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6. PECULIARITIES OF TARO PRODUCTION IN SPECIFIC ASIA-PACIFIC COUNTRIES


6.1 Taro Cultivation in Fiji
6.2 Taro Cultivation in Samoa
6.3 Taro Cultivation in American Samoa
6.4 Taro Cultivation in Tonga
6.5 Taro Cultivation in Vanuatu
6.6 Taro Cultivation in Papua New Guinea (PNG)
6.7 Taro Cultivation in Solomon Islands
6.8 Taro Cultivation in Cook Islands
6.9 Taro Cultivation in Tuvalu
6.10 Taro Cultivation in Niue
6.11 Taro Cultivation in French Polynesia
6.12 Taro Cultivation in New Caledonia
6.13 Taro Cultivation in Indonesia
6.14 Taro Cultivation in Thailand
6.15 Taro Cultivation in the Hawaiian Islands (USA)
6.16 Taro Cultivation in the Philippines
6.17 Taro Cultivation in Malaysia
6.18 Taro Cultivation in Japan
6.19 Taro Cultivation in China

6.1 Taro Cultivation in Fiji

Among the root crops in Fiji, taro (locally know as Dalo) ranks second only to cassava in terms of the quantity produced and the hectarage cultivated. For several decades, it ranked second to ginger in terms of root crop export income, but since about 1994, it has surpassed ginger as a foreign exchange earner. This has resulted partly from new markets and higher prices that arose from the demise of the Samoa taro export market.

It is estimated that in 1994, new planting of taro in Fiji amounted to 1443 ha, in addition to 2924 ha of pre-existing taro crop. During that year, 992 ha were harvested, yielding 8810 tonnes valued at Fijian $5.286 million. Local prices ranged from F$1200/tonne for cultivar Tausala-ni-Samoa down to F$500 - 800/tonne for Samoa Hybrid and other cultivars. Mean yield was about 9 tonnes/ha and there were 14028 farmers engaged in taro production. Taro export in 1994 was about 3491 tonnes valued at F$5.5 million. By 1995, harvested tonnage had increased to 16,125 tonnes and mean yields were 10-20 tonnes/ha. About 5187 tonnes were exported in 1995. Most of the exported taro went to New Zealand, Australia and the U.S.A.

Taro, is grown mainly in the wet areas where rainfall exceeds 2500 mm. Cultivation occurs on both alluvial flat land as well as on fertile hillside slopes. On the slopes, the cropping rotation adopted is such that taro follows ginger, and cassava comes in after the taro. Where kava is grown, taro is often used as a nurse crop to provide shade for the young kava plants. The taro is allowed to establish before the kava is put in. Even after this first crop of taro is harvested, a second crop of taro may be grown among the kava in the second year. A small degree of mechanisation (using animal or tractor power) is used in taro cultivation on flat lands, but cultivation on slopes has to rely mainly on manual operations.

Much of Fijian taro is grown in pure stands especially on slopes. Wetland or flooded cultivation occurs in some locations, but the bulk of the crop is upland (not flooded) taro.

Planting is most commonly done with suckers, although corms or corm pieces are occasionally used. Best yields result when planting is done in October/November when the rainy season is just starting. Some amount of off-season planting occurs in March-June.

In conventional planting, the planting material is placed in holes made with sticks, while in mechanized production, the planting material is dropped in furrows that have been opened up by machinery. The conventional system gives higher yields per stand. In general, deeper plantings yield better than shallow ones. Inter-plant spacing is 90 × 60cm in the conventional system, and 100 × 60 cm with mechanical planting.

Subsistence taro farmers in Fiji use hardly any fertilizers, but commercial taro producers apply a variety of fertilizers for improved yields. Nitrogen at 100 kg N/ha is often applied as urea or ammonium sulphate, in split applications at 5, 10 and 15 weeks after planting (WAP). Where necessary, 25 kg/ha phosphorus is applied at planting as superphosphate. If potassium is low, 100 kg/ha is split, with one application at planting and the other at 10 WAP. Compound NPK fertilizer (13:13:21) is recommended at 400 kg/ha, with half applied at planting and the other half at 10WAP. Where available, poultry manure can be used at 10 tonnes/ha, applied two weeks before planting.

Fiji has been free (1996) of the taro leaf blight and the alomae virus disease. The taro beetle is present, but there is no effective control measure. The pest is particularly serious in the Central Division.

Weed control is critical in the first 4-5 months after planting, and this is done manually, mechanically, or occasionally with herbicides.

Harvesting occurs 7-10 months after planting. Maturity is signalled by a reduction in plant size, and some degree of yellowing of the leaves. Sticks, poles or forks are used to dig up the corms. Most of the taro goes for domestic consumption (Figure 4). Where the taro is to be shipped over long distances or exported, then post-harvest handling becomes important. At present, the post-harvest handling simply involves collecting, sorting, cleaning, packing and shipping. A cold temperature (6-8ºC) is maintained when shipping the taro corms for export. Most of the crop is handled and shipped as intact fresh tuber. Little or no processing into dry or preservable products takes place, apart from occasional taro chips available in supermarkets.

Figure 4. Taro Corms on Sale in Suva Market, Fiji

Active research on taro is going on in the country, especially at the Koronivia Research Station. Since 1984 when the first improved cultivar (Samoa Hybrid) was released, at least four more cultivars have been released. A taro germplasm collection of over 60 lines is maintained at Koronivia. The main research emphasis now is to identify or produce cultivars that are drought tolerant, taro-beetle resistant, and can sucker profusely to supply adequate planting material. Apart from these, other constraints that require attention include the ever-present threat that the taro leaf blight may enter the country despite quarantine vigilance, the unavailability of a control measure for the taro beetle, and the instability of the international market for taro. There is also need to improve the availability of planting material, and strengthen the extension network.

The future potential of taro in Fiji looks quite good, both for local consumption and for export. In particular, the decline of interest in rice production on the banks of the Rewa river and its delta, may create an opportunity for expanded taro cultivation.

6.2 Taro Cultivation in Samoa

Up till 1993, taro was the pre-eminent crop in Samoa. It was the major dietary staple (along with bananas and breadfruit) and accounted for over half of the nation’s export earnings. It also had considerable cultural significance and featured prominently in homage, feasting, and gift-giving ceremonies. Its importance has been such that it is featured on one of the coins that form part of the country’s currency.

