Collaborator with DAFF in ACIAR supported project – Identifying appropriate strategies for reducing virus and weevil losses in sweetpotato production systems in Papua New Guinea and Australia

Papua New Guinea (PNG) produces approximately 2,870,000 tonne of sweetpotato (compared with Australia’s 100,000 tonnes) annually and accounts for 64% of the countries staple food production.

Within ACIAR’s broader development goal of increasing the resilience of food security systems, the specific aim of this project is to identify strategies for managing sweetpotato pests and diseases in PNG and Australia. Specific objectives are to:

  1. To assess the value of Pathogen Tested (PT) planting materials in reducing the impact of virus diseases
  2. To identify the most promising management tactics for sweetpotato weevils in specific production systems

Project partners are National Agricultural Research Institute Papua New Guinea (NARI), Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Queensland (DAFF), Australian Sweetpotato Growers’ Inc. (ASPG), Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), and the International Potato Center (CIP), Peru.

As part of its role in the project, ASPG was able to purchase a real time PCR machine. The machine is located at DAFF’s Gatton Research Facility and operated by staff at the centre. This machine enables identification of viruses such as Begomovirus, and greatly improves the Australian sweetpotato industries virus diagnostic capability. The project has enabled Queensland scientists to meet with world leading virologists and work towards standardising the regions virus testing procedures, giving confidence that correct diagnostics are being made, whether in Australia, Papua New Guinea or Fiji. This will allow the Australian industry to be more aware of virus issues that may be on our doorstep.

With ASPG involvement the project has been able to ascertain that West Indian sweetpotato weevil, a weevil not yet believed to be in Australia, can be found in both high altitude and lowland areas of PNG. It will tolerate cooler temperatures than Cylas formicarius the sweetpotato weevil found in Australia, and will successfully co-exist with Cylas. The project provided information to the Northern Australian Quarantine strategy so they are aware of this pest near our border. ASPG has also been involved in educating PNG researchers, extension officers and farmers on the biology, ecology and management techniques for sweetpotato weevils.

The work is continuing.