PUHI — A Kauai Community College researcher is seven months into the first field experiment studying the potential of ulu (breadfruit) as a major field crop.
Sharadchandra Marahatta — agriculture, faculty and manager of the Ulutopia Project — said the objectives of the study are to create a teaching plot for students, study the growth and yield of breadfruit, determine the effects of fertilizers and cover crops and assist the community by providing breadfruit plants as a source of food.
“Ulu has connection (to) the Pacific islands, and it’s a staple food,” said Sharadchandra Marahatta, “In case of an emergency — if we are unable to get food from the Mainland or other places — ulu can save us.”
Marahatta said the study will have data for local growers after the crops first harvest in about two to three years.
The Ulutopia Project, which consists of 64 breadfruit trees planted in a 2-acre plot, “will help farmers make informed decisions about establishing and managing breadfruit orchards,” said Diane Ragone, director of National Tropical Botanical Garden’s Breadfruit Institute.
The project is facilitated by KCC in partnership with NTBG.
Ragone said producing more locally grown staple foods such as breadfruit is good for the consumer and good for Kauai’s economy.
“The Ulutopia Project … will compare different treatments such as fertilizers, including organic products, use of cover crops and inter-planting with other crops and plants,” she said.
Helen Cox, KCC chancellor, praised the partnership between the college and NTBG.
“(This) is the perfect example of how residents of the Garden Island work together to reach the goal of being a sustainable living community,” she said.” It is exciting to contribute to learning about this important crop while providing our students vital hands-on experience.”
Marahatta is using the cover crop sunn hemp for half of the breadfruit trees to increase soil nutrition.
“Cover crops help to protect the land,” he said. “They help to help increase the number of beneficial insects, beneficial organisms and help to reduce the number of harmful nematodes – help reduce harmful pathogens.”
The other half, Marahatta said, are planted in bare ground. In addition, each row of plants are given three to zero doses of fertilizer.
“In this project, we are trying to see the effect of fertilizer and effect of sunn hemp cover crop,” he said. “If a single application (of fertilizer) is sufficient, then why spend money for labor?”
Marahatta said as a food, ulu can be made into different products.
“It is possible to make different products from ulu — like chips and alcoholic beverages,” he said. “A lot of opportunities. Ulu is (also) gluten-free.”
Marahatta added that the project is open to the community.
“This is a learning place — not only for students,” he said. “Community members, people from other islands, they can see the response of different treatments. They can learn from us, but we can learn from them as well.”