International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture

BSF Project - Fourth Cycle

In situ Conservation and Utilization of Sweetpotato (Ipomoea batatas) and Taro (Colocasia esculenta) for Climate Smart Agriculture Vulnerable Farmers in Papua New Guinea
Where are we working?

Some locations in rural farming communities of Papua New Guinea (PNG) are extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change and face serious food security issues. This situation is aggravated by the diminishing agrobiodiversity of important staple food crops cultivated to support households. Sweet potato is the most important staple food crop for the majority of the population in PNG in terms of production and consumption, and is now also a crop of commercial significance. The project aims to support Family Farm Teams (FFT) in the four selected project sites to maintain and conserve sweet potato diversity and build resilience against the imminent threats to food and nutrition security.

What are we doing?

The main activities undertaken so far include the establishment of a working collection of 170 sweet potato accessions from various sources, including locally NARI-maintained germplasm (116), international partners (CePACT-Fiji/CIP-Peru) (38) and local farmers (16), to increase the agrobiodiversity. An Alpha Lattice design was used to evaluate and further select a core sample for Aiyura and Bubia, numbering 59 and 60, respectively. The accessions were further evaluated and final selections have been made for participatory varietal selection (PVS) and polycross breeding. After the evaluation trials, 16 and 23 accessions were selected for the highland and lowland sites, respectively. These are being used for PVS and polycross breeding at the respective project sites. Polycross nurseries at the three selected on-station sites – MRC-Bubia, HRC-Aiyura and Unitech – have been established, while PVS preparations are ongoing.
Of the five planned workshops, the FFT goal-setting workshop was conducted at all four project sites. Some of the key skills and knowledge that were imparted to the farmers have included:
  • Balancing families in terms of workload sharing, time management and setting family farm goals
  • Families planning their farm together as a team
  • Feeding the Family Farm Teams
  • Effective communication and decision-making in families

What has been achieved to date?

The major activities undertaken so far have involved the preparation of sweet potato accessions on-station to be used in the project. Some of the outputs achieved to date have included:
  • The successful assembling of 170 working collections and the subsequent selection of 60 accessions each for the core collections at the 2 project implementing stations: Aiyura and Bubia.
  • An evaluation of the 2 sets of core collections and the resulting selection of 16 and 23 accessions for the polycross breeding and participatory varietal selection trials for highlands and lowlands, respectively.
  • The selected accessions for the above trials are now being bulked up on-station and on-site before distribution to the Family Farm Teams and polycross nurseries at schools.
Interaction with farmers centred around the rollout of the FFT goal-setting workshop at all project sites, following capacity-building for NARI staff at Bubia, Aiyura and Kerevat centres.

Who has benefited?

To date, the project has benefited:
  • 20 project scientists (9 women), through Family Farm Team training;
  • 90 Family Farm Teams (45 women), involved in the project and introduced to the FFT concept; and
  • 6 teachers (2 women) from local schools, trained to manage the polycross nurseries.

Best practices and success stories

The widespread adoption of sweet potato as an alternative food and feed crop by the Rigwali farmers in Rigo District is testament to the crop being accepted, and subsequently introduced into their farming system. Rigo is primarily dependent on banana as the sole staple crop and has become vulnerable to the impacts of climate change-induced hazards. Sweet potato has proved a welcome alternative for farmers, who accepted it with enthusiasm, even before the PVS was conducted. Sweet potato was recently introduced to this site by another project funded by the European Union and implemented by NARI.
The need for appropriate tools such as spades has emerged alongside the introduction of sweet potato, and these are now been acquired; previously, spades had not been used to till the land.
Acceptance by the farmers of accessions introduced into their farming systems at Teptep in Raikos, Usurufa in Kainantu and Concordia in Menyamya Districts is also encouraging. Their main staple crop is sweet potato, and the farmers have a number of cultivars that they grow, but these have produced poor yields. The idea of in-situ conservation and utilization of sweet potato diversity appealed to them as they face droughts and other disasters more frequently these days.
The results achieved by the Family Farm Teams were the following:
  • (a) At Usurufa – Two couples have worked through their family goals and have made significant progress; one family has organized its family gardens using the cropping calendar to farm sweet potato and Irish potato for family consumption and incomes. Decisions are taken as a family unit and workloads are shared. The other family has done likewise, but admitted to failure in terms of financial decision-making and recommitted to improving.
  • (b) Formation of a Plant Genetic Resource (PGR) committee – Family farm teams have embraced the principles of establishing Sweet Potato PGR committees at farming community level, which would effectively take charge of conserving their plant genetic resources. They have come to realize that conservation of PGR is key to ensuring household resilience during difficult times. They also appreciate the nutritional and economic benefits and potential of agrobiodiversity to ensuring the sustainability of their family farms.
Sweet potato
Window 2 - Immediate action projects
Region: South West Pacific
Target Countries: Papua New Guinea
Implementing institution: Papua New Guinea Agriculture Research Institute
Contact details: Dr Birte Komolong: ([email protected])

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