The importance of plant genetic resources


Nari is the custodian of the Papua New Guinea’s collection of primary varieties of staple crop breeds known as plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. Nari’s JANET PAOFA explains more on the issue

Papua New Guinea has a rich diversity of plants and crop species.
However, many of these have never been scientifically investigated, conserved and exploited for their livelihood potentials.
Due to this, loss of these resources is becoming a serious threat to food and socio-economic security of the nation.
To address this dilemma, efforts have been made to conserve, manage and utilise the diverse range of our plant and crop resources.
The National Agricultural Research Institute (Nari) is the custodian of the country’s collection of primary varieties of staple crop breeds known as plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA).
These are cultivars with desired qualities that have been collected originally from smallholder farmers, including selected wild and emerging crop species.
“Genetic erosion” or the loss of PGRFA both in the wild and on farms are caused by a number of factors.
One of the most critical threats nowadays is posed by environmental degradation from unsustainable development projects.
Large mining, logging and urbanisation programmes cause substantial amounts of deforestation and environmental degradation that lead to rapid rates of decline in the survival, populations and spread of local varieties of plant and crop species.
Commercialisation of farming systems and market preferences are also contributing factors as farmers focus on producing varieties that meet popular demand and consumption trends.
In the process of selecting and propagating certain varieties over other, some varieties with useful qualities are often overlooked and eventually lost.
Abiotic and biotic stresses may also cause substantial loss of genetic resources between or within plant populations.
Abiotic stresses such as extreme dry periods, floods and high temperatures, may create unfavourable climatic and environmental conditions in ecosystems and habitats to support the survival of many plant and crop species.
These conditions usually trigger biotic stresses such as pest and disease outbreaks which raise the levels of damage and loss even more.
Over time, accumulated effects of these stresses often result in the ultimate loss of many useful varieties.
It is important for the smallholder farming community to have a holistic understanding and knowledge about the importance of sustainable conservation and management of PGRFA, of both cultivated and wild crop species.
Nari maintains six national genetic resource collections in field gene-banks at four lowland and two highland research centres, around the country.
A collection of over 100 lowland sweet potato accessions is held at the Islands Regional Centre at Keravat, East New Britain.
Another collection of over 400 taro accessions is kept at the Mamose Regional Centre at Bubia, Morobe.
At the Laloki Southern Regional Centre outside Port Moresby; there are altogether more than 400 accessions of yam, banana, aibika and cassava varieties being conserved.
There is a collection of over 700 highland sweet potato accessions maintained at the first Highlands’ Regional Centre at Aiyura, Eastern Highland.
The second centre at Tambul, Western Highlands; has a collection of 12 accessions of high-altitude sweet potato and some pyrethrum varieties.
A good number of improved crop species are conserved under in-vitro storage (tissue culture) as well while seeded crops like corn, rice and beans are conserved in seed-banks.
Database on PGRFA consist of information recorded at the point of collection as well as characterisation and preliminary datasets generated from assessments conducted at the institute’s research stations.
Field collections of plant genetic resources are very essential as they have great use in developing crop varieties with improved traits for better yields; resistance to pest and diseases; tolerance to drought and good nutritional value.
To date, Nari has bred, evaluated and released several improved varieties of several staple crops.
Examples of these include taro hybrids that are resistant to Taro Leaf Blight; sweet potato varieties with high carotene contents; and drought tolerant cassavas with low cyanide content.
These innovations have helped to enhance food security and resilience against extreme
climatic events across PNG’s coastal and highland regions, in recent years.
Nari disseminates information about the importance of conserving, and managing PGRFA through avenues such as community resource centres, field days, agriculture shows and farmer trainings.
While some success has been realised, there is still great need for more collaboration with relevant agencies and stakeholders.
This is to ensure that adequate investments are made to build capacities needed to sustainably manage our diverse plant and
crop genetic resources, in years to come.

  • Janet Paofa is a plant curator based at Nari’s Laloki Research Centre, Central