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Could become major export item

By Oseah Philemon PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, Aug. 18, 2010) – Pacific Islanders living in New Zealand who regularly visit the giant Auckland food market could soon be buying Papua New Guinea (PNG) taro from the Markham Valley in Morobe Province.

This could happen if the trials being undertaken by New Zealand aid funded organization Bris Kanda Incorporated and the women of the valley prove successful and sustainable on a commercial basis. Auckland market is where Pacific island countries like Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu and others export tons of garden produce from taro to yams, bananas, coconuts, sweet potatoes or kaukau and vegetables of all kinds to the huge demand of the thousands of Pacific islanders who live in that city and other parts of New Zealand.

Similar markets are found in Sydney, Brisbane and other cities of Australia where growing numbers of Pacific islanders live. Former agriculture minister Moses Maladina once tried to assist Milne Bay women export taro to New Zealand but his efforts were not successful.

Mr. Maladina was formerly PNG’s high commissioner to New Zealand and knows about the Auckland market. He is now back in government as minister assisting the prime minister.

Taro is now following the footsteps of cocoa as the next economic agriculture project for people who once relied on betel nut as their main source of income. After a deadly betel nut virus wiped out the Markham betel nut, the people are now forced to look at alternative sources of earning an income.

Cocoa and now taro seem to provide the answer thanks to Bris Kanda and its super active general manager Lukis Romaso.

[PIR editor’s note: Islands Business reported that in 2000, Papua New Guinea produced around 332,000 tons of taro of which 30 percent was damaged by taro beetles with losses of AU$45.9 million [US$41.5 million. Additionally, it states that most species of taro beetles belong to the genus Papuana and are native to the Indo-Pacific; 14 out of the 19 occur in PNG.]

As cocoa takes a firm hold in the Huon District of the Morobe Province, women have gone into growing taro with the aim of one day reaching the level where they can export top quality taro to New Zealand and Australia. Mr. Romaso said the first aim is to meet local needs and work with the women to grow high quality taro on a sustainable basis throughout the year before considering exports. "That is the next aim but it will come some years later when we know we can really do it because exporting means you must do it on a regular basis for a long time."

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