After my blog about avocados in 2007, I have been getting requests for avocado plants that I have found difficult to respond to on a case-by-case basis. Yesterday I made a deal with a retail outlet at the 1 Utama Shopping Mall. This is a small place called Hortpark Nursery on the Lower Ground Floor, next to the Mamak Corner. I have placed two plants there, which are all that I have to spare at present. Hortpark Nursery will take care of them and sell at RM25 per plant to cover their expenses. Hortpark also sells horticarbon in 5 and 10 kg bags. Shoppers should bring bring their own strong bag for big items. Hortpark is open from 10am to about 6pm.
The avocado plants being made available are seedlings from the best plant of about 20 selected clones that I have tested. The clones were acquired by MARDI (Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Centre) through international collaboration many years ago. The Research Assistant in charge of the collection offered me a duplicate set of this collection. I was at that time establishing the Fruit Tree Arboretum at FRIM (Forest Research Institute Malaysia). He brought me a set of bud-grafted plants all the way from MARDI to FRIM, a considerable distance to cover on his motorcycle, at his own expense. This person was about to retire and felt that his many years of effort would disappear without a trace unless he could pass it on. He was right! Avocados have disappeared from MARDI’s agenda.
I planted most of the clones at FRIM, and a few around my house. Over the next 20 years, some of the trees failed to flower and fruit under our conditions. One flowered but never fruited. One remained stunted at about 3 ft tall. One fruited only after 10 years. One produced oversized fruits, but only in small numbers. The collection in FRIM gradually died out after I retired, but I had already identified and propagated the best tree.
This tree fruited at 6 years old and has been fruiting every year. The fruits are smooth-skinned, green in colour, and medium sized (supermarket size), with smooth pulp. It is self-fertile, which means a single tree is enough to produce fruits. This is the tree that I have been propagating and giving away, but I can only produce a small number at a time.
At about the same time as the avocados were offered to me, another scientist, working at an oil palm research centre, Bakasawit, was about to retire to England. He offered me an international collection of coconut varieties that he feared would be lost upon his retirement. Sadly, I had no place for coconuts in FRIM.
Those were times when scientists collaborated across institutions and did what they thought was best in the public interest. That spirit no longer exists.
There are extensive ‘germplasm’ collections of rubber, oil palm, bananas, sweet potatoes, etc in our research institutes, many acquired through exploration and exchange at great cost and effort. All are in danger of being lost upon the retirement of the scientists who built them up, but it is almost impossible for outsiders to get anything out. They are treated like official secrets.
I am working with UTAR at its university campus in Kampar to set up an agricultural resource centre where we hope to establish our own collections for research, teaching, propagation, distribution and exchange. Avocados will be on the agenda, with other fruits and plants of agri-horticultural interest. We hope to establish an ethical model of trust and collaboration between scientists and the public, without which Malaysian agriculture will stagnate.