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On the Trail of Taro

South Pacific

As a Genebank Impacts Fellow for The Crop Trust, she conducted fieldwork in the South Pacific to explain to the world the importance of preserving genetic diversity in our global seed banking system as published in her peer reviewed article: The Tale of Taro Leaf Blight.

The prestige aroid, taro – Colocasia esculenta – is a staple food crop that has helped to sustain humanity for millennia. Considered an ancestor to the Hawaiian people, a cultural totem given at all major life events throughout the South Pacific and eaten daily amongst subtropical countries globally. What then would happen if this crop was ever lost? The Tale of Taro Leaf Blight recounts the South Pacific’s version of the Irish potato famine and how a cocktail of climatic conditions proliferated a devastating epidemic of taro leaf blight (TLB) (Phytophthora colocasiae) on the Independent State of Samoa in 1993. Within a period of around six months, there was an almost 100% crop loss; causing a cultural, food security and economic catastrophe. 


The disaster cast a poignant light on the dangers of monoculture and relying on narrow allelic diversity. This event provided the global impetus, to establish several international organizations to conduct botanical expeditions, in order to gather specimens from various centers of origin that expressed natural resistance to the blight.

Sefra & her team conducted ethnobotanical fieldwork, gathering an impact story that showcases the vital importance of the conservation and use of the global genetic diversity of the crop taro. On this journey, we outline the germplasm flow of how, why and by whom the global diversity of taro was gathered by traveling to the Island nations where these key characters live and recording the story firsthand. 

She has continued to assist the Crop Trust with their BOLD Project, identifying countries that required grant funding to safeguard their countries seed collections. She wrote this article to educate the public about the importance of seed banking: here.

This video was illustrated from images of her fieldwork to inspire a larger audiences about the importance of preserving our global arcs of biodiversity. 

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