The humble breadfruit tree and opportunities on the horizon

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

At a time when the world is grappling with the issue of food security, Samoa and most Pacific countries are blessed. You see in as far as critical food sources and crops go, we are well placed. 

Trees commonly identified as “trees of life” grow wildly on these shores. In other words, they are everywhere. Coconut trees for instance are found in abundance all across Samoa. Apart from the issue of the aging coconut population and the high demand for coconuts, all families pretty much have access to the benefits of coconut trees. That includes food, housing and much, much more. 

The second tree recently discovered and heralded, as a global solution to poverty and problems created by climate change, is the humble breadfruit tree.

Again this is great news for Samoa. Breadfruit trees are everywhere, they grow wildly and don’t require much maintenance like other plants. 

In fact, we take them for granted most of the time.

When in season, most of the fruits end up rotting on the ground or become a feeding source for birds and bats because they are available in abundance and just about every family has access to one, two or many trees. 

Which is a real blessing because in other parts of the world where food sources and food security have become major issues, they can only dream of getting their hands on them. The world has woken up to its value and now there is a global move to share its benefits.

The good news is that with this demand, there is great potential for countries like Samoa to take advantage of our easy access to breadfruits. Which brings us to an international Summit that is being held in Apia this week. 

The 2017 Pacific and Global Breadfruit Summit was officially opened yesterday at the T.A.T.T.E Building (see story page 4). Guided by the theme the “Home of the Ma’afala” experts in their respective fields from the countries involved in breadfruit production are in Samoa to brainstorm ideas to mainstream the development of breadfruit so that the benefits can be shared by as many people as possible.

The meeting in Apia is the latest step in a movement that has gained a lot of momentum in the past decade with the first international symposium on breadfruit held in 2007. Ten years later, the Minister of Agriculture, Lopao’o Natanielu Mua, has branded the breadfruit as a tree of life.

“All parts of the tree are used to provide food, timber and animal feed; even the male flowers if properly processed can be used as a mosquito repellent, and the latex from the bark has medicinal properties,” he said. 

“In terms of value adding, there has been considerable interest and drive in Hawaii, the Pacific and Caribbean islands to develop the most efficient and economical ways to commercially process the fruit into flour and appropriate products made from the flour, packaged breadfruit chips and frozen breadfruit chunks and slices.  

“It can be justifiably stated that the breadfruit tree is comparable to the coconut tree in terms of its cultural, social and economic significance to island societies and environments.”

The point is further highlighted by the F.A.O Subregional Coordinator for the Pacific Islands, Eriko Hibi, who said the attention on the breadfruit tree couldn’t have come at a better time with the commemoration of international World Food Day today.

“Because of the potential it offers, breadfruit is seen as a symbol of what F.A.O aims to pursue in the next five years in the Pacific,” she said. 

“First, it is a locally produced plentifully grown food crop with huge potential for domestic consumption. 

“Secondly, breadfruit can help in the fight against non-communicable disease (N.C.Ds) through improved nutrition. Thirdly, it is also a cash crop with huge potential for export, as flour or in other forms. 

“Fourthly, promotion of agricultural crops such as breadfruit can be key to increasing job opportunities, reinvigorating the agriculture production and processing sectors, which would lead to increased livelihood opportunities for the youth. With so much potential to offer, breadfruit is a symbol of hope for improved food security and nutrition in Samoa and beyond.”

Well we couldn’t agree more. If anything, this is a good wake up call for us in Samoa especially because most of the time we take this tree for granted.

There are other important considerations of course. 

With the world’s attention zeroing in on the benefits of this plant, our officials involved in the negotiations have got to be alert. With the potential of lucrative deals and money to be made, there is always the opportunity for greed, corruption and exploitation.

We’ve got to be alert that our people are not robbed of the benefits of traditional knowledge when it comes to the details of the breadfruit. 

We’ve also got to be smart that breadfruit production – especially if and when the big corporates become involved – will end up benefitting our people rather than them robbing us of yet another natural resource. It has happened in many similar cases and there is no guarantee that it will not happen to us. We live in a highly competitive world where people are not afraid to hurt others – especially the most vulnerable – to get what they want.

Lastly, if you live in Samoa and you have been neglecting those breadfruit trees, you might want to think again. There are opportunities on the horizon. 

So stay tuned. In the meantime, have a wonderful Wednesday Samoa and Happy World Food Day today!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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