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
Interested in GIS?
Monday, August 29, 2005
Posted 8:09 PM by Luigi
New breadfruit publication
A new paper on breadfruit is the first major systematic study of this important Pacific crop since Jarret's monograph on Artocarpus published in the 1959. A taxonomic treatment with photographs of key characters for the three species of breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis, A. camansi, and A. mariannensis) is included. This study analyzed 182 trees from 17 Pacific Island groups that are conserved in the breadfruit germplasm collection at the National Tropical Botanical Garden in Hawaii, as well as collections from Papua New Guinea, Pohnpei, Northern Mariana Islands, Singapore, and Malaysia.
Systematics and Species Limits of Breadfruit (Artocarpus, Moraceae)
NYREE J. C. ZEREGA, DIANE RAGONE, and TIMOTHY J. MOTLEY
Systematic Botany 30(3): 603-615.
ABSTRACT. Breadfruit (Artocarpus, Moraceae) is an important staple in Oceania and throughout much of the tropics. Interpretations of species delimitations among breadfruit and its closest relatives have varied from recognition of one to several species. To better understand the systematics and ultimately the origins of breadfruit, we considered evidence from molecular data. Amplified fragment length polymorphism data for 261 individuals of breadfruit, its closest relatives, putative hybrids, and nine outgroup taxa were analyzed using neighbor joining and parsimony analyses. Three species, A. altilis (domesticated breadfruit), A. camansi, and A. mariannensis, are recognized and the existence of hybrids (A. altilis x A. mariannensis) verified. A revised treatment based on the molecular results, as well as morphological and geographical considerations, is presented.
it is with great interest that i have read your informative article but i wish to bring to your notice that in the soth west of india they are beginng to be plagued with some disease that has affected their breadfruit and coconuts. from the firsthand information given to me the coconut disease was introduced via shipping. i hope these diseases do not reach the shores of the pacific.Post a Comment
Posted 2:31 PM by Luigi
Vegeculture as Food Security for Pacific Communities
The following is the abstract of a paper by Nancy J. POLLOCK of Victoria Universitypublished in "Vegeculture in Eastern Asia and Oceania," edited by Shuji Yoshida and Peter Matthews, Japan Center for Area Studies, National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka, Japan (2002).
The consumption of root and tree starchy foods has provided Pacific island communities with security through both natural and man-made hazards, and the introduction of cash foods. It has enabled them to manage these risks by maintaining options for a diet rich in variety and sustaining nutrition. Vegeculture, the term referring to this pattern of culturally selected foods, is thus integral to Pacific food systems. This paper traces the dispersal and transformations of foods by vegeculture that have led to diversity not only of botanical forms, but also of social settings in which those foods are appropriate. A starch food is an essential component of a meal, whether at the household or community level. Techniques developed for processing those starchy foods include the earth oven, pit storage and fermentation. The dispersal of key starchy foods, together with the social settings and range of technologies that render them edible, have been developed over time to ensure a secure food supply. Vegeculture is as vital for current lifestyles as it has been over past eras.
Sunday, August 28, 2005
Posted 4:59 PM by Luigi
Yams in Vanuatu
From DSAP staff Oniel Dalesa in Vanuatu.
Just came back from the Banks group (north of Vanuatu), which is a DSAP site. Most communities are busy with their yam planting, as this is the latest time for planting of most soft yam (D. alata). Attached is a picture of women planting yams on Mota island in the Banks group.
Thursday, August 25, 2005
Posted 5:10 PM by Luigi
Fiji land use policy launched
Fiji is launching a land use policy to guide sustainable development of its land resources — making it the first Pacific Island nation to do so.
The policy addresses critical issues such as the expansion of commercial cropping on to marginal lands, lack of land conservation measures for fragile soils, burning of grasslands and rapidly increasing deforestation, all fuelled by a growing population and commercialisation. Titled ‘A Rural Land Use Policy for Fiji’, it was endorsed by the Fiji Cabinet in June and will be publicly launched on 2 September 2005 at the Tanoa Plaza in Suva. Chief guest at the event will be the Minister of Agriculture, Sugar, and Land Resettlement, Illaitia Tuisese with Mr Tilman Enders, Acting Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to Fiji.
"It has been a long journey towards this landmark, but now we come to the most important stretch — implementing the policy," said Inoke Ratukalou, Director of the Department of Land Resources Planning and Development. "
The new policy will serve as an effective information and awareness tool and provide a rationale for land legislation, ensuring less arbitrary regulations. This is a big step towards promoting sustainable land management practices in rural communities." Developing the policy was a joint effort by Fiji’s Ministry of Agriculture, Sugar, and Land Resettlement and the SPC/GTZ Pacific-German Regional Forestry Project (PGRFP). A participatory approach was used with more than 100 stakeholders, from more than 20 agencies, being consulted over a two-year period. The consultation process was financed by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development through the PGRFP.
