Papua New Guinea (PNG) is known to have a large resource base of sago with over 1 million ha, as well as a high number of germplasm types of the Metroxylon species. The country’s food security status is very low and is primarily dependent on subsistence fresh garden produce as practiced by 85% of the population who are rural dwellers. Postharvest losses can be as high as 40% with little to no postharvest technology nor processing of foods done. Sago provides well for food security and sustains life in rural communities during disasters such as droughts, floods, and cyclones. The dilemma of sago being an underutilized crop in PNG is exacerbated by the introduction of new food crops, cash crops, and limited accessibility to cash to purchase other foods. Over the last 50 years, sago consumption has diminished as one of the major traditional food staples, from 16% to less than 10%. Neglect of sago is further due to food safety concerns about traditionally processed sago, in particular, the risk from sago hemolytic disease (SHD). For over 30 years, SHD has been a food safety issue since it was first reported in 1973. Investigations on SHD highlight the serious need to improve on the hygiene and sanitation of the traditional postharvest processing and storage methods of sago starch in PNG. A set of hazard analysis and critical control point (HACCP) protocols has been developed for traditional processing of sago as a food safety measure to improve food safety for food security. While commercial cultivation is nonexistent, there is increased planting of the larger hapaxanthic, non-soboliferous sago species, Metroxylon salomonense Becc., in some nontraditional sago-consuming areas as a low-cost raw material source for roof thatching and other building materials. It is however a wasted opportunity for food security in these areas as the starch from the palm is not utilized. Current work in these areas promotes sago as a potential food source that can be harvested or processed into flour. This is to improve the food security status in areas of high population density, like island communities where land is scarce.
Aims: To determine the presence and contribution of diazotrophic bacteria to nitrogen concentrations in edible starch derived from the sago palm (Metroxylon sagu).Methods and Results: Isolation of diazotrophic bacteria and analysis of nitrogen fixation were conducted on pith, root and sago starch samples. Acetylene reduction showed that five of ten starch samples were fixing nitrogen. Two presumptive nitrogen-fixing bacteria from starch fixed nitrogen in pure culture and five isolates were positive for the nif H gene. Nitrogen concentrations in 51 starch samples were low (37 samples <0.2 g kg-1; 14 ranging from 0.2 to 2.0 g kg-1).Conclusions: Nitrogen fixation occurs in sago starch, which undoubtedly plays a role in fermentation ecology. Nitrogen levels are considered too low to be of nutritional benefit and to protect against nutritional-associated illnesses.Significance and Impact of the Study: Sago starch does not add significantly to the protein calorie intake and may be associated with susceptibility to nutritional-associated illness.