[ASC-media] Coalition to Rescue Gaugauin's Bananas, Giant Swamp Taro

Cathy Reade creade at squirrel.com.au
Thu Oct 21 09:50:39 CEST 2010



For more information, please contact: 

In Australia: Cathy Reade, 0413575934 or cathy.reade at crawfordfund.org

Megan Dold at +1 301 280 5720 or mdold at burnesscommunications.com




Coalition to Rescue Gauguin's Bananas, Giant Swamp Taro,

Other Nutritious Indigenous Pacific Island Crops 


Saving Vulnerable Indigenous Crop Diversity is Key to Developing Crops in
the Future and Promoting Healthier Diets


SYDNEY (22 October 2010)-Hoping to save the vulnerable varieties of bananas
painted by the artist Paul Gauguin, rare coconuts, and 1,000 other unique
varieties of staple fruit and vegetable crops across the Pacific, crop
specialists from nine islands have launched a major effort to preserve the
indigenous diversity of foods that are deemed critical to combating
diet-related health problems.


"Through this project we will bring together 1,000 unique samples of Pacific
crops for long-term conservation," said Dr. Mary Taylor, Manager of the
Centre for Pacific Crops and Trees (CePaCT) at the Secretariat of the
Pacific Community (SPC). "Crop collections in the Pacific are very
vulnerable; all they need is a disease outbreak or a cyclone to destroy the
entire collection. These collections are essential if we are going to
maintain traditional Pacific crops for future generations." 


For example, only a few of the varieties of the orange- and yellow-fleshed
Fe'i banana, famously painted by former Pacific island resident Gauguin, are
still found in farmers' fields. Studies by Dr. Lois Englberger from the
Island Food Community of Pohnpei in the Federated States of Micronesia have
shown that these bananas are an excellent source of beta-carotene, essential
for the production of vitamin A. Vitamin A deficiency-causing blindness,
greatly weakened immune systems and even death in infants-is now common in
parts of the Pacific. Good beta-carotene levels in the diet also help
protect against non-communicable diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart
disease that are now at epidemic rates throughout the Pacific Islands. 


The Pacific region is made up of 22 countries and territories with a
relatively small population spread out amongst approximately 7,500 islands
covering 30 million square kilometers-nearly twice the size of Russia. There
is little maize, wheat, or rice grown in the region. Instead, farmers have
cultivated many varieties of root crops and starchy fruits as their staple
foods, such as taro, yam, sweet potato, breadfruit and cooking banana, along
with coconut, that have been selected over the centuries for their
suitability to island environments.  Pacific island crop diversity is
especially hard to save because most of the crops do not produce seed.
Preserving them requires saving a part of the plant itself. In some parts of
the region, national agriculture programs have set up field collections to
conserve indigenous varieties. But the collections are constantly threatened
by plant disease, harsh weather, and poor land management.


"These unique crop varieties are so important in the Pacific," said Cary
Fowler, Executive Director of the Global Drop Diversity Trust. "In addition
to having valuable nutritional traits, they will provide the key to
developing crops in the future that can potentially deal with harsh island
environments. It is essential that they are well conserved." 


A recent Pacific Food Summit stressed the need to turn back to local foods
to address diet-related health issues that are linked to a movement away
from traditional staples. Today, life expectancy in some Pacific islands is
actually decreasing because of diet-related illnesses. Diabetes rates are
among the highest in the world, reaching up to 44 percent in Tokelau atolls,
compared to around 8 percent in the United States. 


The project to conserve some of this indigenous food diversity in the
Pacific is being coordinated by the SPC CePaCT as part of a broader effort
involving major crop species worldwide. The Trust, with support from the UN
Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is helping partners in
68 countries rescue and regenerate more than 80,000 endangered accessions in
crop collections and send duplicates to international genebanks and the
Svalbard Global Seed Vault in the Arctic Circle.


The assistance from the Trust will allow CePaCT to provide a safe home for
crop varieties that may be in danger. CePaCT is partnering with public
institutes in French Polynesia, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji,
Kiribati, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, the Solomon Islands and
Vanuatu. The partners, with support from the Trust, are replanting or
gathering crop varieties unique to their islands, documenting their
characteristics and sending duplicate plants for safekeeping to the
laboratory at CePaCT. 


The Fe'i Banana, the Niu Coconut, and Giant Swamp Taro

Once highly abundant as an everyday staple in the islands of French
Polynesia, the Fe'i banana fell into disuse as populations shifted and
cultural changes took place. Fortunately, in 2008 and 2009, Maurice Wong, an
energetic genebank curator based in Tahiti, collected more than 100 samples
of the bananas from isolated farms on six islands in French Polynesia. The
samples will be conserved in a field collection with duplicates sent to


The Niu Afa coconut variety has also been rescued from a location that is
now home to a penal colony. This rare coconut variety is recognized for
producing the largest known coconuts. Farmers now rarely cultivate it since
hybrid coconuts have become more common. The embryos from the seed of the
Niu Afa coconuts have been extracted and taken to CePaCT to be cultured in
the laboratory. Eventually, they will regenerate into whole plants to be
planted back out in the field in multiple sites. 


Another unique crop targeted for conservation is the giant swamp taro, a
resilient crop that can survive harsh atoll conditions including sandy
saline soils, and once planted can be neglected for several years until
needed. This is the main crop of atoll islands and a major food crop
elsewhere, also serving as a famine food; when other crops have failed, the
edible underground stems of the swamp taro are dug up and can provide ample
food for a village for several weeks or months. 


At CePaCT, Taylor and her colleagues save the plants in small glass tubes
and, to add extra security, are working with the Trust to test
state-of-the-art cryoconservation methods. Cryoconservation allows
researchers to freeze plant materials at ultra low temperatures and safely
store them for decades.


Bringing these crop varieties into safe conservation is only the beginning
of the story. Increasingly strong community movements that support local
foods and encourage the cultivation of local crops are tapping into this
diversity. Activists like Lois Englberger are encouraging people to "Go
Local". "We have imported a lot of health problems to the Pacific, but by
preserving and rediscovering our Fe'i banana and taro, we literally have a
homegrown solution."



The Global Crop Diversity Trust (www.croptrust.org)  

The mission of the Trust is to ensure the conservation and availability of
crop diversity for food security worldwide. Although crop diversity is
fundamental to fighting hunger and to the very future of agriculture,
funding is unreliable and diversity is being lost. The Trust is the only
organization working worldwide to solve this problem. The Trust is providing
support for the ongoing operations of the seed vault, as well as organizing
and funding the preparation and shipment of seeds from developing countries
to the facility.



Cathy Reade
Coordinator - Public Awareness
Crawford Fund
Ph/Fax: 07 54483095
Mobile: 0413 575 934

The Crawford Fund's mission is to increase Australia's engagement in
international agricultural research, development and education for the
benefit of developing countries and Australia.


-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://lists.asc.asn.au/pipermail/asc-media/attachments/20101021/dacd1271/attachment-0001.html>

More information about the ASC-media mailing list