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 makes worldwide impact through the EU INEA project
Wednesday, 10 July 2013 09:00

A major project started by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) in April 2011 has made huge strides in a remarkably short time.

 

SPC, the lead organization of the International Network of Edible Aroids (INEA), has provided over 100 selected taro (Colocasia esculenta) varieties (breeding lines and Asian lines) consisting of more than 6,500 plantlets to INEA member countries in Africa, the Caribbean, Asia, the Pacific and Europe in just six months, from June to November 2011.

This was achieved through its Centre for Pacific Crops and Trees (CePaCT), a Pacific genebank based in Fiji. CePaCT, within the Land Resources Division of SPC, was set up by the Heads of Agriculture in the Pacific islands to share and conserve crop genetic resources in order to strengthen food security.

Dr Vincent Lebot, CIRAD/INEA, Scientific Coordinator, assisted by Dr Grahame Jackson commented: “This is an amazing achievement by SPC; not many germplasm centres on this planet could have done such a fantastic job in so short a time. Congratulations and thanks to SPC”.

INEA, a collaborative crop network backed by the EU, is a worldwide consortium of scientists and growers who are using edible aroids as a model to improve tropical crops that are propagated vegetatively – that is not by seed. SPC’s mandate in this is to improve both food security and income generation for the world’s poorest people.  In order to do this, it has supplied new varieties to each of the 16 INEA member countries and regional organisations. The purpose is to broaden the genetic base of the crops through breeding with the local varieties, thus producing hardier and healthier plants.

INEA members are: Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Madagascar, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago and Vanuatu; in addition there are four European research institutes in Germany, France, Portugal and Slovenia and Bioversity International.

These taro distributions show a remarkable example of south-south collaboration. As we all know, SPC donor funded taro improvement program based in Samoa in collaboration with the University of the South Pacific and Samoa, has been breeding taro using Pacific and Asian genotypes for tolerance to a devastating disease called taro leaf blight which halted taro production in that country in 1993.

In 2009, the same disease arrived in West Africa for the first time, and has caused similar devastations. Epidemics of the disease have occurred in Ghana, Nigeria and the Cameroon, and now the disease is moving eastwards across Africa. Under INEA, researchers and farmers in the affected countries are testing tolerant varieties. We know from our observations that the plants bred in Samoa are standing up well to the disease in Africa.

Whether or not the farmers will receive the new varieties as such, or hybrids from crosses with the local types, we are not sure. Countries will decide that in consultation with growers. But if breeding is required, INEA is there to assist.

There is another way that INEA is helping. Countries that are not members of the Network are coming to SPC asking for taro varieties, especially those tolerant to taro leaf blight. To date, taro have been sent to Bangladesh, Cameroon, Haiti, Mauritius, Congo and discussions are on-going with Guadeloupe. This is an unexpected outcome of the project, but one that is pleasing to report.

Of course, the sharing within INEA is underpinned by formal arrangements in respect to regional and international agreements and treaties. Members of SPC have agreed to place their collections of crops stored at CePaCT in the Multilateral System of the International Treaty for Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA). In June 2009, the Samoan Agricultural Minister Honorable Taua Kitiona Seuala signed the agreement at the 3rd Session of the Treaty Governing Body on behalf of Pacific Ministers of Agriculture and Forestry. In return, CePaCT receives funding in perpetuity from the Global Crop Diversity Trust.

The exchange of material is facilitated by the ITPGRFA which enables countries to access plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA) that countries inter depend largely on important for sustainable agriculture and food security, and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of their use, in harmony with the Convention on Biological Diversity.

CePaCT has already distributed a wide range of improved taro varieties to the Pacific region for evaluation. Some TLB tolerant varieties have revived the taro export market for Samoa, some are being integrated in current breeding programs in Cook Islands, Tonga, Fiji and both Samoas for building resilience to climate change under the AusAid International Climate Change Adaptation Initiative.

Most importantly new diverse varieties and relevant technology expected from EU INEA will be shared by all project partners including the Pacific through CePaCT. EU INEA is also working closely with project partners in sourcing new crops that would benefit the Pacific. Already SPC has received a yellow-fleshed xanthosoma from Nigeria that may have resistance to root rot. This is needed for the breeding program of this crop in Vanuatu.   

By Dr Vincent Lebot ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ), Project Scientific Coordinator- EU INEA, CIRAD and This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  , Genetic Resources, SPC LRD. For further information please contact them and or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it