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Fruit Crop Might Stop Hunger in Tropics

fruit crop
A new fruit crop could be the answer to world hunger.

Artocarpus Altilis, or breadfruit, is a fruit with a lumpy green flesh and has a texture almost similar to that of a potato. Once commonplace in Jamaican diets, experts believe that this new fruit crop could provide much needed food security to a country that imports over half its food.

Breadfruit can be found growing on trees in Hawaii, Samoa and islands in the Caribbean. The trees yield fruit from three to five years and can have a yielding period of several decades. An average tree can produce around 100 fruits while larger trees can produce around 400 to 600 fruits.

Wildly popular in the Pacific Islands, more breadfruit crops are harvested than rice, wheat and corn. One breadfruit, weighing on average of around three kilograms, can provide enough carbohydrates to feed a family of five. It supposedly has more potassium than 10 bananas. Versatile, the fruit can also be ground into flour to make breakfast items like pancakes. Rich in vitamins and minerals, the breadfruit is gluten-free and is a good source of protein on top of the carbohydrate benefits.

According to experts, the protein found in the breadfruit has a higher amount of amino acids than soy does. “Traditionally in Polynesia you would plant a breadfruit when a child was born, because that could guarantee food throughout the child’s life,” said Dr. Diane Ragone, a botanist who has been studying the breadfruit plants since the 1980s. Having studied hundreds of varieties of the plant found in 34 countries, Dr. Ragone found that most of the fruit she studied was a relative of the breadnut, found in New Guinea, which is reportedly the ancestor of the breadfruit.

Since breadfruit trees are low-maintenance and thrive in the weather common among the tropical countries, experts are researching what varieties of the breadfruit trees would suit countries lacking food. The Trees That Feed Foundation continues to plant more of this food crop in Haiti, where even before the Earthquake in 2011, 1.9 million people required assistance to prevent going hungry. Now, that number has grown to 3 million people, and 24 percent of children under the age of 5 suffer from malnutrition. The goal is to feed around 1,000 orphans every day.

According to the National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG,) over 80 percent of the world’s hungry live in tropical regions or other environments where the breadfruit can thrive.

“Every time we plant one of these trees, we’re reducing the susceptibility to famine and starvation in the country where the tree is going,” said Josh Schneider, a horticulturist and partner for Global Breadfruit.

In addition to being an excellent food source, this fruit crop can also be used as an insect repellent as the male breadfruit flower is reportedly very effective in repelling mosquitoes. Other than being a repellent, the sap that excretes from the breadfruit can be used as a waterproof caulking for boats and homes along with gum, and the fibers from the bark of the breadfruit tree can be harvested without causing harm to the fruit crop and used to make mosquito nets, clothing, artwork and paper.

Monica Newell

Sources: National Tropical Botanical Garden, Huffington Post World Food Program, Daily Times, New Zealand Herald
Photo: Healing is Essential