The value (in WS$) of taro export from Western Samoa was 5.8 million in 1989, 3.5 million in 1990, and 9.5 million in 1993. Thereafter, the export market crashed as a result of the outbreak of the taro leaf blight in 1993. The total taro export for 1994 was worth only 0.065 million WS$, and the total 1994 taro production was only 3% of that in 1993. Virtually all of the 1994 production was consumed locally. Most of the importing countries have proscribed taro from Samoa, and in any case, the total production is so low that it cannot even meet the internal demand. Table 5 shows the trends in W.Samoa taro production, price and value from 1982-1995.

Much of the taro in Samoa is grown as a sole crop, usually on newly cleared land that has been fallowed for 2-3 years. Occasionally, it is intercropped with yam, pineapple, Alocasia, bananas or cassava. It is also sometimes grown in between rows of tree crops such as coconuts. The most common cultivar of taro grown has been Taro Niue, but since the blight epidemic in 1993 cultivar diversification is being actively pursued.

In most parts of the country, taro can be planted at any time of the year, but in the drier areas, planting is done in September-November when the rainy season is just starting. Spacing varies from dense (about 60 × 60cm) to wide (about 100 × 100cm) depending on the cultivar, the fertility of the soil, the desired size of corms, and the necessity or otherwise to produce suckers for future planting.

Most growers do not use fertilizers, claiming that it gives the taro a poor taste. Manual weed control is the most common practice.

The taro leaf blight is the most devastating disease of taro in Samoa. When it first struck in 1993, attempts were made to control it with Ridomil and Manzate fungicides. Since mid-1994, phosphorous acid (Foschek) has been the preferred fungicide, combined with a very intense programme of field sanitation. Careful choice of disease-free planting material, physical removal of diseased leaf portions, and even intercropping are some of the sanitation and cultural practices being employed to cope with the disease. So far, neither the taro beetle nor the alomae/bobone virus disease are of any economic importance in Samoa, and are probably absent from the country.

The crop is harvested 6-11 months after planting. Most of the crop, whether for export or for local consumption, is handled as the fresh corm. The leaves are a delicacy, and are harvested as needed. The onset of the taro leaf blight, and the use of chemicals to control it, have made leaf consumption a very expensive and environmentally risky practice.

The predominant constraint in Samoan taro production is the taro leaf blight disease. The impact has been so devastating mainly because the country was so reliant on taro for its food and its export earnings, and the taro crop itself had a very narrow genetic base. A deliberate programme of crop diversification is now being implemented. Meanwhile, research continues, especially at the Nu’u Crop Development Centre, into developing blight-resistant cultivars and other control measures for the disease. The solution may ultimately lie in having a concerted international effort to tackle the disease and other taro problems. Recent significant efforts in this direction have included the European Union-supported Pacific Regional Agricultural Programme (PRAP), and taro breeding work at Bubia in Papua New Guinea. Until the blight problem is effectively solved or contained, the future of taro in Samoa will continue to remain shaky.

6.3 Taro Cultivation in American Samoa

The situation of taro in American Samoa has been very similar to that in Samoa. Before 1993, taro was the dominant root crop both in tonnage produced and in hectarage. The taro leaf blight disease was first reported in American Samoa in 1993, before it was reported in Samoa just a few months later. Its impact on the entire taro production system has been similar to that in Samoa. However, there are two important differences. First, American Samoa never had a taro exporting industry even in pre-blight days. So while the blight in Samoa affected both food supplies and export earnings, it only affected food supplies in American Samoa. Secondly, because of its economic structure, American Samoa has been quicker to source alternative food items to compensate for the shortfall in taro production. Taro still remains a food of choice for much of the indigenous population, and the cultural ties to it are still strong; but unless and until the blight problem eases, other (mostly imported) food items will continue to receive increased patronage.

Table 5. Taro Production, Price and Value in Western Samoa from 1982-1995.


1982

1983

1984

1985

1986

1987

1988

1989

1990

1991

1992

1993

1994

1995

Production, × 1000 tonnes

15.16

15.18

16.18

16.50

25.51

26.88

22.22

28.24

25.42

29.02

27.60

30.08

1.20

1.80

Price, WS$/tonne

470

739

538

538

851

941

986

1008

1096

1171

1350

916

3226


Value, Million WS$

7.1

11.2

8.7

8.9

21.7

25.3

21.9

28.5

27.9

34.0

37.3

27.5

3.9


Source: Central Bank of Samoa, In: Tekiu (1996).

6.4 Taro Cultivation in Tonga

In Tonga where the tropical root crops dominate the food basket, taro, (locally called Talo-Tonga) occupies a relatively minor place behind yam, cassava, tannia, Alocasia and sweet potato. All the same it has a high cultural significance, and is regarded as a high status crop fit for nobility and for presentations, feasts and obligations.

Drought is a major factor that influences taro production in Tonga, with the total amount produced being depressed in drought years. There is also a corresponding fluctuation in the amount of taro that is exported. Table 6 gives the amount of taro exported from Tonga from 1990-1995. The years 1992 and 1995 were low rainfall years, and the drastic drops in taro export in those years are attributable to the drought. In 1994, 70 tonnes of taro was traded in local markets, and the total area planted to taro was 470 hectares.

Because of the drought problem, most of Tongan taro production occurs in the northerly Vava’u group of islands where rainfall is higher. Each time a drought occurs, it drastically depresses the yield of the growing crop. Worse still, it creates a scarcity of planting material for the next and subsequent seasons. Farmers and extension agents are then obliged to make nurseries using small corm pieces in order to try to generate additional planting material. Invariably, it takes 2-3 years after each drought to build up enough planting material.

Taro in Tonga is conventionally intercropped with yam and plantains (bananas), but more commercial growers often grow it as a sole crop. Sometimes, it follows yam in the rotation, or follows sweet potato which follows yam. With the recent upsurge in squash production in Tonga, it has become fashionable to plant taro after harvesting the squash, to use up residual fertilizer left over from the squash cropping.

There are two preferred periods for planting. The first period, August-November, coincides with yam planting, and permits yam and taro to be planted at the same time. The second preferred time of planting, March-April, has the advantage that harvesting coincides with the Christmas/New Year period when there is a peak demand for taro for home consumption and for export.

Table 6. Taro Export from Tonga from 1990-1995

Year

Taro Export (tonnes)

Area of Taro Grown (ha)

1990

50


1991

180


1992

16


1993

46

189

1994

110

470

1995

50



The planting material consists of huli, side suckers, or even corm pieces. Spacing varies depending on the cropping systems used. When intercropped with yam, one row of taro is planted after every 3-5 rows of yam. Inter-row spacing is 100-200 cm while within row spacing is 50-100 cm. For taro grown as a sole crop, a spacing of 90 × 60 cm is recommended.

