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Substances naturelles en Polynésie française

Jean Guezennec
Christian Moretti
Jean-Christophe Simon

Part one. Synopsis and Recommendations

Conclusions and recommendations

Texte intégral

1Defining a policy that will foster utilisation of the potential of French Polynesia’s natural substances will mean making choices that are ecologically, economically, socially and culturally sustainable. It is in this spirit that the panel of experts has set about answering the important questions raised in the review specifications. Below we present our conclusions by grouping those questions under three headings.

What potential and comparative interest does French Polynesia’s biodiversity hold?

2Our examination of its marine and terrestrial resources has shown that French Polynesia has significant biodiversity assets, although the land plant resource is less abundant than in some continental ecosystems, owing to extensive colonisation by continental species. On the other hand, insularity and climatic factors have generated a high rate of endemism and originality.

3This leads to the idea that a realistic assessment of these assets in terms of possible utilisation must include not only a scientific evaluation of the resource (the first essential) but also an assessment of French Polynesia’s advantages and disadvantages. Among the advantages are the country’s image and the typicality of some products; disadvantages include the small area of arable land, high production costs and distance to major markets.

4The expert review also highlights the fact that much has yet to be done to improve knowledge of Polynesian biodiversity. For marine organisms this is flagrantly obvious, but even with land plants, which have been fairly well studied taxonomically, precise data on the species’ bioecology (population structure, accessibility, infraspecific varieties) are lacking. On these aspects, which are important for utilisation, the expert review provides new information in the species data sheets. This research should be continued.

Exploited and exploitable natural substances

5Our examination of the types of economic utilisation of those natural substances that are currently exploited shows some major features and pinpoints lessons that can be transposed to new forms of exploitation of living resources.

  • The first conclusion is that research to characterise species biochemically and pharmacologically should be continued. For plant-based substances this obviously concerns species not yet exploited and for which the experts have identified usefulness and suggested directions for research. Ilex anomala is one of the best examples. But it also applies to hitherto unexploited plant parts of species already in use, such as the leaves of Morinda citrifolia, only the fruit of which (noni) is marketed as yet.

  • A second set of conclusions concerns markets for French Polynesia’s products. Broadly speaking, niche markets predominate; it is they that best match the territory’s aptitudes and assets. The quality aspect is therefore extremely important. This is illustrated by the quality management applied to vanilla and monoi, and which it would be advisable to apply to tamanu. With products intended for niche markets, product protection is strategically important. This means establishing their distinctiveness with an identifying quality indication; the monoi DO is a good example of this. It is advisable to consider all existing forms of protection and choose the one best suited to the product and the market. A key point here is that patenting is not the only way to protect a product, nor always the best.

  • The third set of conclusions concerns product chains. We have seen how different the existing product chains are (copra/coconut oil, noni, monoi and vanilla), due to the nature of their production processes, their markets, and the objectives set for some of them. There is no single product chain structure to refer to for guidance as to how to support the development of new ones. Each case should be examined to consider different possibilities (but within the framework of an overall strategy; we will return to this point). We have also seen that to better understand the factors that led to the success of the noni and monoi industries, it would be advisable to conduct an audit to analyse and assess them. As regards forms of public aid to innovation, we find that although financial incentives are not lacking, a proper system is needed to support innovative projects (e.g. by putting them in contact with potential investors) and young businesses (start-up incubators). French Polynesia would be well advised to strengthen its links with existing innovation networks in metropolitan France and internationally.

Major trends in markets and regulations, R&D orientations by utilisation sector

6Commercial use prospects for natural substances may be either:

  • immediate, in which case the key factor is the market or markets;

  • deferred, in which case the first question is to decide what course R&D should take.

7It was not part of the experts’ mission, nor within their competence, to make a market survey in the technical meaning of the term. However, they have classified the markets for natural substance based products into a few major types:

  • Promising markets. At present these are the cosmetics market and “new foods” (“health” foods, food supplements sold with health claims). These are versatile, highly responsive to communication drives, and strictly regulated. For these product chains, it is therefore of vital importance to monitor trends in regulations. Table 6 gives useful guidelines for these promising markets.

  • The therapeutic drugs market. This is a very long-term market governed by Draconian regulations. It is also a field in which the research networks are in the hands of specialist firms, and it is far beyond the capacities of French Polynesia to make a really useful place for itself in this system.

  • Embryonic markets for biotechnologies based on natural substances. French Polynesia can make a place for itself in this market because it has the necessary initial assets, the main one being its considerable research facilities. However, this will require a sustained R&D effort (see papers by Barbin, Guézennec & Débitus and Weniger particularly on CD-ROM).

A novel option for French Polynesia: bioprospecting and collections

8Having considered all the main aspects of the subject they were asked to examine (French Polynesia’s biodiversity assets, existing scientific and technical infrastructure in the territory, market demand), the experts recommend focusing on bioprospecting, building up collections, taking extracts, formatting samples and biological screening of species. This option is both a form of direct utilisation and a form of deferred utilisation as one essential link in an R&D strategy.

9As a whole, the work of the expert group review and its conclusions lead to the following recommendations:

  1. Preservation/conservation and utilisation of biodiversity and its openended potential are best seen as absolutely inseparable. New practices connected with new product chains can have a feedback effect on the sustainability of those chains themselves. This is the essential import of the Convention on Biodiversity. It is the guiding principle for all major bioprospecting operations under the Global Environment Fund. It is also a pressing obligation for French Polynesia, where the particularly large number of seriously endangered species is a sign of fragility, and a sign that this issue should be taken more seriously than it has so far.

  2. Taking this concern into account, the Bioprospecting and collections option and the research guidelines set out in this review seem to offer French Polynesia a realistic, novel perspective that is cost-effective and has a promising future alongside other, more conventional forms of utilisation, many of whose markets seem to be volatile.

  3. In any case, the rights of French Polynesia and its local communities over their resources should be protected, making sure they receive benefits from commercial utilisation; it is essential to introduce legal provisions for applying the ABS principle.

  4. To guide and back up its utilisation policy, French Polynesia would be well advised to ensure it has the means to protect its products (by suitable types of labelling), and to keep ahead of trends in markets and relevant regulations (surveillance of markets and regulations).

  5. Most of these natural products are or may be found throughout the South Pacific, and broadly speaking the issues for protection and promotion are the same throughout the region. For these and other reasons (e.g. the need for geographically and demographically small States and territories to join force if they want to make their voices heard on the international scene), it is advisable for French Polynesia to foster a collaborative approach with other countries in the region under the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, rather than a strongly competitive approach.

© IRD Éditions, 2006

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