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Partners : Partners: Papua New Guinea
30 WomeN AT Work SPRING 2012 PARTNERS Three scientists recently undertook specialist training in Australia in the vitally important areas of sweetpotato virus identification and virus-free tissue cultivation. By CATHy ReADe i dentifying and eliminating disease-causing pathogens from potato and sweetpotato crops are skills with huge food security benefits for Papua New Guinea (PNG). These pathogens, including potato late blight—the disease responsible for the Irish potato famine in the mid-19th century—are a continuing threat in PNG. Three Papua New Guinean women have undergone biosecurity training and are now playing crucial roles helping to safeguard food security from disease threats in PNG. The new biosecurity capability especially targets sweetpotato, which is doubly important to PNG households as it serves both as a staple food and an income-earning cash crop. The training was undertaken in response to serious disease threats to sweetpotato crops. PNG lacks virus diagnostic capabilities and cannot export material to Australian laboratories for virus testing due to quarantine restrictions. So three scientists working for the PNG National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI)—Winnie Maso, Niligur Rangan and Dorcas Homare—were supported by the Crawford Fund to undertake training in virus identification, elimination and in the multiplication of clean planting material. Winnie Maso is manager of tissue culture production in the micro-propagation laboratory in Aiyura, Eastern Highlands, while Niligur Rangan manages the tissue culture laboratory at Kerevat, East New Britain Province. Dorcas Homare is working on an ACIAR sweetpotato project led by Mike Hughes of Queensland’s Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF). With the encouragement of Rudolf De Boer from the Victorian Department of Primary Industries, Dorcas Homare’s expertise was expanded to include potato viruses. As part of their training, the scientists spent time in Victoria and Queensland honing the skills needed to help PNG minimise production losses from sweetpotato viruses. They are now producing virus-free propagation material of sweetpotato and further, they are improving the efficiency of the seed potato multiplication program for the ‘English’ potato. The new in-country biosecurity capacity is also being applied to other food crops. “ This training not only helps PNG, but also Australia,” Rudolf De Boer says. “For example the work around late blight helps enhance Australia’s disease awareness and preparedness, and assists the biosecurity of the region.” n (From left) Niligur R angan (PNG NARI ), sandra Dennien (Queensland DAFF), Dorcas Homare (PNG NARI) and Winnie Maso (PNG NARI) conducting the eLIsA test to detect sweetpotato viruses. The importance of sweetpotatoes By PAuL JONes “Did you know that the humble sweetpotato is a member of the morning glory family and it is not related to the common potato?” asks elick Guaf. The senior scientist and agronomist at the Papua New Guinea (PNG) National Agricultural research institute (NAri) is involved in an AciAr project to improve sweetpotato production. sweetpotato is one of the world’s most important food crops and an important staple food in PNG. it is valuable in the diet of its 6.3 million people, with more than 60% producing this low-input crop. currently, just less than 3 million tonnes are produced annually in PNG, with the total harvest worth an estimated A$700 million. it provides good ground cover, grows on soils with limited fertility and has a short growth period with a high yield. The tuberous root is high in food value, fibre and energy, and it is rich in sugar and vitamin c. it also contains good quantities of vitamin A, vitamin b, calcium and iron. sweetpotatoes can be steamed, baked, boiled, roasted or fried. This makes sweetpotato a high priority for food security but, ominously, it is susceptible to drought and climate change. in both PNG and solomon islands, yields have been in decline. Apart from climatic factors such as el Niño events, which cause major but temporary falls in production, farmers and scientists have noted a gradual decline in yields and the quality of tubers. The cause is not always obvious. in response, AciAr has made it a high priority to introduce and adapt technologies so as to produce consistently high-yielding and nutritious sweetpotato crops. “selection and distribution of clean materials is very important and we are also planning to train farmers in best practices in the production of other staple crops under the NAri information and knowledge program,” elick Guaf says. sweetpotatoes grown in the lowlands take more than 4 months to mature, but planting early-maturing clean materials and using best management and production practices promote crops to mature in only 3 months with good quality and increased yields. Nearby, in a sweetpotato trial field, we find Tony maima and Paul john, two local farmers pulling out weeds from around their sweetpotato crop. “We are very happy to be involved with the sweetpotato trials,” Tony maima says. cleaning up potato production Photo:mIkehuGhes
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