International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture

BSF Project - Third Cycle

Using modern biotechnologies to sustain food security in Pacific island countries
Overview
Where are we working?
While Pacific island countries conserve large collections of plant genetic resources of their principal food crops in the Centre for Pacific Crops and Trees (CePaCT) in Fiji, capacity to exploit their full potential is low due to inadequate resources for research and development.
Given the absence of technology, a molecular facility and the current lack of capacity to develop molecular markers and screen collections for their genetic traits, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) and its member states have hitherto relied on developed countries to provide research and development services.
This Benefit-sharing project will build capacity at SPC to carry out plant genetic resource programs, primarily by establishing a facility for DNA fingerprinting with a view to harnessing biodiversity to strengthen crop production in the face of climate change. By focusing on core collections of edible aroids, taro breeding for leaf blight tolerance, monitoring in situ conservation of diverse genotypes, and salinity and drought tolerance in underutilised crops, the project will reduce vulnerability of farmers in Pacific island countries by increasing resilience to climate change and ensure food security through improved genetic resource management.

What are we doing?
  • Establishment of a DNA-fingerprinting facility at SPC CePaCT;
  • Training and capacity building in molecular techniques;
  • Characterization of aroid collections using molecular markers, and enhancement of the Pacific database through linkages to global databases such as DivSeek, Genesys;
  • Development of state-of-the-art aroid breeding program, based on genetic analysis and comparison of new Samoan breeding lines with existing global collections;
  • Evaluation of genetic diversity in farmers’ fields over time and introduction of varietal diversity at the field level;
  • Screening of collections and farmers’ varieties for tolerance to salinity and drought.

What has been achieved to date?
The University of Queensland, Australia, will provide expertise to establish a laboratory for molecular genetics, provide a post-doctoral researcher, and transfer appropriate technologies for use on conserved collections, and in situ breeders’ lines. Capacity will be built to develop molecular markers to select breeders’ lines for drought and salinity resistance. Pacific scientists will be empowered through capacity building and technology transfer and trained in the use of biotechnology.
A Pacific genetic resources database will be upgraded with value-added information on molecular and phenotypic data. Evaluation of collections will improve decision making, and accelerate breeding programs due to targeted selection. Particularly, new nutrient-rich taro lines, tolerant to leaf blight and other stresses of climate change will be identified, developed and disseminated to communities.
Through the improved management of crop genetic resources, the project is expected to increase resilience and food security of farmers in Pacific island countries who are facing the challenges of climate change and associated outbreaks of new pests and diseases. Livelihoods of small farmers will improve due to the commercial value of adapted varieties.

Who has benefited?
Approximately 45 scientists from the eight participating countries, five technicians from CePaCT, as well as the current taro breeder at SPC plus two new staff (DNA scientist and research assistant for databasing) will directly benefit from project implementation, capacity building, technology transfer and training.
Moreover, 200 farmers in Samoa will participate in the taro breeding program, 50 farmers will be selected to test methods of broadening the genetic base of taro maintained in farmers’ fields, and over 20 regional student scientists from the University of the South Pacific and Fiji National University will be trained at the new facility at SPC on molecular technology.
Crops
Taro and Yams
Window 3 - Co-development and Transfer of Technology project
Region: South West Pacific
Target Countries: Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga
Implementing institution: Secretariat of the Pacific Community

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