Rebirth of the humble daisy

Nari, Normal

The National, Tuesday August 6th, 2013

 AS we move above 2,000 metres into the chilly high altitude areas of the highlands, there are fewer cash crops and income options for rural farming communities.  

Pyrethrum was introduced to Papua New Guinea in the late 1950s to provide an alternative source of cash income in places where coffee did not perform well. 

The industry has seen a bumpy history since that early introduction.  

Several factors, including com­petition from synthetic pyrethroids in the 1970s, contributed to a decline in production.

Similar production trends are seen in the traditional producing countries of Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda.

Pyrethrum is a small plant with white flowers, commonly known as daisy or chrysanthemum.  

The plant produces a naturally occurring insecticide called pyrethrin.  

The pyrethrin is extracted from the dried flowers and  made into products, primarily insecticides. 

There has been a worldwide resurgence in interest in the natural pyrethrins provided by the humble pyrethrum flower. 

The natural pyrethrins, while effective against insects, have lower toxicity to humans and other wildlife and lower persistence in the environment than other commercial insecticides, including synthetic pyrethroids. 

While not suited to all insecticidal uses, this makes pyrethrins an ecologically sound choice and assures them of an increasing market in an environmentally-conscious world.  

With this renewed interest in natural pyrethrins, there has been growing interest both in the traditional producing countries and new entrants, particularly Australia, and China, and to a lesser extent, the Unites States and Eastern Europe. 

Through Botanical Resources Australia (BRA),  Australia now controls more than 40 per cent of the world market and is the most efficient producer of pyrethrums. 

The Australian success is driven by BRA, with significant reinvestment into industry development and research, particularly breeding, for higher yields and pyrethrin content of the flowers. 

BRA has played an important role in helping PNG to revitalise its pyrethrum industry. 

This was facilitated in 2007 by the Australian Council for International Agricultural Research (Aciar) in partnership with the Enga provincial government, through the Enga Pyrethrum Company (EPC) and NARI, through its High Altitude Research Centre at Tambul and Chemistry Lab at Kila Kila, near Port Moresby.

The project ran for three years to 2010. 

Following closure of the pyrethrum factory at Kagamuga in 1995, many varieties in the fields were lost and flower yields and pyrethrin content declined. 

The yield of dry flowers is important to maintain farmer income and interest, and a high pyrethrin content of the flowers is key to long term viability of the factory and industry.

The Aciar-funded project provided a comprehensive exercise looking at varieties, best practice production methods, processing and marketing. 

Through EPC, the buying price is K2 per kg of dried flowers. 

On average  a farmer produces about 15-25kgs of dry flowers weekly and earns approximately K30 to K50. 

This  modest income helps rural families meet basic family needs.  

With world market opportunities and improvements in local production and relationships between public and private sectors within PNG and Australia, there is great potential for pyrethrum to play an even greater role in PNGean livelihoods.

NARI’s research, with early support from Aciar and BRA, and in collaboration with EPC, has identified clones higher in both flower yield and in pyrethrin content. 

This work is part of an ongoing selection and variety development process. 

For the latest clone release in June 2013, 76 better-performing clones were chosen for on-station screening. 

From this group, the 14 most promising clones were further tested for dry flower yield and pyrethrum content in a series of on-station and farmer field trials.  

While several clones out-performed the benchmark on some sites, a new clone consistently out-performed the others in all the test sites. 

This clone has been released to interested farmers as NARI Pyrethrum-NPy1.  

The clonal selection trials in farmer fields have indicated how pyrethrum can respond to improved soil fertility with potential yield more than double  normally expected. 

This is  an area for future research and a sign that pyrethrum is not just an alternative where nothing else works, but  a sought-after opportunity of first choice. 

Pyrethrum is of interest as it has exhibited some tolerance to dry conditions and to frost. 

While these adverse climate events will detract from yield and farm income, established plants are not as badly affected and normally able to recover.

Like any agricultural industry, pyrethrum needs a solid production base of quality raw materials, good markets with an efficient value chain,  and effective research, knowledge and innovation support systems. 

Continued advances in cloning and management practices are potentially making pyrethrum a much more lucrative crop for farmers. – NARI