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Trial plots being used to promote the commercialisation of the breadfruit in Jamaica are showing positive results with the potential to earn $4 million annually from an 800-tree orchard.
This is after meeting operation and production costs and selling the fruit on the local market. Trees on three experimental plots of 45 acres combined in the parishes of St. James, St. Mary and Portland, which were established some 18 months ago by the Ministry of Agriculture, in partnership with the Northern Caribbean University (NCU), have yielded these results. These trees are now bearing successfully and seedlings are being distributed to farmers in the Swift River watershed for a re-forestation exercise and second phase of the project.
The programme exemplifies the holistic approach to food security being spearheaded by Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Christopher Tufton. The breadfruit plots support commercialisation of a traditional food and restoration of a denuded watershed in a partnership combining research, academics, technical expertise and Government support.
The project also demonstrates government’s move to strengthen the link between agriculture and forests, a symbiotic relationship that is often overlooked. This shows, Minister Tufton says “requisite attention to building the nation’s capacity to produce a critical bulk of its food.”
At the conference on world food security convened by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) in June 2008, world leaders agreed to the need to expand agriculture, agri-business and rural development. This followed a call at the conference for programmes to address current food needs of countries hit by the global food price crisis.
FAO literature states that “food prices soared in 2007 to 2008, pushed by bio-fuel boom; increasing cereal demands due to growing populations, in addition to low food stocks due to droughts and floods, the result of climate change creating erratic weather patterns.” This has put Jamaica in a vulnerable position because of its large-scale dependence on imported rice and cereal products, which are projected to become scarcer and more expensive. Commercialisation of the breadfruit is one of several safeguard measures that has been put in place by the government.
The government of the Seychelles embarked on a programme to commercialise the breadfruit 10 years ago, in the interest of their own food security. Nurseries were established to produce planting material and a large-scale public education programme was undertaken to increase consumer preference.
For centuries the breadfruit has been a staple in the Pacific and was originally brought to Jamaica from Tahiti in 1769 by Captain Cook, to be propagated as a staple for the slave diet. Pacific islanders have used the fruit extensively for centuries. The wood from the tree has been used to make boats, drums, household items and the popular surf board.
The nutritional value of the breadfruit is well documented. It is high in fibre, vitamin C and potassium, as well as several other trace minerals. A versatile base for many dishes, it can be pickled, used as a base for soups, puddings, porridge and can be juiced. Nutritionists say it also has a higher nutritional value than wheat flour. During the food shortages at the time of World War II, breadfruit was dried and pounded into flour in many households.
Medicinal use is widespread. In parts of West Africa and some Caribbean countries such as Dominica and Trinidad and Tobago, leaves and latex are used to treat high blood pressure, thrush on the tongue, asthma, sciatica, skin infections, and diarrhoea.
Dr. Vincent Wright, Project Manager for the Commercialisation of Breadfruit Programme, is also the Chair for the Department of Biology, Chemistry, Applied and Health Sciences at the NCU says “the experimental plots were necessary as traditionally breadfruit trees only existed in Jamaica in scattered numbers in the wild. Many of these trees are now old, dying or under-producing.”
He adds that, “through work on the plots specialists we have been able to optimise bearing patterns, fertilizer requirements, yields and tree health, thereby confirming commercial viability and knowhow.”
Dr. Wright points out that another positive outcome of the research has been a look at the value-added aspects of the breadfruit. “NCU and Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), along with home economic specialists have been looking at production of flour, chips, fries, cereal blends and vacuum packed slices for export.”
He says that the fresh fruit fetches good prices on ethnic market overseas. “In the United States one fruit can be sold for US$3.00 and in Britain up to