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Substances naturelles en Polynésie française

Jean Guezennec
Christian Moretti
Jean-Christophe Simon

Part one. Synopsis and Recommendations

Annex 3. Specifications for the expert group review

Texte intégral


1French Polynesia has good potential for exploiting its natural substances, because the remoteness of the islands has resulted in a high rate of endemism and many specific chemotypes. Little use has been made of this biodiversity so far; a few plants are used for particular products – monoi, vanilla, sandalwood, noni and tamanu – and a bare ten utilisation projects are under way for other substances.

2French Polynesia also has State-funded research laboratories that are sufficiently well-equipped to perform initial analyses of new substances. On the industrial side, a small number of established firms and project initiators are looking to diversify or boost their business.

3But despite these assets and relatively lively interest, the sector has its weaknesses. The substances already utilised could be exploited more intensively by organising the product chains, establishing quality management and also by processing locally as far as possible, which would bring more of the profits to French Polynesia. In the near future, some natural substances could generate new markets, boosting French Polynesia’s development; but this will require some effort to define directions for research and organise the transfer of competencies from researchers to developers.


4The expert group review has two inseparable strands: a prospective strand to identify useful new natural substances in French Polynesia and suggest new avenues of research and development, and an operational strand to suggest industrial and commercial strategies for natural substances that are already utilised or could be in the future.

5The aims of the review can be summed up as follows:

  • Starting from existing knowledge of French Polynesian biodiversity and taking a sector-by-sector approach, discover which natural substances have the greatest economic potential for pharmaceutical purposes, cosmetics, herbal medicine, the food and drink industry, perfumery, crafts, etc., and specify what stage research each substance is at or in what form it is currently marketed. Profiles of project initiators may be identified – either local operators or, if the product cannot be developed locally, international operators.

  • Alongside this, practical suggestions will be made for implementing quality management, introducing market protection measures, improving production chains, linking research with industry and helping operators to organise. This work would be aimed at improving the productivity of “natural substances” product chains in the short term.

6The work of IRD will consist of a review by a panel of experts, using the method already developed by the IRD for such “expert group reviews”, and the following additional tasks:

  • production of a set of data sheets analysing available knowledge on each of the substances identified;

  • a study of local economic and technical potential for developing new business activities.

7Both these additional tasks will be essential aids for the multidisciplinary panel of experts, since there are gaps in the currently available data. The experts will thus be able to produce a broad synthesis and some policy guidelines for utilising French Polynesia’s natural substances.


What natural substances are already exploited in French Polynesia and the Pacific?

8As a preliminary step to the expert group review, as much information as possible about natural substances in French Polynesia must be put together. The output from this work will be a set of data sheets on individual substances.

9One of the experts will be responsible for drawing up the data sheets with the help of outside contributors. Data on the utilisation of some substances will be added once the local socio-economic survey has provided additional information. The data sheets will mainly address the following questions:

  • How is the resource for this substance obtained?

  • How high is the risk of resource exhaustion?

  • What are the properties highlighted for marketing the product? Is there a scientific basis for these claims?

  • If utilisation of this resource produces waste, is there a way to make use of the waste?

  • Is exploitation of this resource harmful to the environment (e.g. more traditional crops abandoned, landscape impact, ecosystem destruction)?

  • Does the substance have heritage value for French Polynesia?

  • How long might it take to get the substance to market? (short, medium or long-term prospect?)

10A preliminary estimate suggests that there would be about a hundred data sheets.

How is the natural substances sector (trade and industry) organised in French Polynesia?

11To propose a utilisation strategy, thorough, up-to-date knowledge of this sector in French Polynesia and the socio-economic background is essential. Possible development scenarios for the companies and organisations involved should also be identified in some detail. This requires an investigation, partly conducted on site in direct liaison with local stakeholders, to answer the following questions:

  • What are the characteristics of the companies in this sector? How are they structured? How do they operate (size, business activity, exports, turnover, etc.)?

  • What jobs are created by the natural substances utilisation sector?

  • What funding does the sector receive?

  • What financial flows does it generate?

  • Is it possible for a solid network of small firms to develop? How can large companies be attracted to French Polynesia?

  • What are the strong and weak points of the natural substances sector?

  • What guidelines should be adopted to encourage development in this sector?

  • Are local research centres (i.e. the university, national, Polynesian and foreign research institutes on French Polynesia’s territory, etc.) working on natural substances with a view to their utilisation? Would it be useful or possible to give them extra encouragement? Could their activities be better co-ordinated?


12Based on their own work and on the two additional investigations described above, the panel of experts, as a group, will answer the following questions.

What is the potential usefulness of French Polynesia’s marine, terrestrial, plant and animal biodiversity compared to neighbouring intertropical countries?

  • How much is known about the country’s marine and terrestrial biodiversity?

  • Has a scientific inventory been made of French Polynesia’s traditional knowledge?

  • To what extent does the French Polynesian population self-medicate with local herbs?

  • Do traditional healers play an important role in French Polynesia? Has this been studied?

  • Are there areas where bioprospecting (biodiversity and related knowledge) has been insufficient? Can priorities be established for bioprospecting?

Based on the analysis of French Polynesian biodiversity, what are the exploited or exploitable natural substances in the Territory?

  • 1 i.e. indigenous plants also found elsewhere in the tropics.

13From the initial set of data sheets, a shorter list of substances of interest for French Polynesia will be drawn up (about twenty at most). This list will include both indigenous species1 which French Polynesia could consider producing and/or processing (e.g. Calophyllum inophyllum as an anti-HIV agent), and endemic species, for which the panel’s work will generally lead to suggestions for R&D strategies. A specific study of this group of substances should assess their potential and answer the following questions:

  • What are the trends in the market? For substances not yet commercialised, what markets are opening up for which substances?

  • For each substance considered, what regulations are expected to affect penetration of the European market (processed products)?

  • What kinds of contract are used between stakeholders in the product chain, from producer to processor?

  • For each market, what value-added and what resulting economic impact can be expected for French Polynesia? How far is the product processed in French Polynesia? If the product is not processed within the territory, where does the processing take place?

  • Are there market protection methods that could be introduced?

  • For each substance not yet exploited, what type of R&D is required and how long will it take? When might these substances reach the market?

Are the local technical and scientific facilities sufficient for conducting additional R&D?

14The panel will first assess existing R&D capacity in French Polynesia (the team will conduct part of this analysis in situ). Taking the list of substances worth developing and considering the resources required to do this, the team could make suggestions for collaboration or partnerships. The experts will review possible R&D strategies open to French Polynesia, focusing on the following points:

  • How can the linkage between research and industry be improved?

  • What public-private partnerships or collaborations with laboratories in Metropolitan France could be considered to optimise progress in R&D on natural substances?

What advice can be given for public policy on the utilisation of natural substances in French Polynesia?

15This will mean summarising the results of the review and discussing with the Monitoring Committee to see what courses of action would be sustainable locally.


1 i.e. indigenous plants also found elsewhere in the tropics.

© IRD Éditions, 2006

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