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, April 30, 2006
Posted 2:05 PM by Luigi
The role of Taro in Hawaiian culture
From the Molokai Island Times.
In January of this year, Kauai'i taro farmer Christine Kobayashi and I sent a letter to UH officials demanding the University give up its patents on three varieties of taro. Here, I will attempt to clear up misconceptions about our efforts and explain why Hawaiians object to UH's patents on taro.Nothing in Hawaiian culture is more sacred than kalo. Wakea, the sky father, and Ho'ohokukalani, the star mother, gave birth to Haloa, the first-born. Haloa grew into kalo, the first taro plant. The gods' second-born was man, whose kuleana was to care for Haloa, the elder brother.
This geneology is more than a fanciful story, a 'myth.' Haloa (kalo) is a metaphor for our obligation to malama (reverence and protect) the land and all living things of Hawai'i. Guided by Haloa, Hawaiians prospered for over a millenia. We populated the Islands, caring for and sustained by kalo wherever we settled. Like kalo, our land and waters come from the gods. Throughout history, they were managed by the Ali'i (chiefs) for the collective benefit of our people. The concept of land ownership was introduced by Western business interests in 1848. Hawaiians refer to the subsequent period as 'the Mahele', when foreigners took over our land and carved it up, transforming the gift of the gods into their private property.
As land was bought up for development, and water diverted for plantations and hotels, kalo also suffered. Thanks to the mahele, kalo production and diversity and health have all declined.The University of Hawai'i (UH) says that its scientists will rescue kalo by manipulating its genes and becoming its absolute owner. We see this as a second mahele, a mana mahele, because it involves removing kalo from the collective care of Hawaiians and giving UH complete control over it. UH has already patented three varieties of taro. Farmers who wish to grow these patented taro must 'license' them from UH, and are prohibited from selling, distributing, breeding or conducting research on them. Farmers must also pay UH a portion of their corm sales, and agree to allow UH personnel to enter their property and sample their taro to make sure they are not 'illegally' breeding UH's "property."
UH scientists also say they will save kalo by manipulating its genes in laboratories. Have they been successful? Despite their claims, the answer is no. Years of gene-splicing has not produced any improvement in taro. This failure is the main reason UH's College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources agreed to a moratorium on genetic manipulation of Hawaiian taro last spring (though gene-splicing of Chinese taro continues).
Experienced taro farmers have criticized UH's patented taro varieties, which were developed by simple cross-breeding. (Hawaiians have practiced cross-breeding for centuries and never patented the progeny.) Oahu taro grower Ken Cook tells us they are 'flat tires,' their initially higher yields 'deflating' after several seasons of cultivation. Cook's associate, Paul Reppun, says they are not significantly more disease-resistant than other types of taro. Kauai'i taro farmer Christine Kobayashi tells us that Pa'lehua, one of the patented varieties, makes poor-tasting poi.While we believe that UH administrators and scientists have good intentions, sadly, they lack the mana to understand that genetic manipulation and patents are a second mahele that descecrates kalo and everything it means for Hawaiians. And it hasn't worked, either.
We have no objection to UH scientists breeding taro. But they must consult with Hawaiians to ensure their practices don't violate Haloa. This they have not done. Instead of patents, for instance, they could discuss with Hawaiians the possibility of obtaining Plant Variety Protection certificates for new taro varieties which permit farmers to conduct their own breeding and research while prohibiting commercial use by others. Instead of genetic manipulation, they could use marker-assisted breeding and other advanced techniques.In the end, however, we all must realize that kalo is not to blame for its decline, and high-tech attempts to "improve" it will likely continue to fail.
UH must realize that patents on taro are an abomination and must be relinquished immediately. Kalo can only be saved by restoring the soil and streams and culture which has nourished it throughout our history. This will take political will and courage on the part of UH officials - standing up for kalo against powerful development interests, for instance. And it will require renewed dedication and effort by all of us to strengthen Haloa.
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