Manual weeding is practiced. Small-scale producers do not fertilize, but commercial producers are encouraged to apply NPK (12:13:18) fertilizer at 50g per plant. The application is made as a side dressing during the first six weeks after planting.

The current most devastating disease (taro leaf blight) and pest (the taro beetle) of taro in the Pacific are not present in Tonga. The alomae/bobone disease is also not present. So the taro producer has to cope only with relatively minor diseases and pests (armyworms, the dasheen mosaic virus disease, taro hornworm, and the stem/root rot).

Harvesting occurs 6-10 months after planting. Average yield is about 7 tonnes/ha, which is considered low. Little or no processing is done, and most of the commodity is handled and marketed as the fresh tuber.

The most serious constraint to taro production in Tonga is the drought, with the resultant low yields and scarcity of planting material. The absence of the taro leaf blight and the taro beetle offers great potential for the taro crop, both for domestic consumption and for export. However, a great amount of quarantine vigilance is needed to ensure that this advantage remains.

6.5 Taro Cultivation in Vanuatu

Like other root crops, taro in Vanuatu is grown mainly for subsistence. In 1994, less than 1 tonne of taro was exported (to New Zealand). Along with yam and kava, taro enjoys a high social and cultural standing in the country.

One very serious problem afflicting the root crop sector, including taro, is that of inter-island transportation within the country. Even in localities where surpluses exist, the logistics of moving the commodity is so daunting that very little trading in taro exists. A partial solution to this problem was the establishment of Vanuatu Tropical Products Ltd. in the mid-1990’s. The company buys and bulks root crops (including taro) in cold rooms, and subsequently re-sells them to consumers.

The taro beetle is present, and continues to pose a problem in taro production. However, the taro leaf blight is currently (1997) absent from Vanuatu, meaning that there is potential to step up taro export to make up for the Samoan shortfall.

It should also be nutritionally profitable for the authorities to encourage a greater degree of taro leaf utilization than exists at present.

6.6 Taro Cultivation in Papua New Guinea (PNG)

For decades, taro has been the third most important indigenous staple in Papua New Guinea (PNG), after sweet potato and bananas. It is estimated that 436,000 tonnes of taro are produced annually on an area of 77,000 hectares (Ghodake et al., 1993, Sar et al., 1997).

Taro is considered to be a very ancient crop in PNG, and there is archaeological evidence of wetland taro cultivation as far back as 9000 years ago in the Kuk/Baisu area of the Western Highlands Province. Not surprisingly, PNG now has the world’s largest genetic diversity of taro (Ghodake et al., 1993), even though the crop is believed to have originated in the Indo-Malaya region farther to the west. Taro is grown in all the lowland parts of PNG (Figure 5), and it performs best in these lowland locations. However, taro cultivation also occurs in the highlands including the Star Mountain area of Western Province (2,400 m above sea level), and in Chimbu at about 2,700 m above sea level.

Figure 5. Taro Cultivation in Papua New Guinea

As in many of the Pacific Islands, taro has considerable social and cultural significance in PNG. It is quite commonly associated with ritual, gift-giving and traditional feasting.

Cropping systems used for taro production in PNG vary considerably. Most of the crop is produced under normal rain-fed conditions. Taro is usually planted as the first crop in a newly-cleared garden in the shifting cultivation cycle. It may be intercropped with sweet potato, peanuts and various vegetables, or it may be grown as a sole crop. It may also be planted in the spaces between plantation tree crops such as oil palm or coconut. Irrigated or wetland taro production is practiced in some localities such as Sialum, Rabaraba and Kongara districts. Generally, wetland or irrigated taro results in higher yields.

Planting occurs in any month of the year, particularly in the wetter parts of the country. Recommended spacing varies between 50 × 50 cm to 100 × 100 cm. Close spacing results in higher total corm yields per hectare, but the percentage of larger marketable corms is reduced, and of course the total amount of planting material required at the onset is greater. The planting materials used include huli, suckers and occasionally corm pieces. Several cultivars and land races are grown, with Numkoi (or Nomkowec) being one of the most common. Other cultivars in cultivation include Unabuae, Junguluh, and Chakuk.

Most taro growers do not apply any fertilizer. However, the use of 200 kg/ha nitrogen in the form of urea has been recommended. The incorporation of compost, animal waste or coffee pulp have also been found to be beneficial. Weeds are controlled by manual weeding; the use of herbicides is rare.

In the lowland regions, taro is ready for harvest in 7-9 months, but maturity for harvest in the highland regions may not come till 15-18 months after planting. For harvesting, a digging stick or spade is used to loosen the soil around the base of the plant, and the plant is pulled up by grabbing the petiole bases. Average yields are estimated to be 5-10 tonnes of fresh corm per hectare. Virtually all the harvested taro is handled, transported and utilized as the fresh corm.

Taro production in PNG has witnessed a decline in recent years. The major constraints that have caused this decline are:

a) The presence of the taro beetle.
b) The incidence of the taro leaf blight disease.
c) The high labour requirement for taro production compared to sweet potato.
d) The availability of imported food substitutes, especially rice.
e) The presence of the alomae/bobone virus disease complex.
Partly because of these production constraints, taro is more expensive in PNG, on a weight to weight basis, than sweet potato, yam, tannia or cassava. However it is still preferred as a food item over these other root crops.

The presence of the diseases and pests mentioned above means that PNG taro cannot be exported, due to quarantine restrictions. This factor has been a source of discouragement to various entrepreneurs who have shown interest in commercial production of taro for export. For the present and foreseeable future, therefore, all PNG taro production is for domestic consumption, and no export trade in taro is occurring.

It is interesting that despite having all the major taro diseases and pests of the region, PNG taro production has not been wiped out, and manages to plod along. This contrasts with the Samoan situation where only one of these diseases (taro leaf blight) virtually crippled the taro industry. The key seems to lie in the much greater genetic diversity of the taro crop in PNG. This factor has a stabilizing effect on the taro industry, permitting meaningful production to continue (albeit on a reduced scale) in the face of these constraints.

Research is now in progress within the country to try to address some of the constraints indicated above. Much of this research is centred at the Bubia Agricultural Research Station and at the University of Technology, both near to the city of Lae. The areas of research can be grouped as follows:

a) Collection, conservation and characterization of taro germplasm: In the mid-1980’s, over 600 accessions were maintained at Bubia, but most of these were lost during the early 1990’s. The effort was invigorated again in the mid-1990’s, and by 1995, there were 841 accessions made up of 407 cultivars, 203 clones from the breeding programme, 201 semi-wild types, and 21 introductions from other countries (Gunua & Kokoa, 1995).