The Rural Land Use Policy gives Fiji a framework for sustainable development.With increasing intensification of agriculture, urban sprawl, and other demands on land, planned development and effective monitoring are fundamental to maintaining sustainable relationships between Fiji’s people and natural resources.
Fiji Government's rural policy is a farce.Post a Comment
It should empower the native landowners by phasing out the Native Lands Trust Board.
Replacing it with trust foundations for each landowning unit. There regulating function will transfer to Lands Department.
That is why Fiji can't sustain itself with exports. If it want's to compete on the Global market, new paradigms must be in place first.
For the past 50 years Native land has been under the control of N.L.T.B. Now it wants control of the native fishing grounds too.
Time to relinquish the shackles of social mobility in Fiji. It's also sad that these so called experts in SOPAC can't give that advice of empowerment.
Too busy sucking up to everybody else. Technology transfer is a subject seldom discussed in these Science based institutions, so that Pacific Island nations can produce more food, more energy to sustain themselves. Instead of being at the bottom of the food chain.
Island nations are being given just enough, so that they keep coming back for more AID.
Wednesday, August 24, 2005
Posted 2:29 PM by Luigi
Planting seeds in sandalwood harvest season
Source: Vanuatu Online - Port Vila, Vanuatu, 25 July 2005
Sandalwood harvest and trading season opened on 15 July, and the Ministry of Agriculture last week advised farmers and traders to plant 4000 to 5000 trees by end of 2005, as a sustainability and reforestation initiative.
The Minister of Agriculture, Quarantine, Forestry and Fisheries, Barak Sope, has authorised sandalwood traders to harvest until 15 October 2005. "By end of 2005, they should show a record to the Department of Forestry and equivalent of 4000 to 5000 plants planted as a [sustainability] initiative. And as a matter of policy, each license holder must established their own plantations, process sandalwood locally and only export sandalwood oil," Minister Sope advised.
Minister Sope sent a letter to the Director of Forestry informing him of the order, and said sandalwood license holders and farmers must adhere to the conditions of harvesting sandalwood as set out by the Department of Forestry. "The harvesting season is open for three months and is only applicable to the islands of Santo, and Tafea province which consists of Erromango, Tanna, Aniwa and Futuna," said the Minister.
He explained that since the sandalwood industry is a developing industry, the Ministry further advised all license holder to seriously engage in the reforestation programs.
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
Posted 2:12 PM by Luigi
Malaysian loggers taking PNG revenue
ABC News Online: Tuesday, August 16, 2005. 2:18pm (AEST)
An international forest expert says five Malaysian companies are taking most of Papua New Guinea's revenue from logging, but showing no interest in PNG's long-term interests.
The director-general of the Centre for International Forestry Research, David Kaimowitz, says the Malaysian firms are taking almost all the logging money which should go to the PNG Government or villagers.
Dr Kaimowitz says the Malaysian loggers want to get as much as they can and then leave Papua New Guinea within 10 years.
"And those five Malaysian logging companies, up until now, have shown relatively little interest in the country's long-term development," he said.
"If those companies were more careful about how they logged, PNG could keep its forestry exports going practically sustainable into the future. But the way the forests are being mistreated today, they won't have timber to harvest for very long."
Dr Kaimowitz says wood exports are worth 10 per cent of PNG's exports, but forest exports peaked almost a decade ago.
He says it is becoming harder and harder to find high-value timber in Papua New Guinea. Dr Kaimowitz says that since Abdullah Badawi took over as Malaysia's Prime Minister from Dr Mahathir, Kuala Lumpur has shown more concern about the activities of Malaysian loggers.
Posted 2:02 PM by Luigi
Traditional food DVD
More from Lois Englberger.
I would like to share with Island Food Community of Pohnpei members and all that we have Peter and Lisa Kuhnlein with us this week, doing a DVD film and photography work on the local foods of Pohnpei. This is part of the project titled "Documentation of the Traditional Foods of Pohnpei" supported by the Centre of Indigenous Peoples' Nutrition and Environment and the project in Mand. Relating to breadfruit, Peter photographed some beautiful breadfruit today, Meitoal, which were being sold at one of the local market, accompanied by Kiped Albert who shared with us the variety name. Tomorrow Peter and Lisa will be filming and photographing in Mand, as arranged by the Mand Community Working Group, led by Kiped Albert. The women will first be making Pingelapese mar (preserved breadfruit) and will be making an umw, all which will be filmed.
