Micronesia embraces Ulu Project after it stalls locally
Remember the Ulu Summit?
During last year’s Farm Fair the University of Hawaii Pacific Business Center Program (PBCP) organized a presentation exploring the feasibility and logistics for developing a Pacific-wide breadfruit industry.
Interested individuals from government and the private sector in American Samoa and independent Samoa spent two days hearing from experts in the fields of agriculture, business, finance and marketing about the unique properties and opportunities breadfruit offers for economic development — not only to individual island nations but to the entire tropical and sub-tropical Pacific.
After a change in administration, the interest in the project faded in American Samoa but the enthusiasm of the teams assembled by PBCP didn’t. They took the show on the road and found an equally enthusiastic partner in Micronesia.
Last week Friday the Ulu project details were presented to the 19th Micronesian Chief Executives Summit, comprising the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands (CNMI), the Territory of Guam, the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and its States, Yap, Kosrae, Pohnpei and Chuuk; the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI); and Republic of Palau
The Micronesian chief executives endorsed the development of a breadfruit industry led by the Commonwealth of the Marianas Islands after hearing the PBCP presentation — a similar presentation to the one at last year’s Ulu Summit in American Samoa.
For the last two years PBCP has taken the lead in developing a new food industry in the Pacific based on gluten free breadfruit flour. Since breadfruit is found in abundance in all of the American Affiliated Pacific Islands, it can be converted into gluten free flour for local use, food security and export to the US, Asia and Europe, according to PBCP Senior Business Development Manager, Dr. CL Cheshire.
Breadfruit has never been commercialized on a significant scale in the Pacific or elsewhere in the world because the breadfruit tree has proven difficult to mass-produce and fresh breadfruit has a very short shelf life.
In the last ten years, Drs. Diane Ragone at the Breadfruit Institute and Susan Murch at the University of British Columbia have developed a technique to mass-produce and distribute breadfruit plantlets. Elite varieties have been selected for flour production and excellent nutrition.
Pacific Island countries now have the potential to produce an unlimited amount of breadfruit for making breadfruit flour and other products for export. And it seems the stars are aligned since the market in the U.S. for gluten-free products – especially products made from gluten-free flour – has skyrocketed. It is currently $3 billion in 2013 and is projected to double by 2017.
With the pieces in place, including one of the most essential — distribution by Food Source/C.H. Robinson, one of the world’s largest logistics and distribution companies for food products, based in Monterey California— the regional economic development initiative to develop a breadfruit gluten free flour export industry in the Pacific is shifting into the next phase of assessment, planting and laying the ground work for milling and manufacturing.
With CNMI leading the Micronesian consortium, last month a PBCP team did a demonstration planting 142 trees and facilitated the early care with the Agricultural Division of CNMI, creating a pathway for local farmers to begin engaging with and cultivating Ulu and the food forest form of agricultural activity.
This new model of “agroforestry” utilizes three dimensional production zones that can support both the exportable commodity as well as the local production of food creating a greater sense of food security for the communities served.
An initial informal assessment of five local farms including the DNLR Division of Tinian, a slightly smaller companion island to Saipan was also conducted.
PBCP director, Dr. Tusi Avegalio told Samoa News, “Though I'm happy that we've finally got the traction and support we need to move on the Ulu initiative, it's with somewhat of a heavy heart that I realize that at the time there were other more pressing priorities for American Samoa.
“Be that as it may, the CNMI is taking the lead for Micronesia. We still would like for American Samoa together with Samoa to form the southern cluster for Polynesia and the south Pacific in general as the project expands.
“I still look forward to the opportunity to revisit the initiative with our Government. There will always be an open pathway to all that we do,” he said.