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Plant Health by Diane Ragone

Dr. Diane Ragone, NTBG’s Breadfruit Institute Director

The United Nations has declared 2020 as the International Year of Plant Health. In recognition of this timely and timeless theme, and with the understanding that the health that all life on this planet is dependent on plant health, Diane Ragone discusses how NTBG contributes to protecting and advancing plant health.

Diane Ragone w Ulu on Tree, Photo Credit: Jim Wiseman

Breadfruit is a valuable source of delicious food providing many nutrients essential for human health. This long-lived tree contributes to the health and well-being of humans and the environment in countless ways. The majestic tree, with its large, glossy leaves and globular fruit, is both beautiful and calming. For many, it evokes fond childhood memories of home gardens and yards that contained but a single tree. There the families gathered in its shade, sharing meals made of this versatile fruit.
 
Gardens and farms planted with breadfruit benefit from lush canopies providing shade to other plantings and the ground below while producing abundant leaf litter that builds soil health and fertility. On hillsides, breadfruit trees develop dense, tangled roots that support them on slopes. Their dense canopy provides a buffer against heavy tropical downpours and, with the interlocking roots, reduces runoff and erosion while creating pockets of nutrient-rich soil where other plants thrive.
 
The work of NTBG’s Breadfruit Institute is the embodiment of “Protecting Plants, Protecting Lives,” the theme of the International Year of Plant Health 2020. Central to our work is the preservation of 150 varieties of breadfruit from 34 Pacific Islands, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Honduras. These trees are grown in field gene banks at Kahanu Garden on Maui and McBryde Garden on Kaua‘i. Many of the varieties we have collected were grown for centuries in their home islands, but changing lifestyles and climate change have led to dramatic declines and, in some cases, a complete disappearance.
 
Years of research in our conservation collection have allowed us to better understand breadfruit diversity and key characteristics such as seasonal productivity and nutritional attributes. This research informs our ongoing initiatives and international collaborations to promote the planting of high-quality breadfruit varieties around the world. Our goal is to advance greater food security, regenerative agriculture and agroforestry, and to create a source of income and financial stability that will cultivate healthy, resilient communities and environments.”

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