Monday, August 22, 2005
Posted 7:14 PM by Luigi
Church members plant yams
Fiji Times, Tuesday, August 23, 2005
MEN and women working in groups has always been the backbone of development in all Fijian villages in the country.
And working in groups has also spread its work to the churches.
Last week about 50 men from villages in and around Bua gathered at the Wainisevu Methodist young people's department plantation in Bua to plant more than 200 yams.
Head of the Methodist church in Bua, Reverend Peceli Tubelili, said the men from villages along the coastal areas of Bua had brought up the idea to plant yams for the church.
"The church accepted the idea of planting yams with open arms and said the blessings would trickle down on the people," said Mr Tubelili.
The men represented about eight villages in the district of Lekutu to plant yams at the Wainisevu Methodist church plantation in Bua.
"This is the Methodist church school for young people and here they learn how to survive with very little resources but their learning is based on faith," he said.
Last week the villages near Nabouwalu where the school is located cooked while the men headed
straight to the plantation.
The first task they were tasked with was to clear the hills where the yams were to be planted.
The men were separated in groups and were working in groups of five.
"We had to divide ourselves in groups of five so that it makes it easier for us to plant yams in lines," said the men.
"We have different varieties of yams and all those that have the same variety plant in the same row."
They started their work as early as 6am as soon as they got off from their truck.
"First of all we had to clear the bush and the bush has been there for so long and years and so it was taking time to up root the big trees," they said.
The men than began clearing the bush and started burning while part of the group was tasked with collecting the firewood and taking them to the school.
Nabouwalu police officer Etuate Tavaiqia was amongst the men from eight villages who took part in the planting of yams.
He said it was his day off and wanted to join the men. He was assigned to mix a basin of kava and was seen going around with basin and a small bowl to the men working on the plantation.
Mr Tavaiqia said he has seen a lot of villages and its men working in groups but it was the first time for him to see that they work for the church.
"This is very good because the church will no longer spend to get root crops to cater for the students in the school," said Mr Tavaiqia.
He was not alone in giving out kava to those in thirst there were also women were assigned to give water to the men during the actual working hours.
The school has been one of the oldest Methodist schools for lay preachers in Fiji and has one of the best locations.
The school overlooks the Nabouwalu jetty.
With its beautiful view the school has over the years tried to maintain the natural beauty of the school.
Mr Tubelili said they have been able to see students from Wainisevu make it to the top in the Methodist church.
"But the school I admit needs a lot of maintenance, and it is only through God they the school has been able to be maintained the way we are maintaining it now," said Mr Tubelili.
The school compound is one of the cleanliest in Bua and is always an eye catcher for the people passing by to Nabouwalu.
Mr Tubelili said the men not only planted yams for the church but also panted flowers with the students.
"As you can see the compound is full of flowers and vegetables and sometimes we sell the vegetables to get money to fund for some of the little stuff we need in school," he said.
Mr Tubelili said he was proud of the achievements of the school and how the students had coped with having to plant their own food. "It's always good to learn the hard way because that way people will be able to appreciate what they get," said Mr Tubelili.
"Whether it be big or small."
The men from the eight villages in Lekutu and Bua have vowed that it was their duty to plant for the church.
"Most of the time the church has always been neglected", said the men.
"That is why we have decided to come and plant," must to the delight of Mr Tubelili.
Mr Tavaiqia said men from villages where a church minister is based also planted in groups for their church minister.
Sometimes the church minister for that circuit has the largest plantation when compared to other farmers.
Mr Tubelili said people work in groups for the church and have witnessed blessings from God.
"They do that because they love to serve their God and one way of serving their God was to plant food for the church," said Mr Tubelili.
Posted 5:11 PM by Luigi
Breadfruit vs rice
From Herman Semens in FSM.
To Pacific islanders breadfruit is an important staple food such as rice to other people in other parts of the world. Today rice has displaced breadfruit in most Pacific Islands, if not all. When you think about the health aspect of breadfruit and rice, we know that breadfruit is better. When we look at the economic aspect of it, the amount of money sent out to foreign countries to help their employees grow rice for export to FSM is ridiculously high while our breadfruit falls to the ground to rot. What is the problem? Is it the lack of interest among entrepreneurs to process breadfruit into value-added product for export? Is it the cost of breadfruit that discourage people from patronizing the local produce markets? Is it the people responsible for preparing food for the family that prefer rice to breadfruit because of the easy work involved in cooking rice? Is it because people today do not understand that our own breadfruit is healthier
than imported rice or other processed foods? Is it a status symbol that one must have rice even if the breadfruit is rotting away?
