Creating Value for New Caledonia’s Natural Resources

February 11, 2021

In 2015, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly adopted a resolution on the observance of February 11 the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Recognizing that science and gender equality are both critical to achieving the internationally agreed 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the global community is continuously working to encourage and engage women and girls in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).


According to data compiled by the UNESCO Institute of Statistics, less than 30 percent of researchers worldwide are women and only around 30 percent of female students select STEM-related fields when entering into higher education. Yet, women and girls play a vital role in the science and technology communities.

On the UN International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we celebrate Subama Mapou, a participant in the WIPO Training and Mentoring Program for Indigenous Women Entrepreneurs, and her commitment to empower the women and girls of New Caledonia (France) to get involved in the fields of science education, training and research activities at all levels.

When science meets tradition

Meet Subama Mapou. She comes from a multi-ethnic family of Kanak, Japanese and Indian culture, and has been passionate about biodiversity from an early age. Her home of New Caledonia, an overseas territory of France in the southwest Pacific Ocean, boasts and abundance of natural resources, due to the area’s very high rate of endemic species -- 76%.

(Photo: Flickr/Stephan Roletto)

The archipelago’s rich fauna and flora presents a number of unique taxonomic groups that contribute to the local knowledge of traditional plant-based uses. Over centuries, the Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs), who live in this environment, have developed very detailed knowledge of the biodiversity that surrounds them.

As a young Kanak child from the Unia tribe of the Djawari chiefdom, Subama’s great-grandfather, a traditional healer and tribal elder, introduced her to the traditional knowledge of New Caledonia’s natural resources and their tribal value.

Following a promise to her family to continue her studies, Subama pursued a higher education in plant biology, receiving a bachelor’s degree in biology and a master’s degree in plant and micro-organism biology from the University of Montpellier (France).

New Caledonia’s biodiversity and traditional knowledge attract the attention of researchers around the globe. As a researcher herself, Subama uses her unique background to fight for the sustainable management of New Caledonia’s natural resources. She believes that any collaboration between local holders of traditional knowledge and research laboratories should be built on mutual respect.

In order to practice what she preaches, Subama strives to develop such best practices through a series of growing activities. As part of her Ph.D. research, she carried out a complete inventory of New Caledonia’s plants for cosmetic use. While conducting the ethnobotanical surveys, she made sure to seek authorization from IPLCs in advance with a document of prior informed consent.

(Photo: Courtesy of Subama Mapou)

Through her work, she was able to identify 109 plants with the biological potential for cosmetic purposes.

Gardenia Cosmétique: Channeling the spirit of entrepreneurship

To showcase the real-world application of New Caledonia’s biodiversity and traditional knowledge, Subama founded her own company: Gardenia Cosmétique.

My startup, Gardenia Cosmétique, aims to promote biodiversity and traditional knowledge using an ecological and innovative eco-extraction process.

Subama Mapou

According to the entrepreneur, the objective of Gardenia Cosmétique is to take the information acquired in the field and turn it into an entrepreneurial opportunity. Based on principles of respecting the rights of IPLCs, she believes that the commercialization of these products is very promising in terms of job creation at the artisanal and industrial levels.

How does Subama’s work on Kanak traditional knowledge empower the women of New Caledonia in fields of science?

Building on her project under the Traditional Knowledge Division’s program, Subama co-founded the Kanak Institute of Plants, Handicrafts and Indigenous Languages (IKAPALA). IKAPALA is an NGO which aims to bring together a network of actors committed to the enhancement and protection of Kanak traditional knowledge.

(Photo: IKAPALA)

Today, around 30 associations of women, representing each of the eight customary areas that make up the territory, are part of IKAPALA. The Institute, in collaboration with Gardenia Cosmétique, has already held over two dozen workshops focused on the creation of safe, natural and high-quality products.

My commitment to encourage women and young girls to get involved in the scientific fields in order to develop research practices and programs in pursuit of synergy is unfailing.

Subama Mapou

Through these workshops, the women learn how to prepare organic goods, including soaps and other hygienic products, aloe vera gels and cold-pressed coconut oil for cosmetic use and consumption. Each ingredient and preparation technique is based on New Caledonia’s endemic plants and traditional knowledge.

What’s next for Subama?

While other businesses have faced issues during the COVID-19, Subama has not allowed the pandemic to keep her from the work she holds dearly. During COVID-19, Gardenia Cosmétique has distributed free-of-charge more than 1000 liters of soap and 200 liters of hydro-alcoholic gel, to local schools, tribes and disabled populations.

Beyond trainings and seminars, she also has other big goals for IKAPALA. In collaboration with New Caledonia’s IPLCs, she has plans to create botanical gardens based on the archipelago’s natural resources, as well as develop a database of the natural resources in vernacular languages.

Looking for more information on WIPO’s work on traditional knowledge?

Visit the WIPO Traditional Knowledge website for more on WIPO’s work on intellectual property and traditional knowledge, traditional cultural expressions and genetic resources.

To learn more about WIPO’s activities on indigenous and local community entrepreneurship, check out the website on WIPO’s Indigenous and Local Community Entrepreneurship Program.

For regular updates on WIPO’s activities, sign up for the WIPO Traditional Knowledge e-newsletter.