Many people in the Pacific do not realize that bele (Abelmoschus manihot) is one of the most nutritious traditional vegetables in Oceania. “This indigenous green vegetable can play an important role in improving micronutrient deficiencies in the diets of Pacific Island people, who suffer from some of the highest rates of diet-related non-communicable diseases in the world,” said Sairusi Bulai, Acting Director for the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) Land Resources Division. Mr. Bulai made the observation during a three-day regional meeting that began on 4 December 2013 to discuss the Bele Project, an initiative to promote the crop for sustainable development in the region. The meeting was held at SPC’s Centre for Pacific Crops and Trees (CePaCT) at Narere, Fiji.
Participants from New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Fiji were joined by AVRDC Genebank Manager Andreas Ebert, Project Coordinator–Pacific Islands Ellen Iramu, and representatives of the FAO Treaty Secretariat in Rome, the Biosecurity Authority of Fiji, and staff of SPC.
“Bele is known to many of us in the Pacific by several names, such as aibika, aelan cabbage, slippery cabbage or pele, and it has so much potential, yet it is neglected when compared to the research and funding invested on other vegetable crops,” Bulai said.
The project will consolidate protocols for conserving bele using tissue culture methods and virus indexing developed at SPC to support capacity building for partner countries and the region. AVRDC will share its expertise in molecular characterization and the diversity of bele germplasm available in the Center’s genebank. In each participating country, bele diversity will be indentified, and climate-resilient varieties with demonstrated tolerance to pests and diseases will be selected. The project will conduct economic analyses of production methods for bele, and delve into biosecurity issues and requirements for export markets. Bele consumption will be promoted through posters highlighting its unique diversity and nutritional qualities.
A regional core collection to be established at CePaCT will be the project’s major achievement—something that has never occurred in previous projects on the crop.
The Bele Project is funded by French Pacific Funds.
Secretariat of the Pacific Community