The causes and consequences of taro leaf blight in Samoa and the implications for trade patterns in taro in the South Pacific region. (93)

Eddie Chan, Mary Milne, Euan Fleming


Before 1993, the taro export industry in Samoa was a success story. Based on private initiatives, the industry had developed impressively from the late 1960s on the basis of a market focus strategy directed towards an identifiable market segment in specific Pacific rim markets with large expatriate Polynesian populations. However, the taro industry in Samoa was decimated in 1993 with the incidence of taro leaf blight (TLB), caused by the fungus, Phytophthora colocasiae. The fungus attacks the leaves and stems of the taro, leading to either stunting or failure to produce a corm. In response, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, Forestry and Meteorology (MAFFM) instituted a number of initiatives to control TLB, including input subsidies, development of resistant varieties, and food crop diversification. As a short-term measure, it developed a control package combining fungicide applications and sanitation. Given that smallholders are the main producers and exporters of taro, the adoption rate has been minimal and, hence, the level of exports has fallen to almost zero. The medium-term strategy of MAFFM has been to introduce exotic cultivars with some known resistance or tolerance to the disease and reasonable palatability so as to increase future smallholder taro production. The long-term strategy is a breeding programme to build up the resistance in local varieties. The implications of TLB on the economic circumstances in Samoa, and for taro trade and domestic prices in the South Pacific region are also explored.


Disease control; Leaf blight; Samoa; Taro; Trade

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