The Breadfruit Tree
The first tree we have selected is the breadfruit. Research shows it is already well known throughout many parts of Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and Central America. However, breadfruit trees are difficult to propagate. Seedlings are often in short supply because the only traditional method of propagating these seedless trees is by root cuttings. The other difficulty with breadfruit is that the existing cultivars in the Caribbean (introduced in 1793) all bear fruit at the same time, July through October. Since the fruit is not easily stored, it has limited all year use as a starch substitute in the tropics. Researchers at the Hawaii based Breadfruit Institute have identified varieties in the Pacific that bear at different times of the year. They have also perfected tissue culture propagation methods. The plan is to distribute these year-round cultivars as the canopy species.
Breadfruit bears a fruit somewhat smaller than a soccer ball. One fruit can easily provide the carbohydrate portion of a meal for a family of five. A mature tree can produce up to a half ton of fruit per year. In controlled orchard settings the trees are heavily pruned for easy reaping. A hectare, planted at a density of 125 trees, out-produces all tropical starch crops, yielding upward of 30,000 kilos of fruit annually. Breadfruit is a true tropical tree that was the basis of Polynesian expansion through the Pacific. Although there is some tolerance to salt and drought, the best cultivars need temperatures in excess of 16 degrees C and rainfall between 1200-3000 mm annually. There are few pests and the trees require little resource once established.
The objective of Trees That Feed Foundation is to supply hardened field-ready tissue culture based plants to tropical countries, starting with those countries that are already familiar with the tree. If successful, this has the potential to substantially reduce hunger and to reduce the dependence on now expensive imported corn, rice and wheat. The trees are useful as a carbon sequestration sink, allow understory crops and since this is a crop that does not require annual soil plowing. This will help conserve soil. Fruiting trees are more likely to be valued and less likely to be cut down.
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Historical Breadfruit Decline
It is ironic that this tree, which was the purpose of Captain Bligh's famous "Mutiny on the Bounty" voyage, and has the ability to feed so many people, is in decline throughout its range. In Jamaica, for example, there were 2.3 million breadfruit trees in the 1950's. The number declined to 46,000 by 1986, although numbers have since increased somewhat under a Government program. Heavy marketing, convenience of use nd the US crop subsidy programs have caused a steady shift over the past four decades from local foods to imported wheat, corn and rice.