Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Private sector engages in Philippines papaya research

A new ACIAR project in the Philippines and Australia is partnering with the private sector to help papaya growers come up with better ways to manage serious crop diseases.

Papaya researchers at the Institute of Plant Breeding,
University of Philippines Los BaƱos
In the Philippines, papaya is an important and continually expanding crop. The papaya industry produces close to 160,000 tonnes each year. Most of this is used for domestic consumption, but about 5% is exported as fresh, tinned or dried products. In comparison, the Australian industry (mostly in Queensland) is small, with an average production of 13,000 tonnes per year.

Bacterial crown rot (BCR) is devastating papaya production in the Philippines and many other countries – it is not yet identified in Australia. Very little is known about this disease and how it is transmitted, but it has been responsible for losses of 50–100% of papaya trees in many parts of the southern Philippines. Papaya growers in Mindanao have identified BCR as the most important disease in the region.

Del Monte's papaya nursery near Cagayan de Oro, Mindanao
This new research will investigate integrated disease management strategies for BCR. It will also investigate the disease ‘dieback’ in Australia. This is a phytoplasma-related disease known to cause plant losses of between 10 and 100% in any one season. Both dieback and BCR are characterised by rotting of the plant’s crown, causing fruit damage and plant death.

The new four-year project will attempt to characterise the causal organism of BCR, Erwinia sp., especially its pathogenicity and diversity. Learning more about BCR will not only directly help smallholder papaya growers, it will also build the knowledge base of the Australian researchers involved. Should this disease appear in the Australian industry, these researchers will be at the leading edge of disease management strategies.

 On the plant side, a conventional papaya-breeding program will be supported by developing genetic markers – a process of identifying a particular papaya trait with a ‘marker’ DNA sequence within the papaya chromosome. Knowing these marker locations can greatly assist plant breeders in the selection of new varieties with disease resistance, and also potentially for improved consumer qualities. 

Dr Les Baxter, ACIAR's Horticulture research program manager
inspects papaya at a Del Monte field site

The commercial fruit processor Del Monte Philippines, Inc. is a partner in this work. About 300 smallholder papaya growers supply Del Monte’s processing operations in northern Mindanao. This company will undertake papaya field trials and develop the management strategies for BCR, which will directly benefit the growers. Another company investing in this project is the fruit marketer and exporter Sumifru.

This project is a good example of ACIAR’s engagement with the private sector. Through projects such as this one, ACIAR is gaining a better understanding of how to work well with private partners.

By John Oakeshott, ACIAR's Philippines horticulture manager

More information:
ACIAR project HORT/2012/113 Integrated disease management strategies for the productive, profitable and sustainable production of high quality papaya fruit in the southern Philippines and Australia is being led by Queensland’s Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

Factsheet on BCR (by Plant Health Australia) 

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