JEFFREY TOWN, St Mary:LONG POPULAR among Jamaicans for its roasted fruit - which also enjoys popularity as a key ingredient in soup - the roots and leaves of the breadfruit plant are also finding favour among local scientists for their role in stemming soil erosion.
In the Swift River Watershed area in Portland, where the demise of the banana industry has seen some farmers turn to cutting down trees for coal and lumber in search of alternative income-generating activity, soil erosion had threatened to detail the ecosystem. That was until the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica responded to a project proposal for a breadfruit tree-planting project in the area, to be carried out by the Northern Caribbean University (NCU) out of Mandeville, Manchester, and the College of Agriculture, Science and Education, which is based in Portland.
Lead scientist, Dr Vincent Wright, dean of the College of Natural and Applied Sciences at the NCU, and a team were at Sunday's St Mary Breadfruit Festival sharing with the patrons the value of the work they started more than two years ago.
lessen soil movement
While admitting that it is early days yet, Wright was encouraged by the results so far.
He explained: "What I've been observing is that we have been having less soil erosion and less soil movement in these areas where we have planted breadfruit trees. We have also been having fewer landslides, but we have to take into consideration that we have other trees that are growing there, forest trees and such, and we encourage those to be there so that the watershed can be protected. We have also noticed that we have been getting less flooding in some of these areas where we have planted these trees."
This is attributed to the fact that the roots of the breadfruit tree, which can extend between 34 and 50 feet underground, play an important role in stabilising soil, while the broad leaves also help to cushion the impact of the rainwater, absorbing the force before it trickles to the forest floor.
The conservation team is working with some 250 farmers in the Swift River area providing technical information and helping them to understand how to increase production while maintaining the environment. In addition to the immediate need of providing a source of food, there is the long-term need of proving economic activity by way of meeting the demand of the export and local markets.
Then there is the area of food security. Wright pointed out that Jamaicans seem to be unaware that most of the older trees have died, some the victim of natural disasters, with very little resuscitation or replanting. Under this project, it is estimated that between 50 and 100 hectares of breadfruit will be planted in the watershed area.
Wright was happy to share one aspect of the research findings: when planted 40 feet apart, instead of 30 x 30, the growth rate for the breadfruit, which usually takes on average about two and half years to come into bearing, is much faster.