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Palau: Taro and a national policy on food security

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Palau: Taro and a national policy on food security

APIA, Samoa (Islands Business/ Pacific Climate Change Roundtable) — Saving a cultural icon that women cultivate is one of the key outcomes of a national consultation process in the northern Pacific island state of Palau, the annual Pacific Climate Change Roundtable currently underway in Samoa has heard.

The icon is taro, traditionally grown by women in swampy patches on the lowlands of the larger islands in Palau. Three years ago, taro gardens were under siege from limited freshwater flow and increasing saltwater penetration.

“Using traditional knowledge and good scientific practices, our team was able to isolate the causes of the problem,” says Joe Aitaro of Palau.

“Data collected over trials we conducted on the main island of Babeldaob indicate that the age old practice of slash and burn up in the uplands were in actual fact threatening the very survival of taro patches downstream.”

Aitaro explains that through saltwater testing downstream and soil measurement upstream, his team was able to conclude that slash and burn in the uplands led to increasing sedimentation of streams. This in turn blocks the flow of freshwater to taro patches downstream, allowing as a result more saltwater penetration that threatened the very survival of a crop that is not only a good crop from an economic standpoint, but one that is a symbol of cultural wealth and prestige in Palau.

As part of the exercise, Aitaro and his team also scout for a saltwater resistant variety of taro. They found one “in-house,” in one of the small, atoll islands in Palau’s southwest. Introducing this variety in taro patches in Babeldaob, and discouraging the use of slash and burn upland, the future of taro cultivation is assured.

“All this work contributed to the formulation of our national policy on food security,” says Aitaro. “Under [the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Program’s] Pacific Adaptation to Climate Change project, Palau Community College led the work in this area, conducting trials within taro growing communities in Babeldaob and compiling all the data.

“Our proposed national policy on food security is now before the Palau Congress for endorsement. We’re hoping to have Congress’ stamp of approval by June.”

From an exercise to save Palau’s cultural food icon to a national policy on food security, Aitaro told delegates at Samoa’s Pacific Climate Change Roundtable this week that their work has been all encompassing.

The country’s health department got roped in, promoting the nutritional value of taro as opposed to imported staples like rice. Since meals are provided by the state in Palau’s schools, the department of education has joined the project too with the commitment to serve taro as well as cassava in school meals.

“With all these ideas incorporated in our proposed national policy on food security, the plan is to come up with a sustainable financial mechanism that will ensure the perpetual cultivation of taro, reliance on good agricultural practices, promotion of good nutrition and reducing dependency on imported foods.

“We’re hoping this fund will be financed through both internal as well as external sources,” adds Aitaro.

[Original post at Marianas Variety http://www.mvariety.com/regional-news/76851-palau-taro-and-a-national-policy-on-food-security]

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