In the late 1990’s, there again seems to be a decline in resources to maintain the collection, and by 1997, the number of accessions had again declined to 333. There is some uncertainty as to whether the momentum can be sustained. A much smaller field collection is maintained at the University of Technology, and the possibility of in-vitro maintenance of the collection is being investigated.

b) Taro beetle control: Since various experiments have failed to produce a reliable or safe chemical control for the beetle, attention has turned to biological control. Initial trials showed that an entomopathogenic fungus (Metarhizium anisopliae), a bacterium (Bacillus popilliae) and a protozoa (Vavraia) each showed promise for the control of the beetle population. Various cultural methods are also being investigated for the beetle control. What is significant about this research is that most countries in the region are relying on it for an ultimate solution to the taro beetle problem. Much of the research has been carried out under the auspices of the Pacific Regional Agricultural Program (PRAP) which also has a similar taro beetle research going on in the Solomon Islands.

c) Taro leaf blight control: This has involved a screening of the germplasm collection, and the production of new genotypes through crossing. In 1992, 433 accessions were screened. Three local varieties (K333, K345 and Ainaben) were found to be highly resistant to taro leaf blight, while another 57 varieties were slightly resistant. Through an active breeding programme and using recurrent selection techniques, it is hoped that the researchers will soon release varieties that are not only resistant to the blight, but also tolerant to nematodes and the alomae/bobone disease. Such varieties must also have desirable culinary and agronomic qualities. This taro leaf blight research, centred in PNG, is also of regional importance, since all the countries that have the blight (including Samoa) are anxiously awaiting its outcome.

If the current research attention can be sustained and re-enforced, then the constraints facing taro production in PNG will be drastically reduced. Such a situation, bolstered by the cultural attachment of the people to taro, could yet give rise to a resurgence in taro production.

6.7 Taro Cultivation in Solomon Islands

The situation with taro cultivation in Solomon Islands is very similar to that in Papua New Guinea. Taro has, for centuries, played a prominent part in the diet of the people, and in their cultural affairs, including traditional medicine. However, taro production has witnessed a marked decline in recent years due to essentially the same constraints as exist in PNG (presence of the taro beetle, existence of the taro leaf blight, existence of the alomae/bobone virus disease, and the greater ease of producing other crops such as sweet potato). Nematodes are also a problem. It is only in isolated outlying atoll islands where these diseases/pests are less prevalent, that taro has remained a major staple.

The area under taro cultivation each year is estimated to be 2060ha in the mid-1990’s (Liloqula and Samu, 1996). The crop is usually the first to be planted after bush fallow in a shifting cultivation system. It is sometimes grown in pure stand, and at other times intercropped with yam, sweet potato, banana, cassava or vegetables. Huli and suckers are used as planting material. They are inserted into holes that have been opened up using a pointed stick. Shallow planting is done if the farmer intends to generate many suckers for use as subsequent planting materials; but if sizeable ware corms are the target, then deeper planting is done. Spacing ranges from 60 × 60 cm to 90 × 90 cm. Hand weeding is the rule, and there is generally no fertilizer applied.

The taro beetle is the most serious pest. Active research into its control is going on in Solomon Islands under the auspices of the Pacific Regional Agricultural Programme (PRAP), with biological control being actively explored. The taro leaf blight in the most serious disease. The taro leaf blight was first reported in the country in 1947, over half a century ago. Some degree of control has been achieved using Zineb and copper oxychloride, but in more recent times, greater reliance is being placed on using tolerant cultivars which are available.

Harvesting occurs 5-12 months after planting. Most of the crop is consumed in the household where it is produced (subsistence). The amount that leaves the household is marketed as fresh corm. Virtually no export of taro occurs from Solomon Islands, partly due to quarantine regulations against the diseases and pests mentioned above.

The Research Department of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries has recently released some hybrid taro cultivars which are resistant to taro leaf blight. This, combined with the sweet potato weevil problem in the sweet potato crop, has caused a resurgent interest in taro production. However, the culinary quality of the newly-released cultivars is poor. The new interest in taro production can only be sustained through additional research to produce better disease-resistant cultivars and to offer an effective control for the taro beetle.

6.8 Taro Cultivation in Cook Islands

Taro is the pre-eminent root crop in Cook Islands. Firstly, it occupies a larger area of land that any other root crop, as can be seen from Table 7. The islands with the largest taro area in 1996 were Rarotonga (126ha), Mangaia (29ha), Mauke (9ha), Nassau (9ha) and Aitutaki (9ha). The total area occupied by taro in 1996 was 193.7ha. Secondly, taro is by far the preferred staple among the population, and features prominently in the diet. Both the corms and the leaves are used for food, thereby providing a useful balance of energy and protein. Thirdly, taro is intricately inter-woven with cultural life of Cook Islanders, and this has been so for centuries. It is the preferred crop for obligations, gift giving, ceremonies and feasting, and features prominently in the folk lore and traditions. Not surprisingly, there is considerable sentimental attachment to taro production and consumption. Finally, taro features prominently in the export trade of Cook Islands (Table 8), almost to the exclusion of all other root crops. Most of the export goes to New Zealand. There are very few countries in the world where taro occupies such an exalted position in agriculture as does taro in Cook Islands.

Taro is grown in all parts of the country, but the cropping system adopted depends on the location. In the northern islands which are coral in nature, taro is grown in brackish muddy water. The southern islands, however, are volcanic in origin, and here, three kinds of cropping system are used to grow taro:

a) Paddy fields: These are fields to which water is diverted from rivers. The water is never allowed to be stagnant, otherwise rot organisms attack the taro base. The huli or suckers used for planting are pushed into the mud to 20-30 cm depth. Inter-plant spacing is 45-60 cm either way. Fertilizer is not added, but vegetation brought up during weeding is incorporated into the mud as organic matter. Every few years, the paddy is replenished by addition of new soil.

b) Raised beds: The raised beds are prepared with hand tools in such a way that water constantly flows around each bed and keeps it moist. Vegetation is incorporated into the bed during bed preparation and during weeding. The bed is mulched with coconut leaves, plastic sheets, banana leaves or paper. Inter-plant spacing is 60-100 cm either way. Fertilizer, when used, is applied after the plants have developed two leaves.

c) Upland taro: In this case, there is no free-flowing water beneath or around the taro. Clay-loam soil is preferred. After clearing, the huli or suckers are inserted into holes made with spades or digging sticks. Where machines are available, planting is done into machine-made furrows 30 cm deep. Spacing ranges from 100 × 50 cm to 100 × 60 cm. Irrigation, where used, is by overhead sprinklers or by drip irrigation, and the crops receive water every 3-4 days. Fertilizer application is recommended for the first 3-4 months after planting. Nitrogenous fertilizer is applied as soon as the plants establish, and compound fertilizer is applied in the third and fourth months.