Eating and getting used to a particular type of food is an acquired habit that is developed over time as people grow. Micronesians were spoiled and are still spoiled by the displacement of our traditional food values by imported foreign food, especially rice. I say spoiled because it all
started by the government when during the TT period US provided "hot lunch" program in the schools were the youth then who are now young adults were fed with rice and canned foods.
The decision makers then were authorizing purchase of imported food rather than investing the funds in local staples so that our young people would get used to eating their own local food. Instead, tons of rice were purchased and kids acquired the habit and got to like the rice. Today it is rare to sit at a table in a family setting and eat the same type of food. The older generation would eat local while the young eat rice. Think about the health and the economic benefit of this.
Reinforcement of habits continued under Compact I and unfortunately we see the same thing happening under Compact II. We continue to see purchase of rice for our young generation in schools. The children of the young parents who acquired the habit of eating rice during the TT period are now feeding their young kids with rice. So the cycle continues. Should we then process our breadfruit for export to bring in foreign exchange to buy rice? Why not, it is an open global market today as the G8 are telling us in the developing countries.
For those of you who do not know about the valuable collection of breadruit we have in the Botanical Garden, during the TT all breadruit varieties in Micronesian were planted at the former AG Station (not Botanical Garden). It is rare collection of various species of breadfruit which are not being cared for today.
So what should we do or what can we do to make people of FSM take pride in eating their own food because it is healthier and save the money them the money spent on rice to pay for things that can help improve their standards of living?
It is a complex question, but I say we can start at the schools today where another young generation is growing up. People who make decisions to buy food for the schools should put priority on purchase of local staples such as breafruit, yam, taro, banana, etc. It may seems more expensive but if you think of the combined health and economic benefits, they outweigh the savings made from buying rice or other imported food.
If you work with the famers closely, they will tell you that during breadfruit season, breadfruits are wasted. Why not make it a requirement to buy local food first? Where are the FSM JEMCO representatives? The US JEMCO representatives I understand maintained a strong position that certain compact funds will be set aside for textbooks. Why not set aside some funds
for purchase of local foods for schools before we venture into some fancy use of these local staples?
My apology for this lengthy comment but I share everyone views about this important natural resource that is abundant in FSM. When we talk about allocation of scarce resources, we must consider using ours first. After all, we are a dependent independent country that is trying to be truly independent and let's be serious about it so that FSM can stay intact after 2023.
Thank you all.
The question of the replacement of traditional staples by rice has been a popular subject of speculation and debate for decades. Diets are changing very rapidly and many adults (and children of course) now prefer rice rather than locally grown root crops or breadfruit. They have "good" reasons for that: rice is cheap, it is ready to use, cooked in ten minutes, easy to store, quite clean to handle and allow consumers to stay in the villages instead of going to their gardens, often located far away, especially during the rainy season. From an economic point of view, it is impossible for locally grown starches to compete with imported cereals (corn, wheat, rice). The same is true for beer that necessitate huge imports to produce the most popular beverage in the south pacific, since European contact, thanks to acculturation. In most countries, urban dwellers are fed by Australian or New Zealand farmers, local farmers in the PICs, who cannot grow cereals, cannot feed the towns because diets have already changed and are therefore loosing the only market they should have access to. Globalisation, being what it is these days, it is quite obvious that these trends are going to accelerate because they are driven by economic and "cultural" forces, people want to change their culture, sometimes they are in a hurry to loose their cultural heritage. This happens elsewhere on earth but in this region faster than in others. I doubt that there is a solution. In the 80s the military dictatorship in Nigeria decided to ban the imports of cereals and today Nigeria is the first world producer of Cassava, Plantain and Yams.... but who would allow PIC leaders to take such a radical move? Cash crops for exports are the priority in all countries and in most countries the agricultural balance is negative every year. With the limited amount of cash obtained, foods are imported and very little is left for local development. This is now quite an old sorry tale...Post a Comment
Sunday, August 21, 2005
Posted 4:22 PM by Luigi
More on breadfruit and health
From Lois Englberger.
I would like to share with you our article in the Health Corner of the new issue of the Kaselehlie Press. The article focuses on the family and breadfruit, and presents also a photo of a young child, Bennett Solomon of Mand, who is helping his family prepare the "kansun" breadfruit, using the traditional hibiscus stick that has been cut and nicely smoothed. The other photo is of Pelihna Moses of Mand, of the Mand Community Working Group, as she presents the photo of the finished recipe of "kansun". Thanks to both and to all who contributed to this article, especially Kiped Albert of Mand and Tom Burkindine of KP!!
