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Partners : Partners: Papua New Guinea
PARTNERS SPRING 2012 19 The pest was first detected in the Kerevat area of East New Britain Province in March 2006 and later confirmed in Aitape of West Sepik Province in June. Eradication operations, implemented in East New Britain Province after the first detection, were not fully implemented, and CPB re-emerged in smallholder blocks on the Gazelle Peninsula in March 2007. With ACIAR assistance, efforts are underway to implement systematic and long-term CPB management strategies. This has led to strengthening surveillance and monitoring efforts, while stakeholders are provided with pragmatic resource-matched and location- specific integrated pest management (IPM) programs. Tolik Wartoto is a local Kokopo cocoa farmer who, until recently, was thinking twice about cocoa farming. "The CPB had been destroying my crops," he says. "But since learning about how to get rid of the cocoa borer my harvest has increased from 800 kilograms per hectare to 2 tonnes per hectare." The steps to control CPB are good crop hygiene, shade reduction, regular and complete pod harvesting, insecticide applications and insect trapping. As a result there is a saying among PNG cocoa pod farmers: "Every pod. Every tree. Every week!" Senior agriculture economist Joachan Lummini and his assistant Kathleen Neitre have seen dramatic changes to the cocoa seed industry since the introduction of CPB control. "Over 150,000 households depend upon cocoa for their livelihoods in PNG," Joachan Lummini says. "And they are being directly threatened by this pest. We hope, with training, cocoa farmers can learn more about cocoa pests and diseases and how to protect their crops." HOUSEHOLD PRODUCTION CASE STUDY: BANANAS More than 85% of rural farmers throughout PNG grow a particular variety of bananas for their own household consumption. Surplus of the variously coloured bananas---once ripe the fruit can be yellow, purple or red---are sold cheaply in the local fresh food markets. Studies by PNG National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) entomologists based at Keravat have found that fruit flies and scab threaten this important staple food. At present the damage is not significant as production is only at subsistence level, but fruit flies and scab can cause economic yield reductions if control measures are not taken. NARI scientist John Bokosou is at the front line of the control of pests and care for Hugo Joseph Ofara Petilani banana trees in PNG. "Banana is a staple food crop for us. One of the things I look at is the multiplication and distribution of planting materials of varieties tolerant to drought conditions," he says. Research programs such as NARI's are helping to build technical and scientific capacity around banana production, which is essential given national interest in developing this crop. Ofara Petilani is the NARI Islands Regional Centre manager at Keravat. "It is great to work in the development of agriculture for PNG," he says. A PEST TO ALL CROPS An invasive weed prevalent in PNG, Fiji and Samoa---mile-a-minute (Mikania micrantha)--- poses a major problem for farmers no matter what their production system. Hugo Joseph, a farmer in Keravat, East New Britain Province, described how invasive the species can be. "The weed had gotten into 90% of my small farm," he says. "I have cocoa, coconuts and banana trees, and every crop had mile-a-minute on it or nearby." The weed is thought to have arrived in PNG in the early 1900s as a contaminant of various imported products. Local farmers quickly came to refer to it as the weed that travels a mile a minute. It is equally at home smothering estate crops such as sugarcane, vanilla, cocoa, coconuts, bananas, coffee, kava and oil palm as readily as among the crops such as taro, papaya and green vegetables grown in food gardens. The weed is capable of significantly reducing yields, compromising food security and burdening growers with the need for effective weed control measures. Manual and chemical controls, however, are too expensive for most farmers. So with ACIAR support and input from the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, a project is underway to evaluate biological control agents. Showing promise is a fungus, Puccinia spegazzinii, which causes rust disease in mile-a- minute. The fungus feeds on the weed's leaves and stems, leaving behind copper-coloured lumps on the dead plant. NARI scientist Annastasia Priscilla Kawi is the project leader on the ACIAR project to control M. micrantha in PNG. She is with the Entomology section, based at the Islands Regional Centre, Kerevat, in East New Britain Province. "Mile-a-minute is a serious weed, it smoothers plantation crops and food crops causing competition for soil nutrients, reducing the photosynthesis process and therefore causing unwanted deaths in young crops," Annastasia Priscilla Kawi says. Annastasia Priscilla Kawi has helped oversee the release of the rust-causing fungus P. spegazzinii, first in trials and now more broadly. Ultimately, helping farmers such as Hugo is the aim of the research. To date the fungus P. spegazzinii is showing significant promise, having been released in all 15 provinces of PNG where mile-a-minute is present. The biocontrol is now established in at least four provinces, offering hope to Hugo Joseph and other farmers for a brighter future. n
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