Table 7. Area (ha) Devoted to Various Root Crops in Cook Islands in 1988 and 1996.

Crop

1988

1996

Taro

242.7

193.7

Tannia

127.7

23.8

Sweet Potato

115.3

10.7

Cassava

321.9

76.6

Source: Adapted from Manarangi, 1996.

Table 8. Quantity and Value of Taro Export from Cook Islands from 1989-1994.

Year

Quantity Exported (tonnes)

Value of Export (NZ$ × 103)

1989

34.6

64.7

1990

8.1

83.4

1991

16.6

49.0

1992

3.0

0.5

1993

1.5

1.7

1994

90.1

135.2

Source: Adapted from Manarangi, 1996.
Taking the country as a whole, most of the crop is grown on raised beds (Table 9), while upland cultivation occupies the least area. Upland cultivation is increasing in popularity in Rarotonga where irrigation water is available. In general, the best quality taro, in terms of local culinary preference, are those from raised beds and paddy fields. Taro from upland fields is the least preferred.

For all the production systems, hand weeding is often practiced. Herbicides are sometimes used on raised bed or upland systems, but never for paddy. The recommended herbicides are gramoxone (paraquat) and glyphosate.

Harvesting occurs at 6-12 months after planting, and is always done with hand-held digging sticks or spades. Average yields are estimated to be 10-14 tonnes/ha. Harvested corms are kept in moist sacks for transportation, or under dripping water, and can keep for up to two weeks. Longer-term storage is effected by peeling the corms, cutting into required sizes and freezing. Taro is marketed both as fresh unpeeled corms and as peeled frozen corms. Frozen taro can be cooked directly, or thawed before cooking.

Cook Islands has so far been spared the scourge of either the taro beetle or the taro leaf blight. This has permitted both the domestic and export trade in taro to flourish unfettered. Active research on taro is going on at the Totokoitu Research Station. Introduced cultivars that have been tested and released include Kerekere and New Caledonia, which are high yielding, as well as Veo Tarona which is very good tasting. The main exported cultivars are Alafua Sunrise, Old Niue and New Niue. Some research is also looking into the use of Azolla mexicana to boost fertility and yield in the paddy production system for taro. One problem that needs some attention is the high cost of collecting the taro from different islands before shipping overseas. Perhaps some amount of pre-processing in the outer islands could reduce shipping costs. Given the present research attention, quarantine enforcement, the unique place of taro in the diet, and the sentimental attachment of the people to the crop, the future of taro in Cook Islands looks set to continue to be quite rosy.

Table 9. Area (ha) of Taro Growing under Different Cropping Systems in Cook Islands in 1988 and 1996.


1988

1996

Upland

38.62

16.3

Paddy

69.14

51.2

Raised Bed

135.34

126.17

Total

243.10

193.67

Source: Adapted from Manarangi, 1996.

6.9 Taro Cultivation in Tuvalu

Taro is a relatively minor crop in Tuvalu, where Cyrtosperma chamissonis (Giant Swamp Taro) is the dominant root crop. However taro occupies a high social and cultural significance, just like Cyrtosperma.

Taro cultivation is confined to certain families in the outer islands. Production is mainly in wet lands in huge pits (Pulaka pits) that have been dug down to the water lens. Green composting is an essential aspect of the cultivation practice, and the size of the corm produced is considered an important factor. Dalo Kena, one of the most popular local cultivars, can yield up to 15 tons/ha in a 10-month growing period. One major pest is the taro plant hopper. This is being controlled on the capital island of Funafuti and on Vaitupu using a predator, Cytorhinus fulvus (Lausaveve, 1995).

6.10 Taro Cultivation in Niue

Niue is a small, low-lying island with no hills or rivers, and heavily, dependent on collected rain water. Taro has been a traditional crop among its people, and is of considerable culinary and cultural importance. Some taro is also being exported, mainly to New Zealand. In the 1994/95 period, about 235 tons of taro were exported to New Zealand (Tongatule, 1995), which is substantial considering that there are only about 3,000 people on Niue.

The taro production system relies basically on shifting cultivation. Sole cropping of taro, not intercropping, is the rule. About 50% of the growers use fertilizers, and about 90% of them use chemical weed killers. There are no serious diseases and pests. Average yields are estimated at 2-10 tonnes/ha. There is a large number of cultivars grown, among which Fate fa tea and Fate fa ivaiva tea are among the most popular.

6.11 Taro Cultivation in French Polynesia

Taro production in French Polynesia has shown a steady increase in the past decade, especially on the island of Tahiti (Table 10). Part of the impetus for this increase has come from the very attractive prices which have encouraged the use of greenhouses for taro production.

Table 10. Trends in Taro Production (tonnes) on the Various Island Groups of French Polynesia from 1991-1994.


1991

1992

1993

1994

Tahiti-Moorea

241

245

317

347

Windward Is.

165

138

186

174

Austral Is.

82

75

85

141

Marquesas Is.

11

10

13

19

Total

499

467

601

655

Source: Adapted from Wong, 1995.
The main cultivars grown are Veo, Manaura, Veo Manaura, Amoa and Ute Ute. The entire production is consumed locally, and there is no export of taro. Very little research is currently being done on taro, but there is need to identify salt-tolerant cultivars to permit further expansion of production especially on Tuamotu. With the present high prices for taro, and good demand, the future of taro production in French Polynesia looks assured.

6.12 Taro Cultivation in New Caledonia

New Caledonia has had a long history of taro cultivation dating back for centuries. Taro, with yam, has been the traditional basis of kanak agriculture, with taro symbolising the female and yam symbolising the male. Most of the work on taro gardens was also done by women. Taro cultivation in earlier times occurred on elaborately constructed terraces in various parts of the New Caledonia mainland. Both dry land and flooded or irrigated cultivation practices were employed. Shifting cultivation was used, relying on bush fallow to restore soil fertility. Many of these historical taro terraces have now been abandoned, but can still be seen all over the countryside.

Today most of taro cultivation in New Caledonia is on the wetter eastern side where the annual rainfall ranges from 2,000-2500 mm, and where the dry season is shorter. The western side is too dry, and the dry season (August to December) too long. Taro on the eastern side is grown mainly as a rain-fed crop by subsistence farmers who usually intercrop it with yam. Some cultivation also occurs in marshy areas on Loyalty Island, and with the use of irrigation around Noumea.

