Unique Pacific banana diversity conserved by SPC

Ms. Logotonu Waqainabete, Assistant Curator of CePaCT-SPC, shows the banana TC meriplants produced in the center laboratory.

 

The Centre for Pacific Crops and Trees (CePaCT) of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) is actively working with Pacific Island countries and territories (PICTs) and global partners in collecting and conserving unique Pacific banana varieties reported to have become increasingly rare.

Work by the Pohnpei Island Food Community (PIFC) on promoting the nutritional side of fe’i cultivars in Kosrae and Pohnpei in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) has generated worldwide interest and awareness about the importance of these bananas.

PIFC’s work found fe’i varieties rich in pro Vitamin A carotenoids, which are important for curing a serious Vitamin A deficiency health problem. The disease  affected the eyes and vision of children and women in FSM and contributed to increased morbidity and mortality in the population.

‘These are unique Pacific bananas, and they are classified into three sub-groups: fe’i, iholena and maoli-popoulu. The fe’i bananas are characterised by an erect bunch, with fruit colour ranging from yellow to orange, depending on the variety,’ explains Ms Logotonu Waqainabete, Assistant Curator at CePaCT.

‘Both iholena and maoli-popoulu bananas are loosely known as Pacific plantains. Iholena bananas have canoe-shaped fruit that are pale yellowish-green or yellowish-orange. The maoli-popoulu varieties have plump, sausage-shaped fruit that are either straight or slightly curved with rounded tips,’ added Ms Waqainabete.

The Pacific Banana Strategy, developed in 2007, was part of the global project for the development and conservation of bananas and plantains — Conserving Banana Diversity for use in Perpetuity.

The project is facilitated by the Pacific Agriculture Plant Genetic Resources Network (PAPGREN) in collaboration with Bioversity International, the Banana Asia Pacific Network and the Global Crop Diversity Trust, which is funding the project.

The project involves SPC, ten participating PICTs and project partners to carry out identification, collection, characterisation, conservation, virus indexing, distribution and evaluation of Pacific bananas. A regional core collection for the Pacific is being established and conserved at CePaCT and will be shared by partners.

CePaCT received a total of over 100 accessions of Pacific bananas from the International Transit Centre of Bioversity International in Belgium and from the ten PICTs participating in the project.

Virus-free accessions have been sent to French Polynesia’s Ministère de l’ Agriculture et de la Pêche, which hosts the regional banana field genebank as well as being responsible for morphological characterisation. Both SPC and Bioversity International are responsible for virus-testing the collection, while New Caledonia’s Institut Agronomique Néo-Calédonien is responsible for the molecular analysis.

Ms. Waqainabete said that the field collection established in French Polynesia also provides a site for the regeneration of in vitro collections, as well as being a training resource for researchers and farmers.

‘Countries are very supportive of our work, knowing that this project will not only benefit the region but  also guard our Pacific diversity against being lost forever,’ added Valerie Tuia, Officer in Charge, Genetic Resources in SPC’s Land Resources Division.

SPC is an active member of BAPNET.

(Report from Valerie Tuia and Logo Waqainabete of SPC)