee structure.

During the interactive session, participants raised concerns about government approvals and funding for establishing an international genebanks, regulatory framework and role of the Steering Committee, COGENT's reformation and seeking nominations from institutes representing member countries to appoint the Steering Committee. Possibility of appointing an interim steering committee also discussed.

The meeting concluded with a vote of thanks by Assistant Director, ICC, expressing optimism for future collaboration and growth within the global coconut industry. This meeting marked a significant step towards addressing critical challenges and fostering collaboration in the coconut industry. With a renewed focus on germplasm conservation, research, and policy dialogue, COGENT under the guidance of ICC is poised to play a pivotal role in shaping the future of coconut genetic resource conservation worldwide. As stakeholders continue to engage proactively, the stage is set for innovative solutions and sustainable growth in this vital agricultural sector.

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