A blog maintained by Tevita Kete, PGR Officer
Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), Suva, Fiji Islands
This weblog documents the activities of Pacific Agricultural Genetic Resources Network (PAPGREN), along with other information on plant genetic resources (PGR) in the Pacific.
The myriad varieties found within cultivated plants are fundamental to the present and future productivity of agriculture. PAPGREN, which is coordinated by the Land Resources Division of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), helps Pacific countries and territories to conserve their crop genetic diversity sustainably, with technical assistance from the Bioversity International (BI) and support from NZAID and ACIAR.
SPC also hosts the Centre of Pacific Crops and Trees (CEPaCT). The CEPaCT maintains regional in vitro collections of crops important to the Pacific and carries out research on tissue culture technology. The CEPaCT Adviser is Dr Mary Taylor (MaryT@spc.int), the CEPaCT Curator is Ms Valerie Tuia (ValerieT@spc.int).
PAPGREN coordination and support
Mr William Wigmore
Mr Adelino S. Lorens
Dr Lois Englberger
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Dr Maurice Wong
Mr Tianeti Beenna Ioane
Mr Frederick Muller
Mr Herman Francisco
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Ms Laisene Samuelu
Mr Jimi Saelea
Mr Tony Jansen
Mr Finao Pole
Mr Frazer Bule Lehi
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Thursday, September 04, 2003
Posted 3:41 PM by Luigi
Taro Research in Samoa
The following article by Samisoni Pareti appeared 4 September 2003 in Islands Business Magazine.
The future of a research program aimed at assisting Samoa recover from the debilitating effects of the taro leaf blight (TLB) is in doubt now that funding will dry up at the end of the year.
Australia's international aid agency, AusAID, has been funding the taro research work based at the University of the South Pacific's Alafua Campus in Apia for the past five years. It is jointly implementing the program with the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC).
"AusAID has funded this project for two phases, phase 1 (1998-2000) and phase 2 (2001-2003)," explains Tolo Iosefa, the local scientist coordinating the program. "But funding is due to end in December. SPC is committed to sustaining certain activities of this project and so it is hoped that the breeding program in Samoa will continue."
In fact, taro farmers in Samoa will expect nothing else given that Iosefa's work has not only seen the introduction of several new species of taro in the country, but it is also assisting greatly in getting what was once a major exporting commodity back on its feet.
Before the onslaught of the infectious disease in 1993, taro exports in Samoa peaked at S$9.5 million. The following year, this fell dramatically to a mere S$0.2 million, and other neighboring islands like Fiji quickly filled the vacuum as a leading exporter of the product. While AusAID has been funding the TaroGen program in Alafua, Iosefa said this type of research had begun much earlier, in 1996.
Since then, the breeding program, which included the germination of taro plants using tissue culture, had produced ten taro species that could replace Taro Niue, the local taro species that almost got wiped out by TLB. As a result of the disease, several exotic taro cultivars from Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Philippines were reported to have tolerance to TLB.
"After two years of on-farm evaluation, we found out that Palau-10 is the most resistant to TLB and with the highest yield," Iosefa said. "Talo Fili (PSB-G2) from the Philippines has the best eating quality with other Palau cultivars and two of Federated States of Micronesia's cultivars (Pwetepwet and Toantal) are tolerant to TLB and with acceptable eating qualities."
Iosefa was choosing his words carefully. The word in Samoa is that many still preferred the taste of Taro Niue, lamenting that the new breeds are still far off the mark when it comes to real taro flavor.
"Our breeding program for TLB resistant varieties is a long term research exercise. It is still on-going and may take another three to five years before we find what the Samoan people are looking for." An option Iosefa and his team at Alafua would like to look at is to continue breeding, mixing Talo Niue with Palau-10, which is why it is imperative to ensure funding continues for TaroGen. In 2000 and again in 2001, TaroGen through Samoa's Ministry of Agriculture released six "improved lines" of taro.
"Farmers liked it," said Iosefa. "USP's taro improvement project also released several clones for farmers to test under their local environment and management."
One of the benefits of the breeding program is the improvement in the tissue bank for Alafua's Tissue Culture Unit. Anthony Palupi, manager of the unit, said his unit duplicated the SPC's collection, and is concentrating on improving the multiplication rate of taro suckers.
From a sucker, Palupi said his unit could extract tissue for at least 70 to 200 new suckers.
Space has become a problem for the tissue unit, and SPC provided funding for the provision of a new sterile kitchen and bigger storage. The devastation caused by taro blight in Samoa had raised the need for island countries to observe strict quarantine regulations and move away from intensive monoculture.
"There shouldn't be a reliance on one variety for the domestic and export markets," said Iosefa.
There's also the need for genetic diversity in the region so breeding programs should be continued. We also should not just use Pacific germplasm. Exotic germplasm including those from Asia should be introduced. Genetic diversity in the Pacific is relatively limited. Because of this need for diversity, another major lesson learnt is we have to have germplasm exchanges between the countries and from outside the region. "But this germplasm exchanges should respect the quarantine regulations of the countries."
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