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Partners : Partners: Papua New Guinea
PARTNERS SPRING 2012 9 Lazarus Kewaka Martin Reky management, or IPM, where we control our pests in the most environmentally friendly way," he says. "That means we minimise the use of insecticides or other chemicals." PNG OPRA's entomology section deals with all the main pests, including long-horned grasshoppers, stick insects, bagworms, rhinoceros beetles and leafhoppers, as well as rats, snails (pests of the cover crop) and plant pests such as mile-a-minute weed and Siam weed---both of which have been the subject of successful biological control efforts supported by ACIAR. Their research serves two main functions. They advise PNG's oil palm industry on all pest problems and make recommendations on control. They also undertake research on the control of these pests---particularly using IPM techniques---and work on the conservation of beneficial insect species such as pollinating weevils. THE CONTROL OF BASAL STEM ROT The most serious disease of oil palm is basal stem rot, caused by the wood-rotting fungus Ganoderma boninense. It is a disease that reduces oil palm yields in most production areas of the world. Although the cause of the disease was identified more than 50 years ago, there is still no fully effective means to control it and the disease appears to be on the increase. Where basal stem rot incidence increases progressively, it slowly but inevitably erodes profitability. In 1997 it was identified as a major threat to the oil palm industry in Solomon Islands. In 1998, PNG OPRA initiated a research program (funded by the European Union) that recorded disease levels in some blocks as high as 43%. One of PNG OPRA's field technicians Lazarus Kewaka explains that Ganoderma produces enzymes that degrade the oil palm tissue and affect the infected oil palm xylem. This causes serious problems for the transportation of water and other nutrients to the top of the palm tree. Basal stem rot leaves growers with little choice but to remove any infected trees in the hope of slowing its spread. This causes problems where replanting occurs in coconut and oil palm plantations. During replanting, if the felled oil palm trunks and stumps are left to rot in the field, numerous fruiting bodies of Ganoderma may be produced and spread the disease. The fungus is also believed to spread through the soil from infected stumps and roots. A regional approach is emerging to tackle this issue. ACIAR has funded research in Solomon Islands, partnering with PNG OPRA to examine management options. Researchers are seeking ways to reduce the carry-over of the disease during replanting and, for the longer term, are using molecular techniques to identify sources of resistance to the disease that can be developed through plant breeding. However, progress takes time, especially in a slow-growing crop like oil palm, where even an infected palm make take several years to manifest symptoms of the disease. "It is sad to say, this deadly disease has long been discovered, but currently there is no effective measure to eliminate it," Lazarus Kewaka says. "Ganoderma is fast becoming a major threat to oil palm cultivation and palm oil production in PNG." Field control of basal stem rot through control of the infection cycle of the pathogen is an important component of Lazarus Kewaka's research. His Plant Pathology division carries out training for both plantation and smallholder farmers in measures they can take to slow the spread and mitigate the impact of the disease. "The most effective method is to remove the tree and expose the stem rot to sunlight," he says. GROWING VEGETABLE CROPS ALONGSIDE OIL PALM Far from focusing on the cultivation of oil palm in isolation, in PNG it is often dealt with in the context of greater food security. This is the case for Jesse Anjen, one of PNG OPRA's socioeconomists. His latest trial project is to create wider spaces between oil palm trees to enable farmers to plant food crops. Jesse Anjen is working with Carl Tuoro, senior extension officer at OPIC, and Emmanual Germis, an economics supervisor at PNG OPRA. This team is looking at the effect of current population growth on the oil palm areas and the increasing food demand of these local communities. For Emily Flowers, ACIAR's country manager for PNG, this kind of commitment to smallholders and attention to detail strongly reflects a longstanding commitment to Australia's Pacific neighbour. When it comes to PNG, ACIAR is in for the long haul, she says. "ACIAR has a formal program of consultation with PNG to establish priorities in research collaboration, as well as regular smaller consultations and industry workshops to finetune these priorities." "PNG is one of Australia's most important development partners and ACIAR's investment is based on---and committed to---improved adoption of innovations that respond to real needs and deliver meaningful benefits to PNG." n Simon Makai (left) and Charles Dewhurst.
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