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.

SPC swamp taro research for Pacific atoll countries
Wednesday, 12 December 2012 07:57

Rising sea levels and increased soil salinity are two impacts of climate change that have particular significance for people living on small atolls.

‘This is an important issue, as impacts like sea-level rise and soil salinity affect our ability to grow food crops, such as swamp taro,’ said Ms Takena Redfern, from the Kiribati Ministry of Environment, Lands and Agricultural Development (MELAD).

Ms Redfern, a Senior Agriculture Officer, is on professional attachment at the Secretariat of the Pacific Community’s Centre for Pacific Crops and Trees (CePaCT) of the Land Resources Division (LRD), Suva, Fiji.

‘The giant swamp taro (Cyrtosperma merkusii) is one of the most commonly eaten crops in atoll countries such as Kiribati. It is important in terms of food and nutrition security and also in our culture. It is used commonly as a special food in family and village ceremonies,’ explained Ms Redfern.

A recipient of a Greg Urwin Award under the AusAID-funded Pacific Leadership Programme, Ms Redfern is researching the salinity tolerance levels of swamp taro varieties from various Pacific Island countries during her six-month attachment at CePaCT.

The Greg Urwin Awards, established in 2008 to commemorate the former Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat who passed away that year, offer short-term placements for young professionals who demonstrate leadership potential within their chosen field.

Ms Redfern’s research involves testing four swamp taro varieties from Kiribati, two from Fiji and one from Samoa, to ascertain which performs best under conditions of high salinity.

Each of the seven varieties has been tissue-cultured and grown in a test-tube in a special artificial nutrient medium, before being exposed to different levels of salinity (0–4%). The average sea water salinity level in the Suva coastal area was also measured as part of this research.

Varieties of swamp taro identified as saline-resistant will be further tested in the field in Kiribati and some other atoll countries. Varieties identified to be resistant after field evaluation will be distributed by CePaCT, after virus testing, for planting in areas of high soil salinity.

Ms Redfern, who holds a Bachelor’s degree in Agriculture from the University of the South Pacific, and a Master’s in Tropical Plant Pathology from the University of Hawai’i, works on sustainable crop improvement programmes for staple food crops such as taro, cassava, sweet potato and breadfruit.

‘This work is not just important for my country, Kiribati; it has significance for other atoll countries such as Tuvalu, Tokelau, Marshall Islands and countries with atolls, such as Fiji, Solomon Islands, Cook Islands and Papua New Guinea. We can exchange research in the future,’ said Ms Redfern.

Ms Redfern has been exposed to other relevant workshops and projects coordinated by the Land Resources Division and donor partners on climate change, crop production, plant health, breadfruit supply chain systems and genebank management. All have contributed to her professional career development.

Left: Greg Urwin Award recipient Ms Takena Redfern works on her swamp taro research at CePaCT Lab

Right: Ms Redfern potting some tissue cultured swamp taro in the screenhouse.




Left: Swamp taro growing in Abiang, Kiribati (Katutu variety)


For further information please contact Takena V. Redfern ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ) or Valerie S. Tuia ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ) on +(679)3370733