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food | water

New study shows breadfruit can be ‘food of the future’

With staple crops like rice and corn under increasing threat from climate change researchers at Northwestern University have identified breadfruit as the type of resilient crop option the world should be looking at.

In the new study researchers first looked at the climate conditions needed for growing breadfruit and then factored in how these might change over time, based on two future projections, one where the greenhouse-gas emissions are extremely high, another where things are more stable. In both, the ‘areas suitable for breadfruit cultivation remained mostly unaffected’.

“This is good news,” says Northwestern’s Daniel Horton, a senior author on the study. “Because several other staples that we rely on are not so resilient. In really hot conditions, some of those staple crops struggle and yields decrease. As we implement strategies to adapt to climate change, breadfruit should be considered in food security adaptation strategies.”

Native to the Pacific islands breadfruit, a bit similar to potato, is related to the nutrient-rich jackfruit, and researchers say it has huge potential as a crop that could be grown more widely in Africa.

“There is a huge swath of Africa, where breadfruit can grow to various degrees,” explains Lucy Yang, a former student in Horton’s laboratory. “It just has not been broadly introduced there yet. And, luckily enough, most varieties of breadfruit are seedless and have little-to-no likelihood of becoming invasive.”

Yang added: “A lot of places where breadfruit can grow have high levels of food insecurity. Oftentimes, they combat food insecurity by importing staple crops like wheat or rice, and that comes with a high environmental cost and carbon footprint. With breadfruit, however, these communities can produce food more locally.”

Exploring the diverse world of plant species is vital in the face of climate change, says Nyree Zerega, director of the Program in Plant Biology and Conservation.

“Climate change further emphasises the need to diversify agriculture,” Zerega said. “Humans rely heavily on a handful of crops to provide most of our food, but there are thousands of potential food crops among the approximately 400,000 described plant species. This points to the need to diversify agriculture and crops globally.”

The Northwestern University study was published today in the journal PLOS Climate.

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Written By

Susan is the co-founder of Innovators Magazine and a consultant for OnePoint5 Media. Susan is also a member of the UNFCCC-led Resilience Frontiers Nexus group and co-chair of the APOPO Foundation UK board.

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