Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Chartreuse with spikes, the breadfruit measures about the size of a football. It tastes as bland as it sounds—kind of like a raw potato. It's also got a historical taint: the fruit was used to feed British slaves in Caribbean colonies and spurred the notorious mutiny aboard the Bounty. But it grows quickly and is high in fiber, carbs, and protein, making it ideal for the world's malnourished, who now total 1 billion, according to the U.N. World Food Program.
For centuries botanists were unable to reproduce and ship the plant, which is native to the Pacific Islands. But a team of researchers led by Diane Ragone of the Breadfruit Institute at the National Tropical Botanical Garden in Kauai, Hawaii, has discovered how to propagate it en masse to ship to regions in Central America and Africa where it would grow best (and where hunger rates are highest). Now Ragone has 40 requests from governments, NGOs, nonprofits, and farmers across the globe to integrate the fruit.
Still, USAID, the federal arm that administers development funds, sees holes in the plan. "The problem of putting something like breadfruit in other parts of the world is that people don't often get support when the crop doesn't do well," says Josette Lewis, USAID director of agriculture. Ragone and her team, aware of this issue, are applying for funding to help assemble teams of botanists and aid employees in each region.
But Zach Lea, an agriculture specialist with the aid group Roots of Peace, spent a decade working with breadfruit in Haiti and thinks Haitians would be amenable to expanding the small number of breadfruit plants that already exist there. "The people eating it probably haven't read Mutiny on the Bounty," he says. And they've given the breadfruit a promising name of their own, which, in the local languages of French and Haitian Creole, translates to "veritable tree."