Normally, the crop is planted between October and December, at the start of the hot rainy season. By May, the plants begin to decline in size, and harvesting occurs June-September. This harvesting period roughly coincides with the coolest part of the year (August-September). Because of this cool dry weather, mature corms in the ground do not deteriorate rapidly, so that harvesting can be spread out over an extended period without much harm. Preferred cultivars include Mateo rose and Wallis which can give yields over 20 tons/ha.

One species of the taro beetle (Papuana huebneri) is present in New Caledonia, but up till the mid-1990’s, damage was within tolerable limits and no particular control measures were in place (Varin & Verner, 1994). The dasheen mosaic virus disease is also present, but the taro leaf blight is absent. There have been reports of the loliloli physiological disorder, caused by continued vegetative growth after the corms mature. It is characterised by soft spongy corms of low density. The hard rot physiological disorder is also present.

Active research on taro is currently going on at the CIRAD research centre in Noumea. Areas being investigated include variety introduction and evaluation, varying the time of planting so as to achieve out-of-season production, weed control, and control measures for diseases and pests.

New Caledonia does not export taro, and probably is a net importer of taro. As such, all the taro that is produced is consumed internally. However, taro prices have been quite good (approximately US$3.3/kg in the mid 1990’s), and this has served as a stimulus towards greater production.

6.13 Taro Cultivation in Indonesia

On a national basis, taro is a very minor crop in Indonesia. It is much less important than rice, maize, soybean, cassava, peanut, mung bean or sweet potato. It is not surprising, therefore, that there are very few statistics available on Indonesian taro production and utilization.

Despite its obscurity at the national level, taro is of considerable regional importance in many parts of Indonesia, especially the Provinces of Irian Jaya and Maluku, the island of Mentawai in West Sumatra, and some parts of Java. Indeed, in some districts, taro assumes a pre-dominant importance as a staple, a cash crop, and an object of intense cultural attachment. For example, in the Ayamaru sub-district of Sorong in Irian Jaya, studies have shown that taro can contribute as much as 64 % of the total food of the household, and up to 48% of the total household net cash income (Rochani, 1994).

Taro is most often grown near streams, ponds or in low-lying wet areas. Shifting cultivation is practiced in many locations. Cultivars in use include Talas sutera, Talas bogor and Talas semir in West Java, Talas bentul in East Java, and Awiyah Yumana Mboh, Awiya Yahya, Awiyah Toboh etc. in Sorong District. Propagation is by means of huli or side suckers. Weeding is done one month after planting, and again 1-2 months later (Dimyati, 1994). Most farmers do not use fertilizers, but for those that do, compound fertilizer is applied shortly after planting, and again in the third month after planting.

The taro leaf blight is present, and is one of the major constraints to taro production in Irian Jaya. It was first reported in 1975 and has since become endemic in most parts of the province. Experiments using saprophytic micro-organisms have shown that Pseudomonas fluorescence, Bacillus subtilis, and Gliocladium flimbriatum can control the fungus in vivo and in vitro (Matanubun and Paiki, 1994). However, this potential for biological control has not been effectively tested at the farmer level. Other suggested control measures include spraying with fungicide metalaxyl, or growing the taro as an intercrop. The taro beetle is also present both in Irian Jaya and in the rest of the country, but there is no effective control measure.

Harvesting occurs 6-8 months after planting. Most of the harvested crop is used for subsistence in the household. Both corms and leaves are used for food. A small amount of the production is marketed locally, but there is no export trade in taro from Indonesia.

Serious research into taro production began in Irian Jaya in 1957. Since then, the research has continued with increasing vigour, mainly under the auspices of the Root and Tuber Crops Research Centre which was established in Manokwari in 1988. The Centre’s activities include conservation of taro genetic resources, development of taro cropping systems for different ecologies, and finding control measures for the taro leaf blight and the taro beetle.

Nationally, Indonesia is expected to continue to be part of the rice culture of Asia, and taro will remain a minor crop. However, with increasing emphasis on decentralised development, it is expected that crops such as taro, which only have regional importance, will receive progressively greater attention.

6.14 Taro Cultivation in Thailand

Like Indonesia, food crop agriculture in Thailand is dominated by rice. Taro is a minor crop, and is eaten mainly as a dessert or snack. However, it is grown as a lucrative cash crop for export. The area and production of taro in Thailand from 1987 to 1996 are shown in Table 11. The largest area and production occur in the northern part of the country. In the 1988-1995 period, Thailand exported approximately 300-500 tonnes of taro each year, valued at US$120,000-200,000 per year. Most of the export went to Hong Kong, Japan and Malaysia.

Taro production in Thailand has been successfully integrated into the rice production system. Taro is grown on the same land after harvesting rice. Planting occurs once the rice crop has been harvested. Alternatively, rice is followed by vegetables, after which the taro is then grown. The main taro crop is planted in February/March, while some upland taro is also planted in July/August. For planting, the land is tilled and harrowed, and soil amendments such as lime or burned rice husk may be added during tillage. The soil is made into raised beds. Each bed is 4-5 m wide, with 1 m space between beds. The furrows between the beds serve for irrigation and for drainage. Preferred varieties include Chiang Mai, Surin, Srisaket, Petchaboon, and Ubon. Average yield is about 13 tonnes/ha.

Table 11. Area and Production of Taro in Thailand from 1987 to 1996.


1987

1988

1994

1995

1996

Area (ha)

1,810

2,131

2,724

3,776

2,487

Production (tonnes)

22,233

32,061

40,973

49,000

33,039

Average yield (tonnes/ha)



14.57

12.45

13.20

Source: Adapted from Ratananukul (1991), & data from Dept. of Agricultural Extension, Bangkok.
Huli are sometimes used as planting material, but most commonly, a nursery of cut cormels and corms is prepared to produce planting material. The cut corm pieces are kept moist and covered with rice straw. After 3 weeks, they are transplanted to the beds in the field. Rows on the bed are 0.5 m apart and within-row spacing is 0.5 m. A spacing of 100-120cm × 30cm may also be used. Double rows are sometimes used in the upland areas. Irrigation is provided, and side suckers are regularly removed so as to encourage the development of large corms. As the corm itself develops, earthing-up is done frequently to ensure that it remains covered with soil.

Farmyard manure may be placed in the planting holes at 300-500g per hole. A split application of NPK (13-13-21) fertilizer is often done, first in the first month of planting, and then again two months later. The total amount of compound fertilizer for the crop is about 80kg N, 80kg P2O5, and 130kg K2O. Minor insect pests are controlled with insecticides, and leaf spot is controlled by clipping infected leaves. The taro leaf blight is present, but its economic damage is not serious. The taro beetle is absent. Harvesting occurs at 6 months after transplanting. The corms are graded and packed for export. The premium price is paid for large corms.