INVOLVING THE FAMILY IN BREADFRUIT RECIPES
In the last few weeks, there has been an amazing flurry of interest in breadfruit!!! After sending out the KP article "Breadfruit provides health benefits" to an email list, people started a dialogue that has continued for two weeks! One question was presented as to whether more local restaurants might offer a choice of breadfruit and rice. The potential of small-scale food processing was discussed, which led to a meeting 5 August at Pohnpei Agriculture. There a small group agreed upon priorities for the small-scale processing of breadfruit:
Anyone interested in making appointments with Dr. Beyer should contact Pohnpei Agriculture at 320-2400 for registration.
We would also like to here present another great breadfruit recipe. This is kansun, which can be made with any breadfruit variety. This recipe was prepared by Pelihna Moses of the Mand Community Working Group on June 30, 2005 as a part of the project to document the traditional food system of Pohnpei.
Family involvement is a traditional part of breadfruit production and consumption. During the survey work in Mand this last July, one family was preparing kansun and offered some to the survey team. The young son was skillfully peeling the kansun breadfruit, using the traditional hibiscus stick. What a great family activity!!! Thank you again to the families of Mand!!!
Dr. Lois Englberger, PhD
Posted 2:50 PM by Luigi
Following the award of Raghani Prasad's MSc on the subject, she presented this poster at a seminar on ‘Recent Advances in Biological Sciences’ at the School of Pure and Applied Sciences, USP on 20.8.2005. The title was: "Kava (Piper methysticum Forst.) tissue culture – towards a solution to kava dieback disease." And she won first prize!
I would be interested in reading some more information regarding tissue culture kava plants. Can somebody please direct me?Post a Comment
Sunday, August 14, 2005
Posted 5:03 PM by Luigi
Towards a Solution to Kava Dieback Disease
Ms Raghani L. Prasad, working at the RGC, has just been awarded her MSc from USP on the above topic. Congratulations to her. The abstract of her thesis is reproduced below.
The establishment of kava (Piper methysticum Forst.) in tissue culture has been tried by many researchers with limited success due to the high level of contamination found in kava tissues. In this research, a protocol has been established that gives an average 70% survival and recovery of clean shoot tip meristems, using standard cleaning agents (bleach, sterile distilled water and ethanol). With some cultivars, 100% recovery has been obtained. This protocol has been evaluated successfully with 21 Fijian kava accessions.
The optimum medium for meristem survival is full Murashige and Skoog medium (1962) supplemented with vitamins and low concentration of growth hormones. The same medium supports shoot development and root development. Kava plants from in vitro to in vivo have been transplanted successfully with 100% survival.
From this study, symptoms similar to those shown by plants suffering from kava dieback (KDB) in vivo are observed in kava tissue cultures. However, the presence of cucumber mosaic virus (CMV), the agent thought mainly to be responsible for causing KDB was not found using reverse transcriptase PCR on in vitro tissues (both symptomatic and asymptomatic). This could mean that either the symptoms in vitro are not the result of KDB, or if they are, the diagnostics are not detecting CMV due to low virus titre in tissue cultures or CMV is not the major cause of KDB. However, further tests will be carried out to confirm this. These tests will involve RT-PCR of kava tissue at three and six months following transplantation in the PEQ.
Morphological studies were conducted on the main kava collection in Fiji. These studies indicate that the collection comprises of at least 15 different cultivars within the 22 accession collection. This collection originally consisted of 72 accessions. This loss, caused by KDB, indicates the urgent need to develop a conservation strategy for kava, either nationally and/ or regionally.
“We cannot live for ourselves alone. Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads, and along these sympathetic fibers, our actions run as causes and return to us as results.”Post a Comment
- Herman Melville
RSS is the way of the Future...
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
Posted 9:03 PM by Luigi
Food security strategies for the Pacific
Country studies and a regional synthesis on food security in the Pacific are available in PDF from the website of the Centre for Alleviation of Poverty through Secondary Crops Development in Asia and the Pacific.
Integrated report: food security strategies for selected south pacific island countries Simatupang, Pantjar & Fleming, Euan (2001)
Food security strategies for Vanuatu
Welegtabit, Shadrack R. (2001)
Food security strategies for the Kingdom of Tonga
Halavatau, S.M. & Halavatau, N.V. (2001)
Food security strategies for Papua New Guinea
Igua, Passinghan Bukley K. (2001)
Food security strategies for the Republic of Fiji
Foraete, Hiagi M. (2001)
Posted 7:20 PM by Luigi
From Viliamu Iese, who's just completed an MSc at USP on Giant Swamp Taro, looking at ethnobotany and morphological and molecular diversity.
