The PNG sweet potato mystery


In the Papua New Guinea highlands, the staple food crop of sweet potato sometimes becomes scarce - with no apparent cause. Research over the course of a decade discovered why. When sweet potato was somewhat scarce, usually as a result of too much or too little rain, village men cleared more fertile land for planting and women increased the planting rate. This resulted in a surplus of sweet potato the following year, so villagers then reversed their behaviour. This leads to a second food shortage - with no apparent cause - about two years after the first. Mystery solved!

Dr Mike Bourke
Saccharine potatoes, or Ipomoea batata, are native to South America, where they were domesticated at least 5000 years ago. They’re additionally prevalent in Polynesia, and radio carbon dating of saccharine potato remains in the Cook Islands places them at 1000 AD, with most researchers figuring they date back to at least 700 AD. The Peruvian Quechua word for saccharine potato is kumar, while it’s called the remarkably kindred kumara in Polyenesia, prompting notional theorisation that early South American voyagers genuinely introduced the tuber to the South Pacific. At any rate, they’re ambrosial, they’re eaten everywhere, and they have a lengthy tradition of being consumed by salubrious people.
Mark 5 years 3 months ago
Interesting research on staple food in highlands of PNG
Max Kuduk 5 years 1 month ago

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Updated:  24 April, 2017/Responsible Officer:  Dean, ANU College of Asia & the Pacific/Page Contact:  CAP Web Team