August 23, 2022
Can breadfruit lead the Vincentian food security and agri-development thrust?

STVINCENT ANDTHE GRENADINES (SVG) is renowned regionally and even at the international level for its production and consumption of the legendary breadfruit.

So much so, that the breadfruit leaf was displayed prominently on our first Independence flag and roasted breadfruit is part of our national dish. Indeed Vincentian emigrants are proud to claim the breadfruit as part of their identity in the diaspora.

Historically, the breadfruit is associated with the British ship captain,William Bligh who reportedly introduced the crop to St Vincent from the Pacific isles. There is some dispute among historians about the accuracy of these reports, but it is known that the then colonial authorities and European colonists were looking for a cheap alternative to feed their African slaves.

Given its origin as a “slave food” it is not surprising that the upper classes in slave society would not have been too keen to be associated with this fruit and that disdain was passed on to the colonial middle class and even absorbed by “house slaves” themselves.

This attitude prevailed long after the end of slavery and one former Prime Minister even derisively referred to Vincentians as having a “breadfruit mentality”. The irony is that today, a breadfruit dish is much craved both within our country as well as in the diaspora.

Over the years, much has been spoken of the potential of the breadfruit crop, both for its nutritional value as well as being fundamental to our food security needs and agro-development thrust. The truth is that while undoubtedly consumption has increased as the breadfruit has grown in social stature, we are still far from successfully developing a breadfruit strategy, including by-products and organized exports as a key element of such a thrust.

Our ambition to make much better use of breadfruit while supplying our food needs, nutritional intake and boost exports as well as spur agro-development will no doubt be boosted by a study by scientists from the Northwestern University in the United States and published just last week.

It was conducted to examine the adverse effects of climate change on the staple food crops globally, such as rice, corn and soybeans and to look at alternatives which would be more resilient to such adverse effects and thus be part of the solution to the worsening global hunger crisis.

The study found that the humble breadfruit can fit that bill and feed not just us, but millions more around the world. One of the senior authors of the study compared the qualities of the breadfruit both in terms of being more resilient to climate change as well as in nutritional content and concludes that “As we implement strategies to adapt to climate change, breadfruit should be considered in food security adaptation strategies”.

The study is a most timely boost given the proclaimed thrust of CARICOM states for food security. The breadfruit must be an important element in this worthwhile and essential venture. Our government, as representative of the “breadfruit basket” in CARICOM, is of course expected to lead the thrust but we also call on local investors to become part of the process.

Let’s turn the “breadfruit mentality” into a positive approach to food sufficiency and agro-development!