By Seniorl Anzu
Potato has been an important food and cash crop for the rural population in the high altitudes of PNG. However, the incursion of the Potato Late Blight (PLB) disease in 2003 has severely destroyed potato crops, impacting on the growers and consumers. The disease hit PNG at a time when the country’s potato industry was worth around K15 million annually.
The hit deprived farmers of food and income. Sequoia, the common commercial variety, which has been widely cultivated in PNG, is highly susceptible to PLB. And with favorable climatic conditions, it has been proven difficult to grow without weekly fungicide sprays.
Nevertheless, with support from the Australian Government and other partners, local agencies have conducted extensive research and development activities in a bid to manage the blight. This includes the evaluation and identification of potato varieties tolerant to PLB, which were introduced from the International Potato Centre in Peru. The evaluation has been headed by the National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) to assess the varieties’ or clones’ level of tolerance against PLB under PNG highland conditions as well as other features such as the tuber shape, tuber skin and flesh colour, taste, processing quality and yield.
The good news is that two new potato varieties have been preliminarily released to the PNG farming community this year following field research results and farmer reactions. The two varieties, labelled as NP 01 and NP 02, have proven to be late blight-resistant; and met other agronomic traits, including yield, taste and processing quality.
Following successful on-station research trials, the clones have been further tested in 15 sites in the Highlands and Morobe provinces – PNG’s potato growing regions. The release gives potato growers an option to try new varieties without much application of weekly fungicides, a practice which turned out to be costly, limiting scale of production, and disadvantaging the unfortunates and low income earners.