Experience with breadfruit agroforestry crops has shown that it can be a major help to ensure food security for vulnerable nations.
Throughout the world, food insecurity has become a major issue for millions of people. This has tangible links to climate change, with the increase of temperatures in places like sub-Saharan Africa rendering the land entirely unsuitable for the cultivation of crops.
Most of the crops grown in these developing countries are monocultures, meaning that it’s one species of plant being grown. This so-called conventional method of cultivating agriculture is significantly detrimental to these farmers because, beyond the fact that these plants are inherently fragile given that they have not evolved for the climate, they also demand significant amounts of resources from other countries.
Fertilizers and pesticides are usually imported at a high price, reducing the benefit to the farmer. High rates of chemical use are known to degrade the soil where they are applied. Water is also a significant factor, as these mono-crops demand a high amount, leading to shortages for people and potential conflict.
However, other species of plants and trees could be of major importance to those living in these areas, specifically a tree crop indigenously found in southeast Asia. This tree is called the breadfruit tree, and breadfruit agroforestry shows major benefits for the people in other countries struggling with food insecurity.
How Does Breadfruit Agroforestry Work?
Puerto Rico is a place where food insecurity has plagued its people for generations. Whether it was the Spanish or the Americans, the extractive economy of mono-crop cultivation has been a factor for the people living on the island for a long time.
This has been great for the extractors of this wealth, as they lack any ties to the island or the prosperity of its people. Infrastructure and building development has been infamously underinvested, leading to horrible consequences for its people when storms hit the island, those storms occurring often.
As a result, new strategies for agricultural development have been prioritized due to the consistent failure of conventional agriculture to secure gains. Agroecology and breadfruit agroforestry have been implemented on the island to ensure a stable solution to the issue of food insecurity.
A main factor in breadfruit agroforestry is planting fruit-bearing trees to provide food for the people and shelter from the sun for other ground plants. Breadfruit is becoming a quite popular tree to plant due to the starchy, potato-like sustenance that the breadfruit provides.
It is beginning to replace maize and plantains, as it’s easer to maintain and resilient to climate change and its effects. It plays a key role in the agroforestry system, not only doing what other trees like apple or cherry trees would but providing a hearty food that can be relied on when other crops might fail.
Agroecology such as breadfruit agroforestry significantly increases crop yield and nearly negates the need for fertilizers and pesticides due to the organic material fertilizing the crops underneath and the ground crops protecting the roots from insects and other pests.
According to research by PLOS Climate, the global range of breadfruit agroforestry is predicted to expand significantly. Lucy Yang, an environmental scientist, said, “We know a lot of staple crops around the world are going to be very impacted by climate change, like rice, corn, wheat, but breadfruit agroforestry can be a centerpiece for biodiversity; it is extremely nutritious, and the main crux of this paper is that it’s an important solution for low-latitude parts of the world. Where, coincidentally, food insecurity is happening, too.”
Other challenges may present themselves.
However, despite the benefits highlighted, breadfruit agroforestry is not a silver bullet for solving climate change-related food insecurity. Introducing a non-native species into a different ecosystem often has repercussions, not seen until the damage has been done.
With that being said, planting breadfruit in an agroecological system could have major benefits for people who are already struggling to put food on the table due to an already-damaged environment. Providing the ability for farmers to be self-sustaining, without reliance on outside sources for their prosperity, is of key importance.
Breadfruit could be what is needed to secure that for people in the yoke of climate change-caused destruction.