Genetic Resources

The GR thematic team contributes to the LRD objectives through facilitating access to both traditional and improved agrobiodiversity. The Centre for Pacific Crops and Trees (CePaCT) is the genebank for the Pacific region. It houses a globally unique collection of taro, conserving diversity for present and future generations. The CePaCT also plays a key role in ensuring that the countries of the Pacific have access not only to traditional diversity but also to improved crops, which can be crucial in the management of pests and diseases, and in securing food production within a changing climate. Crop diversity can also assist countries in taking advantage of market opportunities.

New taro varieties benefit Pacific countries
Thursday, 30 January 2014 13:41

The taro leaf blight (TLB) outbreak caused by oomycete that devastated Samoa's taro in 1993 was a wake-up call for Samoa and the region to realise the need to share and access new diversity from elsewhere, as the genetic diversity of taro in Samoa and other Pacific Island countries is narrow.  Farmers in Samoa are no longer growing Talo Niue, the most popular taro variety, and almost all the Samoan traditional taro varieties, as they are highly susceptible to the leaf blight and were decimated during the epidemic.

The first regional taro tissue culture genetic resources programme started under the EU Pacific Regional Agriculture Programme in the 1980s and then came the 1993 TLB outbreak in Samoa, which triggered the SPC AusAID Taro Genetic Resources Conservation and Utilisation (TaroGen) project. The TaroGen project was initiated in 1995 in collaboration with the Samoa Ministry of Agriculture and Fishereis (MAF) and the University of the South Pacific (USP), where the breeding programme activities were sustained by SPC until the initiation of the Taro improvement programme, funded by AusAID, the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and the EU.

The past and ongoing SPC taro projects aim to restore Samoa’s food security through taro improvement programmes, conserve the Pacific taro genetic resources, develop a food-secure Pacific and prepare other Pacific island countries that are TLB free, including Fiji, Tonga, Cook Islands, Niue and Vanuatu, should the blight hit their shores.

SPC conserves the largest taro collection in the world at its Centre for Pacific Crops and Trees (CePaCT) based in Suva, Fiji. Using tissue culture, this collection is established largely from past and ongoing taro improvement projects, including global crop regeneration projects funded by the Global Crop Diversity Trust (the Trust). SPC utilises these collections for regional and global projects to benefit all countries, using agreements already established under the UN Food and Agriculture Organization's International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (The Treaty).

All new taro varieties generated out of SPC's regional donor-funded taro breeding programmes are for the benefit of SPC member countries, project partners and the global community. SPC's taro collection conserved at CePaCT has been internationally recognised, and maintenance of the collection is supported by the Trust. SPC ministers and heads of agriculture and forestry have endorsed SPC taro collections to be part of the global collection under the auspices of the Treaty.

SPC has established several taro breeding programmes under the TaroGen project, and is still supporting breeding programmes based in Samoa andPapua new Guinea. Other ongoing breeding programmes are in Cook Islands, Fiji and Tonga, supported by the AusAID International Climate Change Adaptation Initiative (ICCAI). In addition to TLB, climate change is global threat to food security and emerging pests and diseases, such as the Bogia phytoplasma coconut disease. The global taro breeding programme involving over 20 member countries, including the Pacific, is implemented by SPC through the EU International Network for Edible Aroids (INEA). All new taros coming out of these regional and global breeding programmes will be shared by all members through SPC.

The breeding programme in Samoa has generated seven to eight breeding cycles and produced new taro varieties, largely using material from the Pacific and Asian countries provided by SPC. Samoa 1 and 2 varieties were selected from progenies of cycle 5 breeding.

Cycles 6, 7 and 8 taro varieties are still undergoing research evaluation under SPC ACIAR Pacific Agribusiness Research for Development Initiative (PARDI) – Developing a clean seed system for market-ready taro cultivars in Samoa – involving the Ministry of Agriculture, the Scientific Research Organisation of Samoa and the Samoa Farmers' Association, in collaboration with the University of the South Pacific.

Some of the taro varieties utilised earlier in the SPC Samoa-based breeding programme in collaboration with Samoa MAF and USP were taro varieties generously provided by other countries through different donor-funded projects. Amongst those early taro varieties introduced were the popular Talo fili (PSB-G2) from Philippines, Palau varieties (Palau 1–20), including the popular Talo polovoli (Ngerruuch), Talo tie-dye (Toantal) and Talo fai-luau (Pwetepwat) from the Federated State of Micronesia.  Then in the late 1990s, new taro varieties were released by the Samoa MAF. These were locally known as Talo Suga, Seu, Asu, etc. and were cycle 2–4 varieties under the TaroGen project, utilising existing diversity at the time. In 2003, SPC sourced and provided more new resilient Asian taro lines from the EU Taro Network for South East Asia and Oceania for the breeding programme and, as a result, more vibrant taro varieties were produced, commonly known as Talo ta’amu and or Talo laui’ila in Samoa, as they do resemble the alocasia.

The breeding programme should never be stopped, as strains of the oomycete that caused the TLB disease found in other countries in the world might be more aggressive or severe than the strain found in Samoa and the Pacific. For this reason, SPC keeps on sourcing new tolerant taro varieties from within and outside the Pacific to be incorporated into the breeding programmes based in Samoa and other Pacific Island countries.

The main themes of the recent Treaty meeting held at SPC CePaCT in December 2013 in Suva Fiji were: No country is self sufficient in plant genetic resources and Countries inter-depend on one another. These themes promote the importance of sharing plant genetic resources for global food security as the prime aim of the Treaty.  Already 131 countries are parties to the Treaty, including France and some Pacific countries (Australia, Cook Islands, Palau, Fiji, Samoa and Kiribati).

SPC acknowledges all stakeholders, development and project partners, farmers and taro breeders involved in these breeding programmes, including, in particular, Moafanua Tolo Iosefa, SPC/USP Samoan taro breeder, who is a key person behind the success of the taro project and the generation of the latest taro varieties – Cycles 5 to 8 – which offer so much good taro diversity now available in Samoa, the Pacific and the global community.
[ENDS]


For further information please contact Valerie S. Tuia, SPC Land Resources Division. Email:
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . More information on regional taro improvement programmes can be found on SPC website - http://www.spc.int/lrd/

Photo captions:
  1. Moafanua Tolo Iosefa, SPC/USP taro breeder who bred the latest new Samoan taro varieties including Samoa 1 and 2
  2. Corms of new taro varieties being sold at the Apia Fugalei market