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Bring on the breadfruit – Taking action to feed ourselves

Tunapuna Boys’ RC teacher Lisa Dick took a breadfruit plant for the school.

Story by Lara Pickford-Gordon, lpgordon.camsel@rcpos.org Photos: Raymond Syms

A group of citizens has partnered with the Catholic Education Board of Management (CEBM) to distribute 1,000 breadfruit plants to ease hunger in society through “feeding ourselves”.

Gregory Reece of Made in TT said benefactors of the group decided to help the country given the high food-import bill and the inability of persons to afford daily eating. He also noted the increased number of people entering the country.

“The idea was born to plant for ourselves; provide food for ourselves; and feed persons not on short-term but long-term basis,” Reece said March 15 at Archbishop’s House, Port of Spain during the launch of the CEBM Project ‘Sharing our bread to alleviate hunger’.

The choice of the breadfruit was because of its high yield—trees can bear an average of 200 fruits annually. Reece said, “We really looked for something that is long-term, sustainable and easy to take care of. Breadfruit is called a superfood the world over; you can get most of your nutritional needs out of breadfruit.” It is versatile and can be used to make a meal of ‘oil down’, chips, or flour.

Made in TT is encouraging “when you get your breadfruit and it starts to bear, you share”. Reece noted there may be persons even in the Catholic community who will not seek help so individuals should just share. He said “Plant a tree, eat for free”.

Agricultural economist Omardath Maharaj said there is need to restore hope and provide especially for the most vulnerable in the society. He highlighted social media posts shaming mothers and fathers caught stealing small quantities of food products “admittedly” so their children do not go hungry; the stories of Venezuelans, Dominicans, Haitians and even locals and the unease about food especially in times of crisis.

Breadfruit project is win-win

Maharaj said the social and economics of the day demand action and after looking at the cost of feeding families, a concerted effort will be put into encouraging food production at the household level. He continued, “This must include greater broadcast of home-gardening courses, plant and seedling availability, as well as awareness and support”.

Over the years, Maharaj has stressed that in addition to agriculture sector policy targets, greater emphasis must be on action citizens can take for themselves, at home or in public spaces which brings the greatest return to the environment both economic and ecological.

“We need to look at building resilience of our families and communities to strengthen their adaptive capacity, reduce their vulnerability and increase their opportunities, be it domestic or entrepreneurship,” he said.

A single breadfruit tree can bear 200 or more fruits per season. The fruit, usually round, oval or oblong can weigh up to six kilos. The tree can thrive under diverse ecological conditions and produce abundant, nutritious food for decades without labour, fertiliser and chemicals used in growing field or short-term crops.

Maharaj said, “These multipurpose trees improve soil conditions and protect watersheds while providing food, timber, and animal feed. All parts of the tree are used—even the male flowers, which are dried and burned to repel mosquitoes.”

Of the 1,000 breadfruit plants expected to be distributed nationally, a yield of 2.64 million pounds or 1,320 tonnes of free food could be produced by 2022 “and onwards”.

The CEBM was “very happy” to support after being approached about the project. Chief Executive Officer Sharon Mangroo said the launch was only the start and schools and parents have expressed interest in having breadfruit plants.

She hoped for a lot of ground to be covered before the start of the rainy season. “We do hope to move to Moruga next. We have a number of parents, very, very interested.”

Archbishop Jason Gordon saw the benefits of the breadfruit trees accessible in communities to persons in need as “win-win”. He added, “It really helps us as Church to take a ministry we have been doing to the next stage…we have been in every community working with the poorest of the poor…this gives us something else to put into the basket when we are distributing food”.

He said planting breadfruit trees throughout the country was a “brilliant stroke” so whenever there is need, it will be available.

“To think about food security does not need a national budget; it needs imagination. It needs a couple bright ideas. It needs a couple of willing stakeholders partnering and that is what we’re starting here,” Archbishop Gordon said.

The breadfruit trees are being supplied by the Ministry of Agriculture La Reunion Plan Propagation Station, Centeno. Maharaj told the Catholic News the group was relying on them for “technical and extension support”.  Members of the public seeking information about concerns can visit www.facebook.com/breadfruit.co.tt/

Maharaj hopes it can be used as a repository for geo-tagging as recipients of plants share their progress and issues confronted.