Monday, November 01, 2010

Utilisation of agricultural biodiversity in times of need


PNG has a taro dversity of over 800 varieties
The United Nations proclaimed 2010 to be the International Year of Biodiversity, and people all over the world are working to safeguard this irreplaceable natural wealth and reduce biodiversity loss.
This is vital for current and future human wellbeing.
 It is a concern that is uttered everywhere that rich diversities in biological resources are being lost at an accelerated rate because of human activities.
This impoverishes us all as it weakens the ability of the living systems, which we depend on, to resist growing threats such as climate change.
The biodiversity that is currently utilised and which is continuously sourced to bring about increased dependence on agriculture is under the greatest challenges.
Climate change is imposing an unprecedented threat to livelihoods and food security with great impacts overtime and across diverse locations globally.
This will seriously affect millions of farmers whose livelihoods depend on subsistence agriculture.
The Tsukuba Declaration on adapting agriculture to climate change unanimously declared that throughout the Asia-Pacific climate change will significantly increase regional temperature, reduce water availability and erode coastal land as sea level rises.
Papua New Guinea is known to experience cyclic dry and wet periods induced by El NiƱo and La Nina, which can severely cut back crop production by reducing the duration of cultivation and increasing threats from pest and disease occurrences.
In subsistence communities, a single crop failure can spell disaster for farmers and their families. Already, there appears to be an intensification of pest and disease problems in PNG, including late blight on potatoes, leaf scab on sweet potatoes, varroa mites attack on pollinator bees and cocoa pod borer.
There are projected reductions in the length of growing seasons which could force large regions of marginal agriculture totally out of production.
This could lead to a reduction in crop yield of up to 50% in some countries.
Hence, adaptation strategies are urgently needed!
The PNG agriculture sector needs to mobilise, prioritise and allocate its resources in anticipation of the predicted calamities.
In response, NARI is currently executing a study to match seeds to the needs of farmers for adaptation in times of climate change.
 In this new initiative, agricultural stakeholders of PNG and abroad are focusing on matching local varieties of sweet potato and taro with regions in PNG that are under threat from the phenomenon.
Sweet potato and taro have been chosen because they are PNG’s most important staple crops and that National Agriculture Research Institute (NARI) also conserves highest number under ex situ (i.e. away from their native habitat) condition.
Sweet potato alone accounts for 66% of total staple crop production in the country while taro receives first and second staple status in most coastal regions.
This research supported by the Global Crop Diversity Trust (a multinational organisation) is underway in PNG to screen highland sweet potato germplasm for climate induced stresses.
Other complementary work includes an ongoing project on sweet potato pests and diseases, and sweet potato post-harvest handling.
For taro, a NARI project is identifying hybrid lines that are resistant to leaf blight disease and the Global Crop Diversity Trust project is underway on drought and salinity tolerance in the lowlands.
The project titled ‘Matching Seeds to Needs: using locally available varieties for adapting to climate change and improving the livelihoods of farmers in PNG’ was launched in June 2010 in Lae.
 The activities will be undertaken by NARI and key stakeholders over the next three years.
The initiative is funded by Bioversity International- UK to the value of US$300,000.
The other partners include the Fresh Produce Development Agency (FPDA), PNG Women in Agriculture Development Foundation (PNGWiADF), and the Centre for Pacific Crops and Trees (CePaCT), Fiji.
Under this initiative, the regions in PNG under greatest threat from climate change will be identified by using the global climate models.
Varieties of sweet potato and taro that are well-adapted to the predicted future climates will be matched to these target areas so that they can continue to have optimum yields under future climatic conditions.
Seeds of these adapted varieties will be made available to farmers through community-based seed multiplication and delivery systems with the help of local community based organisations, churches and agri-businesses.
With seeds adapted to their needs, communities at risk will be able to sustain agricultural production despite changes in climatic conditions.
By working with the partners, including local communities and women’s groups, the project’s activities will strengthen the resilience of agricul tural systems by identifying more stress-resistant varieties of sweet potato and taro currently being conserved to ensure that small farmers who maintain native staple crop diversity do not fall deeper into poverty.
 NARI conserves up to 1,500 and 700 accessions of sweet potato and taro respectively collected throughout PNG in various expeditions.
Under the arrangement, Bioversity will be responsible for climate predictions and application of state-of-the-art models for identifying well-adapted crop genetic diversity.
NARI will provide crop passport and other associated information, planting materials and field personnel in conducting the various components of the project.
Both organisations will be responsible for identifying the most useful varieties with participation from targeted farmers.
The CePaCT will maintain elite lines selected through this project and make available planting materials and information to researchers and farmers in PNG and other countries.
Technical contributions, including training will be provided through complementary funding from the Global Crop Diversity Trust.
The PNGWiADF will play a key role in ensuring the participation of women farmers while FPDA will link communities on a broader scale with their established rural network in variety selection and dissemination effort.
By improving the resilience and adaptation of agricultural systems in PNG, this project will safeguard both food security and livelihoods of local farmers.

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