Breadfruit – The Plant That Keeps Giving Due partly to the research efforts at The UWI, though, that situation is changing; much of Dr. RobertsNkrumah’s own research has been on expanding the available germplasm and evaluating different varieties of breadfruit in Trinidad and Tobago. Breadfruit—High Yields Roberts-Nkrumah was attracted to breadfruit for two reasons: its high yields (one tree can yield from 30 to 200 fruits per season), and the permanence of the trees, which last a long time. “There are breadfruit trees in our landscape that have been there for generations,” she commented. She said there were two main barriers to commercial breadfruit agriculture here. The first is our limited stock of germplasm: “The genetic variability is very limited, because breadfruit is an introduced crop to the Caribbean—there was just so much that Captain Bligh could have brought. And he collected from a very small area.” She said we have only two main varieties here: the White and the Yellow. Both bear seasonally. While seasonality is not necessarily a big issue—we can eat other starchy foods like bananas, sweet potatoes, or cassava instead—we can still explore whether there are other breadfruit varieties that can bear at other times of the year, she said. The second—and bigger—problem to commercial breadfruit production is harvesting, said RobertsNkrumah. Breadfruit, after all, comes from a tall tree: “This huge yield you get from a breadfruit tree is because you are dealing with a very large plant. How will you check to see the fruit’s level of maturity? How will you get the fruit down from trees 50 to 60 feet tall? Also, remember it is a fruit—when it ripens, it falls, and can get damaged or squashed. So while height might be great for productivity (per unit area of ground, using vertical space), it has challenges for harvesting and marketability of the fruit.” Roberts-Nkrumah saw there was a genetic aspect to both these problems, therefore she decided to pursue expansion of the breadfruit germplasm.
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Current UWI Research Ongoing UWI research in the Faculty of Food and Agriculture, said Roberts-Nkrumah, includes evaluating different breadfruit varieties. The faculty does breadfruit field research at the University Field Station in Valsayn, and some research is also done at the PCS Nitrogen Model Farm in Couva. These organisations also collaborate annually on training sessions for farmers. The research is examining the different breadfruit varieties for their types of growth and development (including height); their yields; their seasonality; their disease resistance (in both the tree and the fruit); and propagation methods by improving traditional methods and using new approaches, including tissue culture and grafting. Most breadfruit we get in the Caribbean are the large, seedless types—White and Yellow varieties—and therefore have more pulp for human consumption, said Roberts-Nkrumah. But there are many seeded types, and many other varieties, elsewhere. In Hawaii at the Breadfruit Institute, for instance, there are some 120 varieties of breadfruit. Roberts-Nkrumah noted most breadfruit in Trinidad grows along the east coast and in the valleys, because of the higher moisture there. And she said that if farmers were thinking of investing in breadfruit as a crop, they first need to do their research and have a plan, as breadfruit is a long-term crop. They must carefully consider their markets, among other important factors, before deciding on a variety. She said basic questions would be: Why do you want to grow breadfruit? What will be its end use? And what kind of consumers will you sell it to? So far, some advances in The UWI’s breadfruit research at the St. Augustine Campus include: a wider stock of germplasm characterising cultivars; more information on breadfruit’s nutritional composition; consumer preferences; information of properties of breadfruit flour and related products; and post-harvest management, processing, and design of processing equipment. At the Mona Campus research has been done on medicinal properties.