Breadfruit Institute: Addressing Nutrition and Social Needs Worldwide

February 1, 2014

Diane Ragone, PhD, Director, The Breadfruit Institute

The Breadfruit Institute (BFI) (www.breadfruit.org) at the National Tropical Botanical Garden in Hawaii was created in 2003 to promote the conservation and use of breadfruit for food and reforestation. The BFI manages the world’s largest germplasm repository of breadfruit, with more than 120 varieties. Breadfruit is a highly nutritious heritage crop that can be produced in sustainable intercropping systems, agroforests, and tropical ecosystems with minimal inputs of labor or materials. Trees begin bearing in three years and are productive for many decades. Yields of this non-GMO crop are better than other starchy staples, including corn, rice and wheat. The fruit is high in energy and arbohydrates and is a good source of fiber, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, potassium, thiamine, and niacin. Some varieties are also good sources of antioxidants and carotenoids.

Groundbreaking research on the collection over the past 20 years includes:

  • Nutritional: Identifying protein-rich, micronutrient-rich, and carotenoid-rich varieties.
  • Insecticidal: Demonstrating that a naturally occurring compound in the flowers is more effective than DEET in repelling mosquitoes.
  • Identifying salt tolerant varieties.

The BFI research team has made an important propagation breakthrough and developed an innovative methodology that makes it possible for the first time to propagate and distribute millions of breadfruit trees. In 2009, the BFI launched an initiative to distribute highly nutritious breadfruit varieties globally as a response to food insecurity issues. Working with Cultivaris LLC (www.globalbreadfruit.com), a private horticultural company, more than 35,000 breadfruit trees have been distributed for tree planting projects in 26 countries in Africa, the Caribbean, Central America, Asia, and Oceania. This work is accomplished through collaboration with government agencies, private individuals, and numerous NGOs such as the Hunger Alliance of Ghana.

(Courtesy, The Breadfruit Institute)

An unprecedented aspect of this initiative is that we have implemented a fifty-fifty benefit sharing arrangement with the government of the country where the breadfruit varieties originated. This agreement recognizes indigenous rights to plant genetic resources and their contribution(s) to global food security, and will help support traditional crop research and conservation in the Pacific.

(Courtesy, The Breadfruit Institute)

In Hawaii, the BFI distributed 4,800 trees through its Plant a Tree of Life project with support from the Ceres Trust. More than 160 organizations and groups that work with native Hawaiians, other Pacific Islanders, and low-income residents participated. This project will significantly contribute to food security and sustainability in Hawaii as the trees were planted in rural, urban, and community landscapes throughout the state.

We have received a grant to help continue breadfruit tree distributions in Hawaii in 2014. We will also be expanding the project internationally, and are excited to be able to provide several thousand trees to partner organizations such as First Avenue International in Liberia, Trees That Feed Foundation in Haiti, and groups working in Samoa, Ghana, Nicaragua, and Panama.

Our work on breadfruit is beginning to make a significant contribution to the availability of food and the quality of health of people around the world.