15 Apr 2015

Vanuatu bans GM seeds as crops replanted

8:13 pm on 15 April 2015

The Vanuatu government has banned the importation of genetically modified seeds as relief supplies arrive after Cyclone Pam.

The Category 5 cyclone which hit the country in mid-March destroyed more than 90 percent of food gardens, and seeds have been identified as a priority amid a looming food shortage.

Director of Biosecurity Timothy Tumukon said the country had traditionally imported normal and hybrid seeds but his ministry draws the line when it comes to genetically modified material.

"We will not allow any seeds that are, that have genetically modified material in them into the country. Just for the purpose of being on the precautionary side of things. Making sure that we are protecting the environment as well as the livelihood of the people who have been affected by the cyclone."

Mr Tumukon said seeds were an integral part of the relief effort and fast growing vegetable seeds were the most useful in the short term as slower growing root crop staples recover.

Last harvest after Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu

Harvest after Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu Photo: RNZI / KOROI

Locals harvest paw paw from fallen fruit trees in Mele, Vanuatu after Cyclone Pam

Locals harvest paw paw from fallen fruit trees in Mele, Vanuatu after Cyclone Pam Photo: AFP

Family and friends remain the main source of seeds for people planting new crops in Vanuatu.

Timothy Tumukon says seeds are pouring in so fast the authorities have had to take precautions.

"Small parcels of seeds that are coming in as passenger package are coming in everyday. A lot of these are seeds that people are wanting to bring in to help their families or relatives or friends that live in Vanuatu. And so they purchase these seeds from outlets in either Australia or New Zealand and they bring them in."

Mr Tumukon says the other main source of seeds is a commercial supplier in New Caledonia.