Kaniva commentary October 3, 2020
Tongan breadfruit growers got a boost this week with a glowing report from Canada on the benefits of breadfruit.
The report could be good news as the kingdom’s breadfruit growers look for new markets to help restore Tonga’s economy when the pandemic ends.
Canadian researcher Professor Susan Murch has praised breadfruit for its nutritional qualities and potential for providing a wide range of benefits to consumers.
Professor Murch, from the University of British Columbia, is interested in finding alternative crops that can provide sustainable food sources.
A team from the university, which has completed an extensive study of 94 different types of breadfruit, has found it contains high levels of protein and amino acids, vitamin A and B vitamins, as well as iron.
It also found that some varieties have 60 per cent starch which is digested more slowly than wheat starch, providing health benefits for people with diabetes.
Professor Murch said the fruit was often described as the ‘Potato of the Pacific’ because of the many ways it can be cooked.
It could be ground to make gluten free flour and can also be a source of insect repellent, latex and fibres for making clothes.
The Canadian report could help Tonga find new markets which can be fully exploited once opportunities for trade returns to normal.
The Tongan breadfruit industry is small and has suffered over the years from a range of problems.
It has been estimated that up to 70% of the kingdom’s breadfruit crop was going to waste.
This could be attributed to lack of export markets, but also because, as we reported yesterday, some people see it only as food of last resort.
In 2015 New Zealand suspended breadfruit imports from the kingdom after fruit fly eggs were found.
Other countries have also imposed import restrictions.
This year it was badly affected by Cyclone Harold in April and then from the closure of borders due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Despite these issues, Tonga’s breadfruit growers have actively worked to develop the industry. In 2016 Tonga hosted members of a regional farmers network for the first Pacific Breadfruit Roundtable.
The following year Japan committed $3 million to a five year project to help develop its breadfruit industry, working in partnership with the Tongan government and Nishi Trading.
Another boost came last year when the Australian Department of Agriculture released a report on biosecurity requirements for importing fresh breadfruit from Tonga, Samoa and Fiji.
This final report recommends that fresh breadfruit could be imported to Australia as long as it met biosecurity requirements.
Fruit flies and mealybugs have been identified as the main problems.
These measures are high temperature forced air treatment, or gamma irradiation treatment for fruit flies and visual inspection and treatment of crops before export.
In 2019 vegetables made up 34% of Tonga’s exports, worth US$5.4 million.
When the pandemic recedes Tonga’s exports will need to be rebuilt.
This week’s report shows just how much contribution the breadfruit industry could make.