The Ministry of Agro-Industry and Food Security, in collaboration with the Agricultural Research and Extension Unit (AREU) organised a breadfruit festival ("La Fete du Fruit a pain") from 25-27 April 2012 at the Farmers' Training School, Wooton.
On this occasion, several activities were proposed to the public, which included a culinary competition, demonstrations on breadfruit propagation techniques, breadfruit processing and value-addition, public lectures on several key topics on breadfruits, and there was also an exhibition on breadfruit by some of the organisations involved in the breadfruit sector in Mauritius. In-line with this event, breadfruit village was also inaugurated at Pamplemousses (a region in the north of Mauritius) on 24th April 2012.
The opening Ceremony was held at the Farmers' Training School at Wooton, Mauritius. The Chief guests present were the Director of the Agricultural Research and Extension Unit (AREU) and the Director General of the Food and Agricultural Research Council (FARC). Other guests included staffs of AREU and other stakeholders working on breadfruit in Mauritius (women organizations, farmer organizations, research, extension, processors, exporters etc.).
In his welcome address, the Director of AREU, Mr. J.P.Teeluck explained that the aim of the breadfruit festival was mainly to sensitize the population on the the crop. In the context of food security, breadfruit has been identified by the Government of Mauritius as a potential source of carbohydrates to substitute other commodities like potato, cassava, sweet potato, wheat flour etc. in times of crisis. He also mentioned the fact that breadfruit was introduced in Mauritius by the French in 1796, and since then, it been produced in backyards only. According to the Central Statistics Office of Mauritius (CSO), there are 3027 breadfruit trees in Mauritius. In order to be a carbohydrate substitute in the Mauritian diet, the number of breadfruit trees need to be doubled or even tripled by cultivating it on large scale (1 hectare = 100 trees and 1 Breadfruit tree = 200-300 fruits at Rs 20/Unit). AREU has been conducting research on breadfruit since 2009 after the food crisis and different aspects of the crops have been considered in the research process.
The Principal Research Scientist (Fruit Division) of AREU, Mrs. N.Ramburn, shared with the audience the different research that is being conducted by AREU on breadfruit, which are:
- Processing of breadfruit into breadfruit flour
- Minimal processing like breadfruit frozen cuts, French fries etc. as the season for breadfruit is from November to May and the shelf-life of the fruit is of 2-3 days or 1 week if kept in the fridge
- Tree management (pruning), in order to keep the tree at a convenient height to facilitate harvest
- Propagation methods (root cutting, root sucker, air layering and grafting)
Moreover, AREU also has a Research Station at Pamplemousses, where research on breadfruit is being conducted and Mauritians who are interested in cultivating the crop are being offered the opportunity to get hands-on experience on different propagation methods, so that they can themselves propagate the crop after mastering the different techniques. In terms of pests and diseases, breadfruit is not much affected (except snails when the plant is young). However, the main constraint in growing the crop is that it can be affected (de-rooted) by cyclones.
Mr. J.Ramkissoon, the Director General of FARC highlighted that the food crisis in 2008 was a wake-up call for us to realise the fact that Mauritius is net importing country with more than 70% of its food requirement being imported, and there was a need to find substitute for our staples. According to him, breadfruit has a great potential that also supports the the long-term vision of the government. At the level of FARC, breadfruit plantlets are being propagated through Tissue culture (also known as mass/in-vitro propagation), but more research needs to be done when it comes to this specific method of propagation. He also informed the audience that in July 2011, FARC had submitted a concept note on breadfruit in the context of the PAEPARD project and this concept note was among the 10 selected ones. Since December 2011, FARC has been involved in the PAEPARD project, bringing other stakeholders working on breadfruit together (AREU, University of Mauritius, Conserverie Sarjua Ltee, MAMCF etc.) so that they discuss the challenges being faced in the breadfruit sector, where there are gaps and how research can contribute in bridging these gaps and address the challenges faced. PAEPARD is facilitating the multi-stakeholder partnership of the Mauritius Breadfruit Sector consortium and until now, 1 partnership inception workshop and several working sessions have been organised with the aim of developing project proposals on breadfruit and tap funding for research at National, Regional and International levels.
After the opening ceremony, prizes were given to the winners of the culinary competitions and all guests present moved to visit the different stands and culinary exhibition, followed by refreshments.
During the 3 days of the breadfruit festival, the public got the opportunity to have an over-view of the breadfruit sector along the value-chain, that is, from propagation methods to value-addition (from farm to fork). Through the exhibits, demonstrations and public lectures, it was a good way of promoting breadfruit among Mauritians and also a good learning and networking opportunity for diverse groups interested in the crop, whether it was entrepreneurs intending to start a business on breadfruit, students interested in learning about propagation methods, or simply others who simply wanted to have innovative recipes on breadfruit!
Some pictures taken at the breadfruit festival can be viewed in the following slide-show: