Remarkable, resilient jackfruit

Jul 2021

Controversial species or clever catalyst for regeneration in the Atlantic Rainforest?

ERC Sinal do Vale is developing a social enterprise that processes and commercializes green jackfruit as a model for protecting the endangered Atlantic Forest of Brazil and promoting healthy, local food for the surrounding communities. Through a regenerative value chain that implements agroforestry systems, involves small landowners in the buffer zones of protected areas and inserts jackfruit into the public school system meal program, Sinal do Vale is working to bring value to the standing forest and offer a solution that integrates ecosystem conservation and food security policies.

Why Jackfruit?

Jackfruit is a controversial species in Brazil.  Native to India, the species (artocarpus heterophyllus Lam) was introduced by the Portuguese in the late 1600s, initially to be exported under the colonial scheme. It eventually was popularized as an ornamental tree in portuguese country houses, a food source for low-income populations and enslaved people, and its wood was utilized for ship building. Eventually, the species adapted so well to Brazil, some botanists typified it as Artocarpus brasiliensis

Today, the trees’ behaviour in certain areas of Atlantic Forest in the state of Rio de Janeiro has been dubbed “invasive” by biologists and conservationists in the country. This has led to aggressive population control programs in protected areas, in which trees are often eliminated using toxic herbicides.  However, success rates are low due to the resilience of the species, and the drastic removal of the trees can cause other negative environmental consequences in the forest, as the fruit is a vital food source for many native fauna species. 

Another perspective: Jackfruit as a vehicle for regeneration

We are choosing to meet the challenge from a perspective of abundance, proposing a solution that takes advantage of the species’ resilience to conserve the forest and improve the quality of life of the communities of the periphery of Rio de Janeiro.

Here’s what makes the Jackfruit tree stand out:

The management model: from an agroforestry system to an agroecological brand

What if we eat it to beat it? If the jackfruit is collected and processed before it is ripe, we will diminish the existence of seedlings, controlling its population density in native forests. SINAL has already been processing green jackfruit artisanally, developing a line of packaged snacks, burgers and shredded “meat” under the brand Madre Frutos. 

We are working to develop an agroforestry model that manages the jackfruit trees and reinserts other native species and fruit trees to the landscape to promote biodiversity and retain soil health. Using species like Açaí Juçara, Cupuaçú and Cacao, in years to come, we will expand the product lines to supply the market with organic, locally-sourced fruits. 

Images: (c) Sinal do Vale

Scaling up: onboarding small landowners and public schools

Small holder farmers neighboring protected areas are critical for maintaining the biodiversity of the buffer zones. As we plan to expand our production plant, we want to train these farmers to manage jackfruit in their lands, implementing our agroforestry model. By buying their produce we will offer a supplementary income, strengthening a network of guardians of the standing forest. 

Finally, we have found an opportunity through Brazilian food security policies to insert green jackfruit into the public school meal system.

In Brazil, 30% of school lunches have to be sourced from local farmers. Taking advantage of this policy, we plan to introduce jackfruit into the public schools of our city, providing nutritious and local food to thousands of students, and building a demand for the small holder farmers producing jackfruit.

Through the growth of Madre Frutos, we hope to showcase a successful case-study of the principles of a Regenerative Economy¹, shifting our paradigmatic view: prioritizing abundance over scarcity, with a focus on holistic wealth, and empowering participation, honouring place and community. 

[1] The Capital Institute identities 8 key interconnected principles that characterize a Regenerative Economy:

Author Johanna Barba is Communications & Impact Coordinator at Sinal do Vale in Brazil

Sinal do Vale is an Ecosystem Restoration Community in Brazil, and a center for the regeneration of ecosystems, communities and individuals. The camp is located on 400 acres of land just 50 km from downtown Rio de Janeiro. Sinal do Vale is an Advanced Post of UNESCO’s Biosphere Reserves and 1 of 17 certified Global Ecosphere Retreats in the world. They prototype and teach solutions that regenerate forests, soils, and food systems that can be replicated and scaled in this critical region.