Sunday, March 20, 2011

Major breakthrough in fight against potato disease

From MALUM NALU in Tambul

National Agriculture Research Institute (NARI) had made a major breakthrough in the fight against the dreaded potato late blight (PLB), which just about decimated Papua New Guinea's K25 million potato industry in 2003.
It comes in the nick of time with the lucrative liquefied natural gas project just around the corner, and provides an added sense of food security with real fears of another prolonged drought.

NARI, with support from Australian Centre for Integrated Agricultural Research (ACIAR), has developed new PLB-resistant clones, which were showcased at its field day at the high altitude highlands regional centre at Tambul, Western Highlands, yesterday (Saturday (March 19).

Farmers, visitors and NARI council members were able to see first-hand the new clones, which will be officially released at NARI's annual agricultural innovations show at Bubia outside Lae in May.

The disease – caused by a fungal agent called Pythorthora infastans - remains a major concern for potato farmers in PNG, as it is easily transported by wind under moist and humid conditions, especially so in the highlands where it can rapidly multiply and spread over long distances in short times.

It has, to an extent, been controlled by expensive chemical fungicides and integrated disease management (IDM) systems.

NARI research has identified the behavior and type of PLB present in PNG, identified suitable chemical fungicides for PNG, and identified the PLB-resistant clones.

NARI director-general Dr Raghunath Ghodake told farmers, visitors and council members – who had their meeting in Tambul last Friday – that these outcomes would help PNG farmers to successfully grow potato again for cash income as well as food security.

"We now have three to four varieties of potato which are tolerant (to PLB)," he said.

"These will be released in May (at NARI's agricultural innovations show).

"These can be grown here at Tambul and people throughout PNG will benefit.

"Other stakeholders like Fresh Produce Development Agency (FPDA), will also benefit from our research, and will provide seeds to farmers as well as extension services."

Apart from the work of NARI and FPDA in getting PNG's potato industry back on a firm foothold, an exciting independent potato project in Lagaip-Porgera, Enga province – spearheaded by local MP Philip Kikala – was also showcased at the field day.

The project, led by former NARI scientist Humphrey Saese, is aimed at building capacity for high health seeds and sustainable potato production in Lagaip-Porgera and involves construction of three screen houses for producing mini-tubers.

"We are building three screen houses to take in 12,000 plantlets," Saese said in Tambul.

"That capacity will produce about four tones of mini-tubers."

Saese said he expected about 50 tonnes of seed production by June this year in Lagaip-Porgera from the work they had already done, including training and extension programmes, as well as introducing PLB-resistant lines to farmers.

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