The reality of hunger in Trinidad and Tobago was illustrated at the March 15 launch of the Catholic Education Board of Management (CEBM) project to alleviate hunger through distribution of breadfruit plants to schools and communities.
Agricultural economist Omadath Maharaj, a member of Made in TT, which is spearheading the initiative, referred to social media posts “shaming mothers and fathers for stealing small quantities of food products, admittedly so their children would not go hungry”. Addressing the launch at Archbishop’s House, he said, “We need to restore hope and provide especially for the most vulnerable among us.”
Maharaj described the project as “people serving people”. “It is our own admission that more must be done, beginning at the individual and household level, to encourage food and nutrition security in Trinidad and Tobago.”
He referred to TT’s high annual food import bill averaging $6 billion, and the impact of declining foreign exchange reserves, increasing pressure on exchange rates, widening fiscal deficits and public debt. “We must focus on food independence sooner than later,” he said.
Explaining the choice of the breadfruit plant, Maharaj noted its long history as a staple grown in the Pacific for almost 3,000 years and its introduction to tropical regions more than 200 years ago. He said, “The trees are easy to grow and thrive under a wide range of ecological conditions, producing abundant, nutritious food for decades without the labour, fertiliser and chemicals used to grow field or short-term crops.” A single breadfruit tree has been found to produce 200 or more fruits per season. They can be round, oval or oblong and weigh up to six kilograms.
Maharaj said, “If we assume a lifetime average of 300 fruits per year per tree with eight-pound weight, with the financial sponsorship and support we have raised, this effort will provide 1,000 plants freely and spread nationally.”
Archbishop Jason Gordon mentioned a woman he knew who was recently jailed after she was caught shoplifting to assist her family. “That is just one example of where a community approach to feeding and sustainable feeding for people in poverty would make a very big impact,” he said. The Archbishop commended the persons who came up with the idea and assured of support from the Archdiocese.
CEBM Chief Executive Officer Sharon Mangroo said the project was the result of generosity of a group of private citizens who saw the need to attack poverty “by doing something”. She said this coincided with Pope Francis’ appeal for the environment and other ideas.
Breadfruit plants will be given to schools with space and also the surrounding communities they served. “Here is another idea, the connection with community and the connection with sharing,” Mangroo said.
After the formal programme ended, attendees moved to the grounds of Archbishops House where a breadfruit tree was planted and plants handed out to representatives of Success RC, Our Lady of Laventille RC and Maracas RC and others.