I am attending a three months training in Thailand sponsored by the UNESCO and National Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (BIOTEC) Thailand. I am based in the Plant Physiology and Biochemistry Laboratory in the BIOTEC, Thailand Science Park, Pathum Thani, Thailand. This is the first time Pacific Islanders join this research-training program in BIOTEC. Other participants come from Vietnam and Myanmar. There are two of us representing the Pacific Islands, myself and Mr Ritesh Raju from Institute of Applied Sciences, USP. He is working on hot springs bacteria enzyme extraction and characterization.
I am screening the rice population here in Thailand for salt tolerant genes. The population includes parents, salt tolerant rice var. Hom Chan (HJ) and the high yield salt sensitive Pathum Thani rice (PT1), the selected F2 salt tolerant and salt sensitive rice offspring. Overall there will be 90 plants. There will be 52 SSR primers (from 12 chromosomes) to screen rice population for the Quantitative trait loci (QTL) for salt tolerance. The outcome of this research will provide baseline information to map the salt tolerant QTL in Thai rice and also useful to select parents for next cycle of breeding. For the long run, this will produce new salt tolerant high yield rice varieties that can grow in saline areas.
I think the Pacific will benefit from the technology I am learning here, especially using molecular markers to find important genes in plants and also to select parents for breeding programs. Hopefully we can implement molecular markers based selection in our plant improvement programs.
Tuesday, August 09, 2005
Posted 9:30 PM by Luigi
Out of Eden: An Odyssey of Ecological Invasion by Alan Burdick
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005
A review by Laurence A. Marschall
STANDING IN A LUSH FOREST on the Pacific island of Guam, science writer Alan Burdick is haunted by an eerie silence. Not a single warble, tweet, or chirp can be heard—nothing but the faint buzz of insects, the passing hum of a distant airplane, and the hushed rustle of the wind.
Guam’s songbirds have all vanished, victims of the brown tree snake. An exotic predator native to Australia, New Guinea, and nearby islands in the eastern Pacific, the snake arrived unannounced in a military vessel sometime around 1949. Such birds as the bridled white-eye, the Guam flycatcher, and the Mariana fruit dove, once widespread on the island, now exist only as stuffed museum specimens or illustrations in birders’ guidebooks. Even some nonavian natives—the Mariana fruit bat, for instance—are rapidly disappearing under the attack of the resourceful reptile.
Guam may be an extreme case of a habitat devastated by a hungry immigrant. But it is not uniquely vulnerable just because it is a small, isolated island. In 1988 the zebra mussel, once confined to the lakes and rivers of Europe, hitched a ride to Lake Erie, presumably in the ballast tanks of a visiting freighter. Today zebra mussels flourish throughout the Great Lakes, and can be found in the Mississippi River and its tributaries, as far south as New Orleans. Native clam populations in the Great Lakes have been decimated, and other species that compete for food with the mussels are in sharp decline. Accumulations of zebra mussels clog municipal water systems, and have even been known to sink navigational buoys by their combined weight alone.
Burdick points out that nowhere on the planet does nature survive in an Edenic state, unaffected by nonnative invasions: American gray squirrels now live in the British Isles; Asian longhorned beetles, which infested New York City maple trees in Brooklyn in the mid-1990s, now threaten the trees of Central Park; visitors to Hawai’i who marvel at the variety of flowers in the tropical island paradise are likely to be admiring plants that are visitors there, too: most species of lowland flora in Hawai’i were introduced by settlers in the past few centuries.
Burdick implies that even the “pure” Edenic state is a human invention. Would we know one if we saw it? And if we did, would returning to it be environmentally sound? Invasion is a process inherent in global ecology. Siberian woolly mammoths made their way over the Bering land bridge to the New World long before mercantile ships made the journey. Insects and worms hitchhike the ocean on bits of flotsam, coming ashore wherever the winds and currents take them. The capacity of plant and animal life to spread over the globe is what made it possible for newly emerging landmasses to develop their own indigenous forms of flora and fauna in the first place. Without invasive species, volcanic islands would have remained as barren as they were when they emerged, millions of years ago, from the floor of the sea.
What’s more, people are hardly latecomers to this process. The Polynesian settlers of Hawai’i brought the first pigs to the islands; centuries later, British soldiers carried the first cattle there. Settlers in the New World were diligent both in exporting American indigenous plants back across the Atlantic, and in bringing the plants and animals of their European homelands to American soil. Modern air and ocean transportation has only accelerated the process.
Burdick began this book, I sense, in an attempt to uncover nature at its “purest.” He found that it was difficult, perhaps impossible, to define ecological purity at all. In most cases, the leakage of species from one habitat to another has been going on for so long that ecologists have no way of knowing what an “indigenous” ecosystem might look like. Moreover, whether an invasion is benign or clearly devastating, such as that of Guam’s brown tree snake, it may be impossible to reverse. One lesson of Burdick’s odyssey is that there is no such thing as a “state” of nature—only a continuous dynamism that challenges our ability to understand, preserve, and manage.
