Providing both food and wood, breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis) is an important traditional crop for many indigenous communities across the Pacific. In March 2015, Super Typhoon Maysak directly hit the Islands of the Federated States of Micronesia. On Chuuk and the outer islands of Yap, winds reached an unthinkable 160 mph and 90% of food crops and trees were destroyed.
Large, mature breadfruit trees were damaged in the storm on both Ulithi Atoll and Fais Island, and this had serious consequences for food security and agroecosystem services. Besides their nutritious fruit, breadfruit trees provide shade, organic soil, and a cooler micro-climate for other species important to Pacific subsistence living. Breadfruit trees are also an important part of the Pacific Island culture. There are hundreds of different varieties of breadfruit, and the wood and sap of different species have different purposes including canoe and building construction and for ink for traditional tattoos.
In response to the devastation caused by the typhoon, a community from Yap living in Hawaiʻi organized for food and other supplies to be sent to the Islands. Amanda Uowolo, an ecologist with the USDA Forest Service Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry (IPIF) and member of the Yap community was part of this effort. Uowolo realized they needed a longer-term solution to the food security concerns in Yap that would also help reduce dependence on imported food, so she worked with *partnering organizations to start Project Melai Mai (transl. “planting gardens of breadfruit”) in 2016.
By 2017, Melai Mai was able to import more than 450 tissue-cultured breadfruit trees to Ulithi Atoll and Fais Island. Project personnel worked closely with local chiefs and the community, providing training in propagation methods and care for the new imported trees.
In 2018, an additional 800 trees were delivered to communities in Yap Proper, Fais, and the atolls of Woleai, Ifaluk, and Ulithi. By 2019, Melai Mai had facilitated the planting of more than 1,250 trees across the islands of Yap. The program also expanded to other islands in Micronesia such as Palau, which received 650 trees. Also in 2019, the Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry and partners held a workshop for Palau’s local farmers to share information about breadfruit cultivation and harvesting.
There is no doubt that Melai Mai has made a real difference to the communities receiving breadfruit trees and assistance in breadfruit cultivation. The project continues with plans to develop a community agroforestry garden in Melekeok state in Palau (the first of its kind). For her part in the project, Uowolo received the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “Unsung Hero” award in 2018, “in recognition of outstanding leadership, dedication to excellence, and exemplary public service with the breadfruit agroforestry and food security initiative "Melai Mai" in the Federated States of Micronesia on behalf of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”
*The Melai Mai program is a collaboration between the USDA Forest Service (Pacific Southwest Regional Office and Pacific Southwest Research Station), the Breadfruit Institute, Yap Division of Agriculture and Forestry, Palau Forestry, Palau Bureau of Agriculture, Palau Community College, Geo-literacy Education in Micronesia, and the Council of Tamol.
Links to articles and videos about Melai Mai
Partners in Science – USDA Forest Service (2020) (Opens to PDF)