Breadfruit: A Haitian Recipe for Self-Reliance
A free-growing tree that has provided food to tropical islanders for centuries is now being used to create flour and baked goods that can bring hope in the form of income and jobs to struggling areas of Haiti.
The Fetzer Institute is partnering with the University of St. Thomas in a “field to fork proof of concept” to develop systems for converting the naturally bounteous fruit into sustaining economic activity by turning breadfruit into flour. The flour is gluten free, raising its potential in today’s food economy.
Breadfruit is a fig-like tree that grows freely in Haiti and produces hundreds of large, starchy fruit each season. The fruit is used in many local recipes, but tends to rot quickly, reducing residents’ ability to count on it as a food source.
The challenge in milling breadfruit is in shredding and drying the fruit quickly and in high volume while overcoming challenges like very limited electric power and frequent rainstorms during the harvest season.
There are cultural factors as well. Though breadfruit has long been eaten in a variety of dishes from Hawaii to Sri Lanka, its association with plantations through history causes it to be stigmatized as “slave food” in many island cultures.
Organizer Dr. Camille George, an associate professor of engineering at St. Thomas University, hopes the economic benefits of breadfruit business will have the opposite effect and deliver residents from hunger and poverty. Through such an uplifting transformation will come the ability to forgive the past and prosper in the land that they love.
George and her team designed shredding machines and drying stations tailored to the breadfruit work, organizing a contest to find the ideal design for local conditions.
More than 1,000 pounds of flour was produced by cooperatives in the Les Cayes region of Haiti and delivered to the Palmares Bakery in Port-au-Prince, which opened in August. The flour was used as a main ingredient in cakes, cookies, and waffles sold at street kiosks.
In creating systems to foster self-dependence, George told an interviewer, ”I’ve grown to appreciate the notion of engineering solutions for the bottom billion--or the base of the pyramid. Too often we just think of engineering for Fortune 500 companies or for defense; there are many basic issues (food, water, shelter) that could be addressed by the profession.”
This is a project of the Fetzer Advisory Council on the Engineering Professions.