Roots, tubers: Moving forward

Editorial

This week we finish our topic on root and tuber crops being important
dietary staples and food
security crops for the
people of PNG.
Recommendations and way forward
Root and tuber crops (RTCs) are a key element in the traditional food system of PNG.
However, not much has been done in terms of research and development (R&D) to give a competitive edge to the existing crops.
Nari and other R&D institutions of the region should take into account lessons learnt from RTC development in countries like Brazil, China, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.
These countries have a high level of production which is supported by strong research programmes for RTC development.
Efficient value chain pathways are backed up by appropriate government policies that create economic opportunities, and food security for citizens of these countries.
The following recommendations are proposed as a guide for R&D organisations in PNG:

  • Research and development organisations are to invest in the value chain and end-user oriented research approaches, to support root and tuber crop -based agri-food enterprises of smallholder producers;
  • more research emphasis should be based on improving breeding strategies by integrating modern breeding tools for RTCs.
  • enhancing genetic resources will allow for the development of improved consumer preferred varieties, with climate resilience and added nutritional values (via biofortification)
  • R&D organisations should embrace capacity building of RTC scientists and address critical gaps in RTC research and development agendas
  • attempt to invest in infrastructure development for RTC research and value addition; and,
  • Encourage and provide a platform for engaging a broad range of partners such as NARS, national programs, private sector companies and NGOs.

There are two (2) main areas where RTCs can make an increased contribution to food security in PNG:
1) There is considerable scope for improving the productivity of RTCs to increase food security of rural producers and contribute to their income.
More research can be done on improving local planting materials and cultivation practices, if government policies redirect efforts to support the RTC projects of R&D institutions.
Research will need to consider the differing requirements of the traditional production systems and the commercial sector.
2) RTCs and other traditional foodstuffs can make a contribution to improving the quality of the rural and urban diet.
While such improvements can theoretically be achieved through other means, there are advantages in linking nutritional programmes with the production of appropriate local food items such as RTCs.
RTCs could have an important role in improving domestic cash flow and gross domestic product (GDP) in the region.
There is scope for export of these crops to other countries of the Pacific as well as worldwide.
Substituting imported cereals with domestic starchy staples
is also an option, however given the prevailing price advantage of cereals, is currently unlikely.
The costs and benefits of promoting root and tuber crops with a view to increasing income per capita and GDP in the region, need careful consideration before new policies and programmes could be devised.
How would this compare with continuing to produce cash crop and other export products, while relying on imports for a significant proportion of food supplies?
– Nari

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