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Got Breadfruit?

Breadfruit on the tree. Courtesy of Noa Lincoln.

Noa Lincoln (PhD 3rd) joins a large interdisciplinary project, Ho'oulu na 'Ulu, focused on increasing breadfruit's (Artocarpus altilis) share of world food production. As an underexploited food source, breadfruit is not often known outside of the famous film Mutiny on the Bounty. For centuries an essential food for several indigenous cultures, breadfruit trees produce a starchy fruit high in vitamins and minerals that can be used in a striking range of dishes. Breadfruit trees are hugely productive, yielding several hundred fruits a year, each weighing upward of seven pounds. Thus one tree can produce over 1,000 pounds of food annually, enough to feed a four-person family.

Food production from tree crops such as breadfruit is particularly important in areas with limited soil fertility, such as Africa and the Amazon, where traditional crops like corn and wheat are so destructive to the soil that farming cannot persist for more than a few years. In contrast, tree crops can significantly reduce- and in some cases even reverse- the effects of erosion and nutrient depletion, making breadfruit an environmentally sustainable and healthy food source. Tree crops can also be grown on steep slopes where many annual crops cannot.

Breadfruit has not become a worldwide food source largely due to reproductive challenges: breadfruit rarely produces seeds and must be reproduced via clones. Diane Ragone, director of the Breadfruit Institute for the National Tropical Botanical Gardens and a leading breadfruit researcher, recently resolved this reproductive barrier to commercial production through micro-propagation. With the potential to rapidly expand breadfruit production, the thirty-person Ho'oulu na 'Ulu team is contemplating a wide range of strategies.

Academics, aided by Noa Lincoln, are studying the relationship between production and environmental parameters in order to estimate production in different global areas. Land managers are considering ways to incentivize growing breadfruit on their lands, and educators and marketers are formulating a large-scale public awareness campaign. A team of chefs and culinary associations are actively developing high-end culinary uses for breadfruit, while distributers are looking into the product's supply chain requirements to distribute the food worldwide.

Look for breadfruit in your local markets and produce boxes soon!