Could ulu provide the diversification Hawaii’s economy needs? These breadfruit fanatics think so

Breadfruit is being called the "crop of the future" that will energize communities and economies.
Published: Oct. 18, 2022 at 10:30 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 19, 2022 at 11:48 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Farmers, educators, researchers, and entrepreneurs from across the Pacific gathered to discuss the benefits of crops like breadfruit that could help address food sustainability concerns.

The National Tropical Botanical Garden’s Breadfruit Institute co-hosted the 2022 Global Breadfruit Summit at the Hawaii Convention Center on Tuesday.

Breadfruit baking flour, hummus, whiskey, pasta was among the many products featured at the summit.

“The products you can make with ulu are endless,” said John Cadman, owner and operator of Pono Pies and Maui Breadfruit Company. “There are so many things, it’s just amazing.”

He said chefs are always looking for healthy options that are grown reliably in Hawaii.

“Until we can have an adequate supply of breadfruit, many establishments are reluctant to put it on their menu,” said Cadman. “So we definitely need to have more trees planted and larger acreage for sure, it would be good.”

Hawaii schools are using more local products employing a farm to cafeteria approach.

But the pandemic underscored how reliant Hawaii is on tourism.

Food and agriculture experts said the state needs to invest more in other industries.

“If the Hawaii Tourism Authority gave me $20 million to tell people to stay away from Hawaii, they would still be coming anyway,” said M Kalani Souza, director of Olohana Foundation.

That dilemma is familiar across the Pacific.

King Tuaine Vaeruarangi Ariki of the Island of Aitutaki, Cook Islands attended the summit.

The pandemic reminded that small nation that tourism is not a sustainable industry.

“So, we must look at other means and of course ulu would be an option,” said Ariki. “And of course, we would add other stuff to it like fish, plenty of resources, [there’s] always plenty of that.”

“So, we have it already but it’s just a matter of turning it into an economic process for us.”

A new food distribution site being built on Kauai is the kind of project these groups want more of.

“To develop more breadfruit and other locally grown crops in a sustainable way that sustains the land and the people and the economy,” said NTBG Breadfruit Institute Director Dr. Diane Ragone.

The ulu is just one example of a growing effort to take our economy back to its roots.