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
Mr Apisai Ucuboi
Dr Maurice Wong
Mr Tianeti Beenna Ioane
Mr Frederick Muller
Mr Herman Francisco
Ms Rosa Kambuou
Ms Laisene Samuelu
Mr Jimi Saelea
Mr Tony Jansen
Mr Finao Pole
Mr Frazer Bule Lehi
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Sunday, January 09, 2005
Posted 2:17 PM by Luigi
The "Maori potato" in New Zealand
The following article recently appeared in Stuff, a New Zealand news and information website. According to this website, which includes nice photographs, by "Maori potato" is meant "a collection of varieties of Solanum tuberosum now cultivated by Maori for at least 200 years." There's more on "taewa Maori" here.
Maori potato crop getting established
7 Jan. 2005
Potatoes they may be, but there's nothing humble about the crop Te Hoori Rikirangi holds in his hands – they are treasure and one he is happily giving away.
Mr Rikirangi's one hectare Ihi Organics garden in Tauranga is one of the few places in the Western Bay of Plenty where taewa, or "Maori potatoes", are grown commercially, but every week he takes seed potatoes to Tauranga Farmers' Market to give to anyone who wants to grow them.
"I tried selling them, but I'm no salesman. I decided to give them away to people to try. My satisfaction is getting people to grow the potatoes themselves and giving me a running report on how they're doing. It's taken a while for me to let the seeds out and I don't know that my mum would have agreed with what I'm doing," Mr Rikirangi said.
"But we've already lost some of these varieties once.
"A delegation went to Japan about 10 years ago to bring these taonga back to us. All kai is a treasure but these Maori potatoes are truly a treasure."
Massey University in Palmerston North set up a seed bank for taewa five years ago and now has more than 30 varieties. Many have survived the arrival of the bigger, hybrid potatoes only thanks to being grown in marae gardens and by those who prize their "heirloom" qualities.
"My mum and uncles have all been growers," Mr Rikirangi said, "and I've learned from them."
Maori potatoes are thought to have come to New Zealand with the earliest sailors, whalers and sealers who planted them as a reliable food source. Of the six varieties that Mr Rikirangi grows perhaps only one may be mistaken for a modern potato. The others are smaller, some with pink skins, some with purple and the knobbly urenika has a dark purple skin and flesh.
The potential of these potatoes, which all have thin, edible skins, has been recognised by supermarket operators and one organics company planned to have three varieties in North Island supermarkets this month.
Mr Rikirangi has been approached by a Tauranga supermarket with a view to supplying Maori potatoes.
"I said that I can't do quantity, but they seemed happy with whatever I could manage."
He has been moving toward a full organic operation for eight years and last month had a visit from a BioGro auditor as part of the move from conversion status to fully-fledged organic production.
His decision to work his land according to organic principles was based on a desire to produce quality, rather than quantity. He keeps his various taewa as far apart as possible to guard against cross-pollination and says that although the work is hard and the hours long, his choice has been the right one.
"They thrive on being grown organically and I've been getting a super-bumper crop."
Although Maori potatoes are grown commercially in large numbers in Eastern Bay of Plenty, Mr Rikirangi believes he is one of the few growing such a wide variety.
As well, he grows two of the rarer kumara – pokena (pumpkin) and tauranga red, a strain that originated in the city for which it is named – plus chinese greens, broccoli and taro.
Meanwhile, Massey University last year began identifying the characteristics of taewa with a view to maximising their economic potential, working alongside Tahuri Whenua, the Maori Vegetable Growers' Collective.
The aim is to develop high-value food products using the unique physical and cultural aspects of the Maori potato, such as their colour, a spokesman said.
New storage and preservation technologies also need to be developed to deliver chef-ready taewa to overseas restaurants at a premium price.
Crop and Food Research are working with Massey and Maori growers in seven sites around the country testing different varieties.
Vegfed notes that Maori potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin C and fibre, as well as containing potassium, thiamine, folate and magnesium. They are high in starch and latest research indicates that coloured food is nutritionally preferable because of higher antioxidant levels.
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