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-INEA partnership and a surprise find, a yellow-fleshed Xanthosoma variety
Friday, 21 June 2013 08:02


Research and Development on taro and Xanthosoma is getting a makeover. The Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) is implementing the EU-funded Adapting clonally propagated crops to climatic and commercial changes, and in partnership with 22 countries in the Pacific, Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Europe and South. Technical expertise is provided by CIRAD, Vanuatu.

A direct output of the project is the establishment of the International Network for Edible Aroids (INEA).The Center for Pacific Crops and Trees (CePaCT) plays a critical role in this network in distributing taro varieties. This has allowed the countries to choose the best, test them with farmers and conduct their own breeding programme for new varieties. Countries have shown keen interest in these taro varieties; the new varieties will help increase the diversity of their collections, which is quite narrow, and will help address the taro leaf blight (TLB) problem. For the first time, West Africa in 2010 had its first incursion of TLB, and is ravaging taro farms across the continent.

Countries that are not members of the project have also joined the network and are receiving taro too. This unexpected outcome is very pleasing and good indication of the importance of the project.

Xanthosoma is probably the most important edible aroid in the world, but it is often neglected, especially in the Pacific where it is not as favoured as taro. In many other parts of the world Africa, Caribbean and South America (native home), it is highly valued as food and also used to shade young cocoa, hence the common name of ‘cocoyam’. It is also a cash crop supplying markets in the USA and Europe.

Although Xanthosoma is a robust crop in the Pacific, all is not well elsewhere. In all the major growing areas of the world, a serious root and corm rot threatens its cultivation. The disease is caused by Pythium, which was once thought to be a fungus, but now has been moved to another group, making it a relative of brown algae and diatoms. Breeding for resistance has been tried in the past, but because of a lack of tolerant parents, progress has been poor.

In September last year, INEA funded Grahame Jackson to travel to Nigeria to assess the Pacific taro introductions at the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI), Umudike, and also attend a root crops meeting at the University of Agriculture, Abeokuta. Jackson said the taro were doing fine, but to his surprise and delight Joe Onyeka and Godwin Chukwu – plant pathologist and cocoyam coordinator - showed him a variety that was growing well in the field compared to other varieties of Xanthosoma which were dying. It is a semi-wild, acrid variety, with yellow flesh. It can be eaten but it needs careful preparation.

What an exciting find! The next task was to get some plants to SPC, to test them for viruses, clean them up if necessary, and to get them out to breeding programmes in Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Vanuatu. The first task has been achieved, and our thanks to the NRCRI, Umudike, for sending plants to SPC. We are now waiting for the virus checks, which should be completed by the end of the year.

 Fingers’ crossed that no viruses will be found!

More information regarding this project is available on

By Dr Vincent Lebot ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ), CIRAD and Valerie S. Tuia ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ,), Genetic Resources, SPC LRD.   Please contact them if you need further information. Should you require more information on LRD, please contact the This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it