Posted 9:05 PM by Luigi
Beating world hunger: the return of 'neglected' crops
Below, T. V. Padma reports on efforts to tackle hunger and malnutrition by promoting traditional crops that have been neglected by international agricultural research. Source: SciDev.Net, 5 August 2005. The European Union's Novel Foods Regulation states that foods not present in the EU before 1997 must be proved to be free of allergenic, toxic and other hazards before they can be sold. The only exotic plant product that has been allowed into Europe since that legislation came in is actually from the Pacific, noni juice.
For many centuries, farmers in southern India's Kolli Hills grew nearly 30 varieties of millet. But during the past three decades, the cereal fields were replanted with cassava and sago palms, as more and more farms agreed to supply starch for local producers of processed food.
Today, millet is not grown there, and local communities instead eat government-distributed rice, which although sold at a discount price is less nutritious.
Far away in the Andes of South America, traditionally cultivated grains such as quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) and amaranth (Amaranthus caudatus) are a natural source of protein and iron. Like native potato varieties however, they are seen as 'poor people's food' and are being replaced by noodles and rice.
Similarly, sub-Saharan Africa is endowed with almost 1,000 types of leafy vegetable and fruit rich in micronutrients. But again, these are not considered fashionable to eat — unlike exotic, imported cabbages — so are disappearing from the African landscape.
Nor have any of these crops featured much in modern agricultural research, even though — given their nutritional value — they could contribute to food security and poverty alleviation.
Shrinking food basket
Since the early 20th century, people have relied increasingly on a select few plants for food, with about half of the world's calorie intake coming from just three crops — rice, wheat and maize.
According to the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI) based in Rome, Italy, at least 7,000 plant species could be cultivated for food, but only 150 crops are grown commercially.
"The world increasingly relies on a shrinking food basket of a few crops to fulfil the dietary needs of its people," agrees M. S. Swaminathan, a leading Indian crop expert and chair of the M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), which focuses on sustainable agriculture and rural development.
Traditionally, crop research has paid little attention to species that are important to a community or region, but not in international markets.
"Underused species important for agricultural biodiversity have not been the subject of international research and development," warns Rodney Cooke, director of the technical advisory commission at the Rome-based International Fund for Agricultural Development.
Neglected crops and hidden hunger
To address this, IPGRI launched a project in 2001 to incorporate these 'neglected' crops into ongoing research activities throughout the developing world. The current focus is on millets in India and Nepal; medicinal plants in Egypt and Yemen; grains in Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru; and leafy vegetables in Africa.
In April 2005, IPGRI, the Global Facilitation Unit for Underutilized Species and MSSRF held a meeting on agricultural biodiversity in Chennai, India.
Participants agreed that increasing research on neglected crops could improve nutrition among poor people and help achieve the UN Millennium Development Goal of halving the number of people suffering from hunger by 2015 (see Neglected crops 'crucial' to beating hunger).
They warned that interpreting the goal as meaning that each person gets more food ignores the fact that malnutrition is also about people not getting enough micronutrients, vitamins and minerals — a problem described as "hidden hunger".
IPGRI estimates that 150 million children — 27 per cent of the world's child population — are underweight, with malnutrition contributing to at least half of the 10.4 million child deaths each year.
Vitamin A deficiency, which can cause blindness, afflicts 120 million children a year, of whom 250,000 to 500,000 go blind. Some two billion people are anaemic because of iron deficiency.
In the past, these deficiencies were tackled through food fortification programmes, but these cannot be replicated in remote rural areas, points out IPGRI director-general Emile Frison. "Dietary diversity is the way forward," he says.
Back to the fields
Together with local partners in the South, IPGRI is returning several neglected crops to the fields.
One partner, Bolivia's Foundation for the Promotion and Research of Andean Products (PROINPA) is working with farmers to improve crops, food security and sustainability. Various types of local potatoes, roots, grains, cereals, legumes, vegetables and fruits are researched, grown, processed into food products and promoted.
In India, MSSRF is collaborating with IPGRI and the International Fund for Agricultural Development to re-establish the traditional role of millets in the farming system and local diet.
Like the Kolli Hill dwellers, poor communities in Ballia village in Orissa, eastern India, grew a variety of millets 30 years ago. This all changed when an irrigation project allowed intensive rice cultivation with two or three crops in a year. As rice demanded more labour, nobody could be spared to grow the millets.
During drought or when food resources are scarce, people in Kolli or Ballia who cannot afford to buy food through the public distribution system survive on rice stored for sowing during the next crop cycle. This can in turn lead to problems buying seed for the next season.