The Pichit Horticultural Research Centre has a collection of some taro cultivars, but very little taro research is taking place in the country. However, the fact that much of Thailand’s taro production is export-driven means that production has already moved from a subsistence footing to a commercial one. As long as the export market prices remain stable, taro production in Thailand is likely to continue to strengthen.

6.15 Taro Cultivation in the Hawaiian Islands (USA)

For centuries, taro was a predominant staple for the indigenous Polynesian people of Hawaii. It played a major role both as a food item and as an object of cultural identification and pride. Both leaves and corms were consumed and used extensively in gift-giving and cultural functions.

Today, taro remains an important agricultural commodity in Hawaii, and continues to attract considerable cultural attachment from the indigenous population. Most of the corms produced are processed into “Poi”, a sour-tasting taro paste. It is made by pressure-cooking the corms, washing, peeling and mashing them. The paste is then passed through strainers and packaged. During storage for a day or more, Lactobacillus spp. ferment the product, causing it to become more acidic and the pH to drop from about 5.7 to 3.9.

Poi is packaged and sold commercially in stores. The other major product made from taro corms is taro chips. These are also packaged and sold commercially, and have the advantage of having a reasonably long shelf life. There is a virile cottage industry built around the making of taro chips. One such family concern is based in Hanapepe and produces the “Taro Ko Chips” brand of taro chips.

Taro leaves are a valued delicacy (“luau”) of the Hawaiian diet, and constitute an important part of the traditional diet. Taro tops left after harvest are used for silage for livestock feeding.

In past centuries, the total land area devoted to taro in Hawaii was much greater than it is today. Much of the decline in area has been due to land pressure as a result of urbanisation and use for other agricultural purposes. By 1972, the area under taro in Hawaii was only 185 ha and production was about 4,000 tonnes (de la Pena, 1990). Since then, further declines in production and area have occurred.

Table 12. Taro Production and Area in Hawaii

Year

Area (ha)

Production (tonnes)

1972

185

4,000

1983

150

2,472

1984

150

2,868

1985

162

3,118

1986

158

2,878

1987

162

2,818

1996

246



Table 12 shows that even though the taro area has declined over the past few decades, it now holds steady at 150-250 ha each year. Most of the decline has been in the area of taro used for making Poi, while the area used to grow taro for chips has actually increased slightly. Overall, the total amount of taro that is made into chips in Hawaii is only about one tenth of that which is used to make Poi.

Two production systems are used for taro cultivation in the Hawaiian Islands:

a) Flooded or wetland taro
b) Upland or dry land taro, grown as an unflooded, rain-fed crop.
Flooded taro cultivation occurs mainly on the island of Kauai, while dry land taro cultivation is on the “Big Island” of Hawaii. Flooded taro is normally grown in monoculture, i.e. not rotated with other crops. However, upland taro is usually rotated with ginger on the island of Hawaii.

For flooded taro, machines are used to plough the field and build embankments so that water can be impounded. The field is also puddled, to reduce the loss of water through percolation. The typical planting material is the huli. Planting can be done at any time of the year, and indeed many farmers stagger their plantings so that they have different plots ready for harvest at different times.

Planting is done by inserting the huli by hand into the loose puddled soil, or by use of mechanical planters before flooding. As the crop grows, the water level is gradually raised to keep the base of the plant submerged. However, the water is kept flowing at all times, otherwise its oxygen content becomes low and rot organisms attack the taro. Weeds are usually not a serious problem, but when necessary, appropriate herbicides (eg. Nitrofen) are added to the irrigation water. Flooded taro responds well to fertilizer, up to about 1,120 kg/ha of either nitrogen or phosphorus. The field is drained in order to fertilize it. After fertilising, the farmer waits three days and then re-floods the field. Azolla grows on its own in many of the flooded fields, thereby providing additional fertility. Most growers make little or no effort to manage the Azolla.

Upland taro cultivation of taro in Hawaii begins with mechanical land ploughing and harrowing. The crop may be planted on ridges, furrows or on the flat (de la Pena, 1978). The planting material may be huli, or quite commonly, small unmarketable corms. Cultivars preferred for upland planting are Lehua Maoli, and Bun Long. Bun Long is particularly favoured for the making of chips because of the low acridity of its corm. The leaves are also very much preferred for “luau”.

Upland taro is fertilized, first by broadcasting and incorporating the fertilizer into the soil during land preparation; and then side-dressing at 2, 4, and 6 months after planting.

The taro leaf blight disease is present in Hawaii, but it is never severe, probably because of the relatively dry weather. The taro beetle is absent.

Upland taro matures in about 12 months, while flooded taro is ready for harvest in about 15 months. However, flooded taro yields are higher than upland taro. In Hawaii, yields of 37-75 tonnes/ha have been recorded for flooded taro, while upland taro yields about half as much.

Taro cultivation in Hawaii represents the highest level of technology and intensity of cultivation of the crop on earth. The flooded taro cultivation, especially in the Hanalei valley (Figure 6), consistently returns some of the highest yields in the world.

It is true that the area and production of taro in Hawaii, having declined from earlier peaks, have remained stable in the past few years. Further declines are unlikely because of the specialist niche market which Hawaiian taro serves. This market rests on two strong groups of clientele:

(a) The North American tourists keen to sample taro products as part of their Hawaiian cultural experience;

(b) The indigenous Hawaiians eager to consume taro as a reminder of their culture which they are so keen to preserve.

Active research on taro is going on at the Kauai Agricultural Experiment Station. Hawaiian taro production is already on a fully commercial footing, and storable processed products (Poi and chips) are already being made from taro. All the requisites are therefore in place to sustain the taro industry far into the future on the Hawaiian Islands.

Figure 6. Taro Fields in the Hanalei Valley, Hawaii

6.16 Taro Cultivation in the Philippines

The Philippines has the largest area devoted to taro in Asia proper, apart from China. In 1996, about 34,000 hectares of land were devoted to taro, producing about 117,000 tonnes (FAO, 1997). Still taro is a relatively minor crop in the Philippines. The food basket is dominated by rice and maize, with the root crops as a group coming lower in the order. Even among the root crops, greater quantities of sweet potato and cassava are produced compared to taro (locally called Gabi).

There are two main production systems for taro in the Philippines. Dryland/upland is the most common and is used in most of the subsistence production. Wetland/lowland cultivation occurs, but it is restricted to certain regions, and is usually operated on a commercial or semi-commercial basis. Yields are generally low throughout the country, usually averaging less than 5 tonnes/ha.

