How a Haitian bakery is using the breadfruit tree to foster resilience after the earthquake

Breadfruit konparèts aplenty in Jérémie. Photo courtesy Trees That Feed Foundation, used with permission.

This story was originally published on Petchary's Blog. An edited version is republished below with the author's kind permission.

Jérémie, a lovely seaside town on Haiti's southwest peninsula—the long toe that sticks out at the western end of the island of Hispaniola, very close to Jamaica—and its population of about 97,000, is one of the areas damaged by the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that shook the country on August 14.

Both Jérémie, to the north of the peninsula, and neighbouring Les Cayes, to the south, were hard hit. Buildings collapsed and people were caught under the wreckage. The earthquake also affected the densely forested Pic Macaya, the nearby national park named after the country's second-highest mountain, causing landslides. Up until a week ago, there were ongoing rescue operations to find survivors in that area.

Beyond many of the headlines’ disaster narratives, however, and despite the country's recent political, social and economic upheaval, life goes on in Haiti. It always does.

Nearly 5,000 residents still suffering from the effects of the recent earthquake received konparèts, including 257 people—some of whom are seen here—at the Jérémie Breadfruit Flour and Bakery on August 19. Photos courtesy Pierre-Moïse Louis, used with permission.

The 2021 earthquake, which was more intense than its 2010 predecessor, has thus far killed over 2,200 Haitians and left many more injured, missing and homeless. It has also put many Haitians in the position of not having access to food, but a local pâtisserie, Jérémie Breadfruit Flour and Bakery, has stepped in to help. Since the disaster, it has been providing tasty and nutritious meals, including breads and konparèts, to the town's residents—close to 22,000 in the week after the earthquake alone.

A dense bread with a cake-like consistency that is a traditional Jérémie delicacy, konparèts are both tasty and filling—but the bakery, which owner Pierre Moïse Louis established just five years ago, has been baking a very special type of konparèts using breadfruit flour. Although his business was also affected by the earthquake, Louis donated the bakery's salvageable stock to local families in need.

Delicious konparèts, fresh out of the oven. Photo courtesy Trees That Feed Foundation, used with permission.

Konparèt baking is a century-old tradition. The delicacy is typically made using root ginger, extract of bergamot, vanilla, almonds, cinnamon, star anise, cloves, grated coconut, cane syrup, baking soda, butter, animal fat, a pinch of salt, and well … flour. So where do the breadfruit trees come in?

The United States-based not-for-profit Trees That Feed Foundation, which was co-founded by Jamaicans Mary and Mike McLaughlin, has been donating breadfruit trees to Haiti for the past 10 years. Wanting “food to be used by Haitians, for Haitians,” the programme encourages the development of other breadfruit products. As the donated trees flourished, locals began to turn the fruit into flour and—at least in Louis’ case—bake konparèts with it. Partnering with Trees That Feed, his bakery has been producing thousands of buns each month to supply schools, children’s homes, and other organisations in need, even before the earthquake. Jérémie Breadfruit Flour and Bakery also runs cooking classes that teach people how to use breadfruit flour in their dishes, and encourages local entrepreneurship.

An employee of the Jérémie Breadfruit Flour and Bakery demonstrates how the breadfruit is peeled. Photo courtesy Trees That Feed Foundation, used with permission.

Of the post-earthquake efforts, Louis says:

We are focusing on konparèts because [they are] very nutritious and ready to eat, so people don’t need to cook. People in Jérémie are living on the streets now because their houses were destroyed and, because of the aftershocks of the earthquake, they are afraid to enter the [remaining] houses, which are not still solid. They don’t have any food and water, so they need ready-to-eat foods, because they don’t have kitchens [in which] to cook.

The Trees That Feed Foundation is a major partner in the Caribbean Tree Planting Project (CTPP), an initiative spearheaded by the Caribbean Philanthropic Alliance (CariPhilAlliance) that is taking place across 22 regional territories.

The first Caribbean Tree Planting Week took place in July this year, but since February 2020, the CTPP has planted more than 1.5 million trees across the Caribbean, most of them in Haiti. Its next goal is to plant two million trees between July 2021 and June 2022, region-wide.

In addition to other activities, the CariPhilAlliance and Trees That Feed are working together to help expand the bakery’s production of konparèts:

In addition to being flavourful, these baked goods are made with breadfruit which is rich in iron, potassium, vitamin A, and other vitamins and minerals. These meals are also made from coconut, ginger, and molasses which provide protein, iron, potassium, antioxidants and other nutrients. A single breadfruit tree has been found to produce enough fruit to feed an entire family, and can live up to 80-100 years, providing entrepreneurs in Haiti with professional opportunities for years to come.

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