August 2015

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The successful commercialization of breadfruit could have a significant positive impact on nutrition and health goals. This overarching point was made by Professor Fitzroy Henry while addressing the International Breadfruit Conference 2015, an initiative of the University of the West Indies held at St Augustine this past July.

Professor Henry indicated that breadfruit is ranked high, approximately in the 8th position, in terms of the most nutritious staples used in the Caribbean. It is relatively inexpensive, in comparison to others ranked above it in terms of nutrition – which are also higher in cost. Breadfruit is also at a rank of 8th according to cost effectiveness at approximately TTD7.00/Kg or UDS1.10/ Kg.

Henry, who is Professor of Public Health Nutrition at the University of Technology in Jamaica, noted that food security must also address challenges in agriculture, health and development.

Dr. Diane Ragone, Director of the Breadfruit Institute, Hawaii, USA, gave the keynote address at the conference. She said that the Caribbean has become the global leader in the research on breadfruit over the last 30 years. Also, that this research should be considered within the context of a world hunger situation that looks like this: 1 billion hungry people, 2 billion obese people and 1 billion with ‘hidden hunger’ – whereby empty calories are consumed which lack the micro-nutrients for a healthy life.

Dr. Ragone talked about her work in advancing the preservation and propagation of the breadfruit through cuttings. In her presentation, she also spoke about the many practical uses for it, some of which are: when ripe it can be cooked like potatoes; the breadfruit can be turned into flour which gives it a longer shelf life; beer and spirits, snacks and chips are other value-added products which can be derived from the breadfruit; it is also good for animal feed and has many industrial uses. Additionally, breadfruit is gluten-free.

Ian E. Welch, Managing Director of conference sponsor, PCS Nitrogen Trinidad Ltd. mirrored these sentiments and illustrated them further. He said that in terms of the importance of the breadfruit as a contributor to food and nutrition security, he remembers that the old folks would say, “If you plant a breadfruit tree in your yard, you will have food for the whole year.”

Welch said that PCS Nitrogen is engaged in the production of nutrients for crops but is also going beyond that, for example, in an initiative in food security launched in 2002. They have created an institute to develop economic policy and technical solutions to address the global problem of the world’s food supply.

According to Welch, at their model farm, they have trained 572 persons so far and had 2408 visitors.

Indeed, Welch said their initiatives speak to the big-picture issue of what he describes as the need to transform our country from a nation that imports food and vegetables to one that sustains itself. He calls this mandate “the urgent moral imperative of feeding the world” and adds, “It is simply unacceptable and we must do whatever we can to end this scourge.”

One breadfruit tree can last over 80 years. A crop of breadfruit can provide about 450 pounds of fruit per plant per season. In the words of Ian E. Welch, “The breadfruit is a life-saver and is a super-fruit.”

Conference co-convener, Dr. Laura Roberts Nkrumah indicated that the goals of the conference were realizing the potential of breadfruit to contribute to food security, encouraging entrepreneurial activities centred on breadfruit, and providing a forum for the exchange of information on the industry by all stakeholders. There were also presentations of relevant research and product utilization displays.

The launch of an international breadfruit network is in the works, as overall, this meeting of breadfruit stakeholders enabled the sharing of knowledge and the building of relationships that would solidify breadfruit’s strategic place in the fight against world hunger.

On the last day of the conference, participant Penelope Harris from Guyana’s Carnegie School of Home Economics said that, “The food import bill is very high. We are going to be looking at the best possible blend with either breadfruit or cassava flour to, in time, reduce the importation of wheat.” After reflecting a moment, she closed by stating, “People do not want to buy breadfruit because they perceive it as something you just receive from a good friend, not spend money on.”

Another participant, Paul Benjamin, an agronomist in the Ministry of Agriculture in St. Kitts and Nevis, noted that the conference was “quite enlightening, uplifting and educational.” Benjamin said that in St. Kitts and Nevis they are engaged in a project using breadfruit and breadnut to help ensure food security. As such, his concern is with the commercialization of breadfruit and breadnut. He felt that The UWI should hold this conference on a regular schedule and was pleased with the linkages he was able to make with Global Breadfruit and the Trees that Feed Foundation.

Also a participant, Professor Francis Appiah of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana, noted that the literature on breadfruit was at one point not long ago, very sparse for researchers. As such, conferences like this aided research through knowledge-transfer among stakeholders. His insistent question was, “Why are the governments not pushing (its consumption) more?” If you import so much, said Professor Appiah, then indirectly you are promoting other economies at the expense of your own. Farmers suffer. Then, he added, by the time you try to change, your country has acquired the tastes for the foreign goods. Professor Appiah affirmed that breadfruit is also important because during dry spells when some crops are failing, breadfruit will still be doing well.

Dr. Diane Ragone said that her work is in conservation, education and outreach. Yet, she added, this conference was beneficial for all stakeholders as many people are at organizations or in countries where they are the only people working in breadfruit. They feel isolated and their work is not appreciated. As such, for stakeholders, the conference made a huge impact in terms of “the incredible diversity of individuals and organizations around the world working on breadfruit – to see and connect with such a vibrant network.”

The International Breadfruit Conference 2015 was attended by stakeholders from various Caribbean countries, Kenya, Ghana, Mauritius, Malaysia, Fiji, Samoa, the USA, Costa Rica and Suriname to name a few. It ran from 5 – 9 July at the Hyatt Regency and culminated in an exhibition on the campus of the UWI, St. Augustine, on 10 July. There were more than one hundred registered participants – sharing knowledge, and preparing to champion the breadfruit as one key way forward in fighting world hunger and securing good health.

Dara Wilkinson-Bobb is an assistant lecturer (p/t) at the Faculty of Humanities and Education’s Writing Centre on The UWI, St Augustine campus.