Planting is done in holes or occasionally in furrows. Interplant spacing is 80-100cm either way. Taro is often intercropped with bananas and upland rice. A considerable amount of taro is grown in home gardens, mainly for the leaves. Usually, 3-4 cultivars may be found growing in the same garden.

Harvesting is done 8-13 months after planting. Both taro corms and taro leaves are utilised for food in the Philippines. Some stolon-producing cultivars are grown for the stolons which are used for food. Most of the corm harvest is marketed as the fresh product, although some amount goes into the making of taro chips. Kalpao is one of the recommended local varieties (Pardales & Villanueva, 1984), but more recently, cultivar Iniito has become the most popular. It has purplish flesh, is fairly tolerant to the taro leaf blight, and is strictly for upland cultivation. Other cultivars include Dalwangan, Monoy, Binisaynon, Pinalawan etc. In some remote localities, taro corms and leaves are used in traditional medicine, evidence of the long association of the people with the plant (Pancho, 1984).

The taro leaf blight is present in the country, but does not result in serious economic losses. The taro beetle is practically absent, although one species of Papuana has been reported in the country.

Since about the mid-1990’s, a taro export trade has sprung up in the Philippines. The export goes mainly to New Zealand, and the main operator for now is the Dole Company. Some taro research takes place at the Philippine Root Crop and Training Center in Beybey, on Leyte.

6.17 Taro Cultivation in Malaysia

Malaysia is one of the areas where taro is said to have originated. Not surprisingly, records of taro use as a food crop date back more than 2,000 years (Ghani, 1984). Today, taro features not just as a food item but also as a prominent item in traditional medicine and folklore. Locally it is called keladi, although other aroids and even yams are similarly called. Numerous wild relatives of taro occur, especially in the Malay Peninsula.

The long-term association notwithstanding, taro is today a minor crop in Malaysia, becoming significant only if and when the rice crop fails. Total taro hectarage throughout the country is probably about 1000ha. The main consumers of taro in Malaysia are the ethnic Chinese population. Numerous cultivars are in cultivation. Short season (4-6 months) cultivars include Keladi Pinang and Keladi Tongsan. Longer-season (9-12 months) cultivars include Keladi China, Batang Hitam and Keladi Nibong Merah. There are even cultivars that do not produce corms but which are grown mainly for their edible leaves and petioles.

6.18 Taro Cultivation in Japan

Taro was introduced into Japan over 2000 years ago. In the twentieth century, there has been a decline in its production and consumption as sweet potato and Irish potato increased in prominence. Table 13 shows that both the area of taro cultivated in Japan, and the per capita consumption have both declined since the early part of the twentieth century.

Table 13. Area Planted of Taro in Japan, and Per Capita Taro Consumption Each Year for Various Periods in the Twentieth Century.

Years

Area Planted (ha/yr)

Per Capita Consumption (kg/yr)

1907-1911

58,142

24.6

1923-1924

52,818

21.9

1925-1944

56,529

20.3

1945-1965

30,708

5.3

1966-1972

37,000

5.3

1973-1985

30,000


Source: Adapted from Nishiyama (1984).
Today, taro is grown in Japan not as a staple, but mainly as a vegetable. In this regard, it ranks fourth in terms of area planted, behind radish, cabbage and Chinese cabbage. It is grown mainly for the petioles and leaves, and to a lesser extent for the corms and cormels. Since the 1970’s, the area of taro cultivated in Japan has remained fairly steady at between 20-30 thousand hectares. Average yield is approximately 13 tonnes/ha.

Most of the taro grown in Japan is of the eddoe type. Because of the temperate conditions, short-season cultivars are preferred, and even then, most of the cultivation occurs in the warmer southern parts of the country. The cultivation strategy is basically geared towards getting the maximum amount of growth during the short growing season available.

Before planting in the field, small suckers are first raised in nursery beds for 1-2 months until they sprout and attain the 3-leaf stage. The sprouted seedlings are then transplanted to the field as soon as the average field temperature reaches 15ºC or more. This usually occurs in May. Field spacing can range from 75 × 30 cm to 100 × 30 cm. Plastic mulch is often used to cover the soil as a means of attaining warmer temperatures early in the season, and also for weed control. Compound NPK fertilizer is commonly applied, and the addition of lime during field preparation is also recommended. It is suggested that deep planting hinders the enlargement of the underground parts, so the initial planting is kept shallow, and earthing up is done two or three times as the taro grows (Nishiyama, 1984). Nematodes can be a problem, but can be controlled by rotating with other crops.

Taro leaf petioles (locally called “zuiki”) are consumed as a vegetable delicacy in Japan. The corms and cormels are also utilized. The cool ambient temperatures permit post-harvest storage of corms and cormels in the field. However, they should not be allowed to get cooler than 6ºC. For this reason, they are covered with earth during field storage. The colder the outside temperature, the thicker the layer of earth should be.

Taro is a very minor crop in Japan, and will remain so for the forseeable future. The major constraint to its production and expansion is the temperate condition which predominates in the country, and the attendant shortness of the growing season.

6.19 Taro Cultivation in China

China produces about 1.39 million tonnes of taro per year. The area of taro harvested each year is approximately 82,000 hectares, and the average yield is about 16.8 tonnes/ha.

The area devoted to taro in China may appear large, but is indeed quite small when compared to the total land area of the country. In reality, China devotes a smaller percentage of its total land area to taro than does any of the countries in the foregoing discussion. Similarly, the per capita consumption of taro in China is smaller than that of any of the foregoing countries. It is not surprising therefore that taro is a relatively insignificant crop in Chinese agriculture.

Taro cultivation in China shares many of the same characteristics with taro cultivation in Japan. Most of the production is confined to the warmer southern and coastal parts of the country. In the cooler regions, the growing season is too short for any meaningful production.

While the taro may be planted directly in the field, the practice of pre-sprouting the suckers in nursery beds is also quite common. The crop is planted out in the field early in the spring. Rice straw and plastic mulches may be used to warm the soil early in the season and to control weeds. Fertilizers are frequently used.

Taro and petioles are harvested from the field as needed, for use as vegetables. The corm and cormel are harvested before any frost occurs on the field. Most of the corm and cormels are utilized fresh, since there is very little processing of taro into dried forms. Only occasionally, the taro may be made into chips, or incorporated into ice cream.

Taro is likely to continue as a minor crop in China, used mainly as a vegetable. It will remain insignificant in the face of rice as the dominant staple.


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