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).
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Sunday, July 31, 2005
Posted 1:43 PM by Luigi
Rice blast in Fiji
From the Fiji Times, 30 July 2005.
THE spin doctors at the Ministry of Agriculture have been working overtime. At stake is the local rice industry — and the country's agricultural sector. In dispute is whether or not the Indonesian rice variety was tested for disease before it was distributed for planting.
In his statement this week, the Chief Executive Officer for Agriculture Luke Ratuvuki makes the following points:
When the crop was harvested, production was so high that other rice farmers were tempted and encouraged to plant the new variety to boost local production. Fiji has to import rice to meet local demand. This year, seven farmers joined the three to grow what they thought would bring in better financial returns. Instead, they have lost more than just a harvest.
They have unwittingly spread a fungus that threatens to bring down the very industry they depend upon for a living. Where a field of paddy once grew, today it is nothing but ashes — and death.
Plant Protection principal officer Moti Autar has refused to comment on the issue. But sources say the Quarantine Department did by-pass the Plant Protection unit on this issue.
Instead of passing the new variety grains to the Koronivia Research Station to test for pests and disease, the seeds were released to the farmers for planting.
The normal procedure for any seed entering the country is that it is referred to Plant Protection at Koronivia. At Koronivia, a sample of the seeds is germinated at the post-entry quarantine (PEQ) facility. These seedlings are then assessed for virus, fungus or any kind of disease. Depending on the results, Plant Protection can release the seeds for planting but it is carefully monitored by researchers.
If they are satisfied after the first harvest, the seeds are then widely distributed for planting.
In this case, Plant Protection was left out of the picture altogether. On the issue of the rice blast fungus being a local disease, experts say the seeds would have carried the fungus. Under the right conditions, the fungus, which would have been lying dormant in the seeds, would have surfaced as it did in this case.
Rewa Rice Limited chairman Hari Pal Singh believes the Ministry of Agriculture is responsible for the damage to rice farms in Dreketi.
"The Agriculture Ministry is responsible for the introduction of new plants and animals into the country," he said. When the fungus was detected, he said, some 30 tonnes of rice had to be destroyed. Quarantine officers are also trying to destroy the rice husk that are sold to floriculturists.
Mr Singh warned that the industry was yet to see the long-term effects of the fungus. "This fungal disease can persist in the soil for a long time and can be easily carried by agents like air, water, farm animals, human and farm implements," he said. "So the long term effect of this disease is yet to be realised."
Experts say the fungus can affect other agricultural produces like sugar cane and vegetables. Since Fiji is dependent on agriculture, any disease or fungal threat to the sector will impact the economy.
For Mr Singh, the matter of compensation is an issue that should not have to be debated. "Of course, yes. Rewa Rice strongly feels that farmers who suffered from this should be compensated until such time their farms are rehabilitated and this may take as long as three years.
"For farmers in these areas, rice is the only crop. Their livelihood depends on rice alone. "Rewa Rice Ltd should also be compensated for the rice husk, which is worth about $50,000 and which shall be destroyed."
"We all, including the farmers, were very excited with the Indonesian technology and all the farmers were willing to plant this improved variety in the off-season."
His advice to farmers is simple: Don't forget the local variety.
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