While well-known staple foods, such as rice and soybeans, threaten to collapse under higher temperatures and drought, the breadfruit tree manages to survive.

While well-known staple foods, such as rice and soybeans, threaten to collapse under higher temperatures and drought, the breadfruit tree manages to survive.

While well-known staple foods, such as rice and soybeans, threaten to collapse under higher temperatures and drought, the breadfruit tree manages to survive.

American researchers have come to this conclusion in the journal PLOS Climate. They based themselves on simulations in which they subjected the area suitable for the cultivation of breadfruit trees to two different climate scenarios. In one scenario, greenhouse gas emissions stabilized (thus keeping global warming in check). And in the second (slightly less likely) scenario, greenhouse gas emissions remained as high as ever. The results are promising. Because in both scenarios, the area in which breadfruit can be grown is hardly any smaller.

4.5 percent decrease
The breadfruit trees do not survive the various climate scenarios completely unscathed. In some areas, the tree will get too hot underfoot and it will grow more difficult or even stop growing, the researchers say. But because climate change simultaneously allows the tree to grow in other areas (previously unsuitable for growing breadfruit trees), the total potential habitat of the breadfruit tree decreases by only 4.5 percent even in the worst climate scenario that the researchers simulated. .

One of the areas that is becoming suitable for the cultivation of breadfruit due to climate change is Sub-Saharan Africa. “Climatically, we can already grow breadfruit in Sub-Saharan Africa,” says Yang. “There is a huge area in Africa where breadfruit can grow. However, breadfruit is not yet an important part of the food culture there. But that is changing; the cultivation of breadfruit is constantly being expanded, especially in Ghana, Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya.” And while ecologists are often hesitant about introducing new species to an area, we needn’t worry too much about the breadfruit tree. “Most varieties of breadfruit are seedless and the accidental that breadfruit will evolve into a fast-growing species is (virtually) non-existent.”

At the moment we find the breadfruit tree mainly in the tropics; in Southeast Asia and Polynesia. In those areas, people have long been familiar with the great advantages of growing breadfruit. “Bread trees can live for decades and produce a large amount of fruit each year,” said researcher Nyree Zerega. “In some civilizations, it is even tradition to plant a breadfruit tree at the birth of a child to ensure that the child has food for the rest of his or her life.” And once such breadfruit has constituted itself, it can hold up both heat and dryness much better than other essential foods. And because it is a perennial, growers also have to put in much less energy – in the form of water and fertilizer, for example – than is the case with annual crops.

And indirectly, the tree can also benefit our climate and environment, explains Yang. “Many geographical areas where breadfruit can grow are faced with great food safety. This food insecurity is often tackled by importing staple foods, such as wheat or rice, which is associated with environmental damage and increases the CO2 footprint. With breadfruit, these communities can grow their food more locally.”

How does it taste?
The term breadfruit may suggest that the green-skinned fruit breadfruit contains juicy pulp, but nothing could be further from the truth. “Breadfruit is starchy, like a potato,” Zerega tells Scientias.nl. “Most people eat the fruits cooked; either by roasting, boiling, or frying them. But when they are overripe, you can also eat them raw and they are a bit sweet.”

Good news
There is therefore a future for breadfruit, even in a warming world. It’s good news. Especially when you realize that humanity is currently heavily dependent for its food on only a small number of crops, some of which are being cornered by climate change. Alternative crops – which also do well in a warmer world – are urgently needed. “Climate change underscores the importance of diversifying agriculture so that the world no longer depends on a small number of crops to feed a large number of people,” said Zerega.

With the breadfruit tree, Zerega and colleagues are introducing a promising, alternative, and above all climate-proof basic food. And it may not stop there. “There could be many more forgotten and underutilized species that are more climate resilient than common staple crops,” Yang thinks. “In our study, we highlight one and we hope that will lead to more research into these potentially very useful crops.” Because together, these forgotten and untapped species can ensure that there is enough food available on warmer earth. “By increasing agricultural diversity and productivity, we have more options to compensate for any losses that the current staple crops will suffer,” concludes Zerega.

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