No grain, no gain
MSSRF is helping these communities build their own village 'grain banks' to store both rice and millet. Local community groups manage an initial reserve of the grains for members to borrow from during times of need. The 'loans' must be returned as grain, along with grain 'interest'.
Farmers in Kolli say the grain banks are helping to conserve traditional millet varieties that were in danger of being lost.
Meanwhile, Kenya is witnessing renewed interest in local vegetables.
"Ironically, as Africa grapples with nutrition problems, it is endowed with a high diversity of underused fruits and vegetables that are rich in micronutrients," says Ruth Oniang'o, founder of the Rural Outreach Program, a Kenyan non-profit organisation that promotes African leafy vegetables to improve the nutritional status and livelihoods of vulnerable groups, especially women and children.
Since 2001, IPGRI — with support from the International Development Research Centre in Canada — has launched major public awareness campaigns, trained farmers to grow leafy vegetables in clean conditions and worked with a marketing expert in Kenya on how to attract new customers.
A local NGO, Family Concerns, distributes the farmers' produce to Kenya's largest supermarket chain.
Oniang'o says there is an urgent need to increase research on nutrition and crop genetics, and to improve seed storage facilities, and processing and marketing of African leafy vegetables.
From fields to supermarkets
It is not enough to encourage local farmers to grow their traditional crops. Successful marketing is just as important for creating sustainable livelihoods.
Take yacon (Smallanthus sonchifolius), a succulent root from Peru that was once eaten by farmers to quench their thirst. Twenty years ago, yacon was not included in Peru's crop statistics and was absent from its supermarket shelves.
In the 1980s Japanese scientists found the roots were high in a low-calorie sugar called oligofructose, which could be used in an energising drink, while the leaves contained a compound that lowered blood sugar and could be useful for diabetics. As news of the findings spread in the late 1990s, demand increased. Today, yacon is available in Peruvian supermarkets.
Elsewhere others are working hard to create demand for farmers' products.
Gerardo Jorge Blajos of PROINPA says that in Bolivia school breakfasts now use up to 120 tonnes of quinoa flour every year and about 30,000 nursing mothers get three kilograms of quinoa every month from government-funded programmes.
Overcoming the obstacles
But despite these initiatives, small farmers growing crops outside the mainstream find it difficult to enter international markets.
Yacon may be enjoying a renaissance in Peru, but it cannot be sold in Europe. The European Union's Novel Foods Regulation states that foods not present in the EU before 1997 must be proved to be free of allergenic, toxic and other hazards before they can be sold. Yacon farmers simply do not have the resources to supply exhaustive data.
In fact, the only exotic plant product that has been allowed into Europe since that legislation came in is the juice of the noni fruit (Morinda citrifolia), which is marketed by a large US company that was able to supply extensive food safety evidence.
"Pioneering small companies in developing countries are losing out," says Michael Hermann from IPGRI's regional office for the Americas, in Colombia.
He adds that while those promoting exotic foods must increasingly accommodate legitimate food safety concerns and generate data needed for their acceptance in target markets, the high burden of proof has discouraged investment in supply chains and in market development.
Making neglected crops a sustainable option
Participants at the Chennai meeting called for action to conserve agricultural diversity and to make better use of it to improve food security, nutrition and incomes for the rural poor in developing countries.
As well as more research on traditional crops, they recommended that policies to preserve them be integrated into national development plans, and food and nutrition security programmes, especially those providing food aid and school meals.
Getting neglected crops back on the menu is important, they said, but so is ensuring that the poor get a fair share of any commercial benefits that arise from exploiting these genetic resources.
Some of the ongoing efforts have shown the way forward. The Kolli Hill millet farmers have taken an interest in conserving their local varieties, bringing more area under millet cultivation and improving yields by using traditional breeding methods.
Incomes have increased, in part because the farmers grow millet without using chemicals. A local company is working with the farmers to export their millet as organically grown food, for which there is considerable demand in the West.Inspired by this initiative a local government agency in the Kolli Hill area is trying to promote such similar activities elsewhere in the area.
Thursday, August 04, 2005
Posted 10:29 PM by Luigi
ALO Meeting in Vanuatu
I'm at the annual meeting of IRETA's Agricultural Liaison Officers (ALO), taking place all this week in Port Vila, Vanuatu. The ALO Network began its operation in 1983 as two way linkage between IRETA and the USP member countries. It is supported by CTA.
There are ALOs from 10 countries here, plus Ramona and Joyce from IRETA. This is me talking about PGR in the Pacific:
Agrobiodiversity Weblog: For discussions of conservation and sustainable use of the genetic resources of crops, livestock and their wild relatives.