|About Genetic Resources|
Ask any taro grower in Fiji or Vanuatu, Samoa or Palau, any Papua New Guinea highlander or Solomon Islander in her sweet potato patch, any lady weaving pandanus leaves in Kiribati, any Pohnpei banana seller or yam grower, anyone with a breadfruit tree in their garden, and they will be able to name and describe the many distinct varieties of each of these crops.
These are a valuable, but often overlooked resource. In fact, the many local varieties of their traditional crops that people brought to the islands of the Pacific, and maintained and developed over generations, are the basis of sustainable agriculture. They provide variety in diet, are adapted to local tastes and conditions, they allow farmers to both minimize risk of crop failure and respond to changing circumstances, and they provide the raw material for crop improvement, which is vital to overcome problems. Many specific varieties are also necessary for traditional ceremonies and are thus important to the cultural identity of Pacific peoples.
These valuable resources are under threat from climate change, the adoption of modern lifestyles, urbanization etc. The increasing trend to consume imported foods has significantly impacted on local food production and with that, threatened the crop diversity that exists in the Pacific. Genetic erosion has also been exacerbated by market forces where pressure to supply export markets has encouraged the cultivation of very limited diversity. Yet more than ever the Pacific needs its crop diversity to cope with the many challenges that it faces in this 21st century, such as climate change, lifestyle-related diseases and the need to secure sustainable markets. The Stern Review highlighted that “adaptation is essential to manage the impacts of climate change that are already locked into the system” and that the development of more “climate-resilient crops” is one of the main strategies for adaptation. Losing diversity reduces the options available with which to modify an agriculture production system, that is, to adapt. Having at hand a range of crops and varieties is similar to having a well-equipped toolbox.
Significant work has been carried out in the Pacific on the nutritional benefits of the local crops of the Pacific, and importantly the selection of a specific variety. The promotion of local food crops and the diversity that is found within them has been at the forefront of the work done by the Island Food Community of Pohnpei, who have highlighted the significant differences in beta-carotene that can be found in the different varieties of banana, swamp taro and pandanus. In the light of the increasing problem of lifestyle related diseases in the Pacific, these local crops can be the solution to improving the nutritional and health status of Pacific communities.
Finally there is within the Pacific region a wealth of underutilized species (UUS), that is species as yet not exploited for their potential contribution to food security, health (nutritional and/or medicinal), income generation and environmental services.