TARO IS BACK IN AMERICAN SAMOA, THANKS TO THE EFFORTS OF MANY

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By Aeo'ainuu Aleki

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (March 27, 2000 - Samoa News/PINA Nius Online)---Taro is coming back, and the farmers of Tutuila and Manua are once again filling the local market stands with healthy taro products.

They even began to supply the school lunch program, substituting the local staple for imported foods --making our children more healthy and our families more wealthy.

It has been a long hard struggle recovering from the total devastation from the taro blight disease that descended on the Samoan islands almost ten years ago.

At the time, Tauiliili Pemerika was director of Land Grant. Though he has since retired, he has remained very active in the ongoing efforts to revive a taro industry in American Samoa.

Tauiliili told Samoa News that the recovery of taro production in the territory was accomplished largely through the painstaking efforts of some people off-island, in Hawai‘i and Palau, as well as the efforts of the local Agriculture Department and ASCC's (American Samoa Community College’s) Land Grant Division.

"I would give the credit mainly to Professor Edwardo Trujillo of the University of Hawai‘i."

When the blight hit, "Trujillo went to a place he knew well, Palau, and brought 20 species of Palau taro and had them tested in Hawai‘i. Since 1993, the species were tested" and crossbred for the highest tolerance to the disease.

"When he finished, the professor distributed the stuff with the highest tolerance level to us here. We test-planted some at Land Grant, and when the results were positive, we started distributing the cultivars to the local farmers, at $1 a piece and 20 cultivars per farmer. The rest is history."

The Palau taro has since made its way to many taro farms in Apia, he said, noting that many taro tops were smuggled over in suitcases and through other unconventional means.

The Palau variety has shown more versatile qualities than other cultivars developed elsewhere, he said. "Not only is Palau taro the most tolerant, up to 80% in test results, but it has a variety advantage, in that different species grow well in different locations and soils. Some even are good for producing fleshy roots, but others may be better than other species for producing good luaus.

"The good thing is that, farmers are now experimenting, and will eventually find their own different kinds and preferences.

Tauiliili said researchers at the University of Hawai‘i have developed a hybrid taro, crossing Palau taro and taro fili (the taro variety developed in neighboring Samoa) to come up with a superior quality that combines the best of the two parents.

He said UH now owns the patent rights to the taro product, and there is speculation that that it may cost $40,000 to obtain one cultivar of the hybrid taro.

Deputy Director of Agriculture, Peter Gurr, confirmed that the Palau taro has proven to be the most versatile cultivar, as compared to the taro fili and other species.

Ag is still doing research (for example, checking out a taro cultivar that reportedly matures in four months instead of the usual eight months), but at the same time the Ag Department enjoys showing farmers the various ways Palau taro is being planted right now.

Tauiliili concluded that the credit should go to Professor Trujillo and his research department at UH, the Palau people for sticking for so long with their taro type and being willing to share it with us, and the local departments of Land Grant and Agriculture, especially the research officers Fred Brookes and Pete Gurr.

Items from the SAMOA NEWS, American Samoa's daily newspaper, may not be republished without permission. To contact the publisher, send e-mail to

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