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Efforts underway to rescue vulnerable bananas, giant swamp taro, other Pacific Island crops
Date:10/21/2010

SYDNEY (22 October 2010)Hoping to save the vulnerable varieties of bananas painted by the artist Paul Gauguin, rare coconuts, and 1,000 other unique varieties of staple fruit and vegetable crops across the Pacific, crop specialists from nine islands have launched a major effort to preserve the indigenous diversity of foods that are deemed critical to combating diet-related health problems.

"Through this project we will bring together 1,000 unique samples of Pacific crops for long-term conservation," said Dr. Mary Taylor, Manager of the Centre for Pacific Crops and Trees (CePaCT) at the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC). "Crop collections in the Pacific are very vulnerable; all they need is a disease outbreak or a cyclone to destroy the entire collection. These collections are essential if we are going to maintain traditional Pacific crops for future generations."

For example, only a few of the varieties of the orange- and yellow-fleshed Fe'i banana, famously painted by former Pacific island resident Gauguin, are still found in farmers' fields. Studies by Dr. Lois Englberger from the Island Food Community of Pohnpei in the Federated States of Micronesia have shown that these bananas are an excellent source of beta-carotene, essential for the production of vitamin A. Vitamin A deficiencycausing blindness, greatly weakened immune systems and even death in infantsis now common in parts of the Pacific. Good beta-carotene levels in the diet also help protect against non-communicable diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease that are now at epidemic rates throughout the Pacific Islands.

The Pacific region is made up of 22 countries and territories with a relatively small population spread out amongst approximately 7,500 islands covering 30 million square kilometersnearly twice the size of Russia. There is little maize, wheat, or rice grown in the region. Instead, farmers have cultivated many varieties of root crops and starchy fruit
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Contact: Megan Dold
mdold@burnesscommunications.com
301-280-5720
Burness Communications
Source:Eurekalert  

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