Thursday, June 28, 2018

New book on Breadfruit: Make it part of your agroforest


It's no surprise that the British sailed around the world, twice, to collect breadfruit.

The ulu is that important a crop. Rich in nutrients, versatile, drought-resistant and darned easy to farm. You just plant them once, and then harvest fruit for the rest of your life.

That work of food production in the tropics and subtropics is going to get easier still with the guidance from Craig Elevitch and Diane Ragone's new volume, Breadfruit Agroforestry Guide: Planning and Implementation of Regenerative Organic Methods. Elevitch is Director of Agroforestry Net and Ragone is director of the Breadfruit Institute at the National Tropical Botanical Garden.

Their new book is available as an ebook from the National Tropical Botanical Garden website or in print for $19.95 at Amazon. 

The 72-page volume will be useful to home growers, but it's designed for agricultural professionals and extension agents, and it's an unabashed paean to the tropical and subtropical tree in complex food production systems.

The mission of the authors is not only to point up the value of breadfruit as a species, but to celebrate its role in a food forest—as part of an agroforest. Traditional Pacific societies grew breadfruit as part of a forest garden that might include taro, sugar cane, ti, banana, kava, noni and many other crops.

They argue that such a system doesn't require external fertilizers and buffers the impacts of fluctuation in markets for single crops. Multi-story agroforestry captures carbon in the soil, protects plants from the wind and reduces moisture loss.

The National Tropical Botanical Garden has a research agroforestry breadfruit garden at its McBryde Garden on Kaua`i. And it has a collection of about 150  breadfruit varieties at Kahanu Garden on Maui and at McBryde.


There are many varieties of breadfruit. The traditional Hawaiian seedless variety is just one. Others fruit at different times, produce crops that taste different, and some have seeds that can be eaten like chestnuts. 

Trees product a hundred to several hundred fruit annually, often in two seasons. The fruit is edible at any stage. Unripe fruit can be cooked and eaten as a vegetable; soft ripe fruit are eaten as a starch, and they can be baked, fried or used in any number of dishes. 

I visited an island in the Solomons where ripe breadfruit was dried for use in the season when they weren't available fresh. Other Pacific cultures preserve them underground. But they'll last a while on your kitchen shelf, and refrigeration works, too.

The book was funded by Patagonia Provisions, the Hawai`i Department of Agriculture, Kauai Office of Economic Development, and Western Sustainable Agricultural Research and Education. Its publishers are the Breadfruit Institute and Permanent Agriculture Resources.

The same authors in 2013 produced what works as a companion volume: Breadfruit Production Guide: Recommended practices for growing, harvesting, and handling. You can download that one free here

But actually buying the books--search for them at Amazon--helps support the programs Ragone and Elevitch run.

Here's what the authors had to say, from the press release on the new book:
Ragone: “Breadfruit has been grown sustainably since humans began cultivating it thousands of years ago. It’s vital that we revive centuries of indigenous knowledge and traditional methods into a modern context. Doing so will help breadfruit thrive and support communities for many generations.”

Elevitch: “This is a crucial time for the future of breadfruit and island agriculture in general. Given that the single-crop plantation model with high chemical inputs leads to declining soil fertility and plant health, growers are now developing models for breadfruit production rooted in traditional methods.”

© Jan TenBruggencate 2018

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