Breadfruit male flowers as effective mosquitoe repellant


courtesy of
courtesy of

A colleague recently asked if I knew breadfruit, “yeah man!” I enthused. “How come Richard didn’t know anything about this delicious food” Mrs Kennedy asked. I told Mrs Kennedy that posh Nigerians don’t eat breadfruit and Richard is an original Lagos boy. Breadfruit in Nigeria is seen as poor people’s food, we choose food based on economic status and not necessarily for their nutritional values.

Breadfruit – gbere or jaloke as we call it in southwest grow easily as in many tropical countries. Mrs Kennedy thought we were missing out on a very important staple if Nigerians see it as poor people’s food. She talked about variety of ways in which breadfruit can be enjoyed. Folks in Hawaii and the Caribbean eat breadfruit as main meal as well as for snacks, it is perfect substitute for rice, yam, cassava, pasta etc. A brief online search confirms a lot of what Mrs Kennedy said. She is Jamaican who is passionate about West Africa but could not understand why breadfruit isn’t popular staple food in Nigeria.

In my region, we eat breadfruit the same way as yam, mostly we pound it so it gives the same texture as pounded yam – goes well with meat or fish stew of choice. Some people fry or roast it but it has never gained the same popularity as yam. Lots of farmers around Ile-Ife villages grow breadfruit and are abundant in season, also cheaper than the price of yams.

Would Nigerians change their habit towards breadfruit if they are aware of the nutritional benefits? I have done nutritional comparisons here between our much sought-after yams and breadfruits.

breadfruit facts

My family first tried breadfruit in early 1980s, because it was a cheaper substitute for yam. The first time my mother brought a few home, she was confronted with disbelief, she explained it was in season and a third of the price of yam, so everyone thought it’s worth the try. We all enjoyed the pounded breadfruit from the first try, and from then on, we were converts. We realised it was a lot easier to pound than yam so my mother started her very own pounded breadfruit business aka iyan gbere/ iyan jaloke. My mother and older sister pound breadfruits in the evenings, after which my other older sister and I hawk it around the neighbourhood. It was on a small-scale, enough for 30 adults to eat. Within days we gained dedicated customers who wait for us in the evenings, all they had to do was make their stew and we’d supply warm iyan gbere, it was a great experience. The income in the evenings made huge difference to our livelihood, it was an additional income she didn’t thought was possible. The business went on for about three seasons before my parents moved back to the village.

My 23 year old niece who was born and lived in Lagos all her life could not say she has ever tasted breadfruit, she said her neighbour had it in their garden because it provides nice shade but the fruits usually fell on the ground collecting flies. She agrees that it is class issue and perhaps fuelled by the fact that its nutritional benefits were not widely known.

Other benefits of breadfruit that are too good to be ignored by Nigerians: There are lots of benefits of breadfruit both the tree and the fruits, I am only going to talk about two of them.

– Timber: Used in building constructions, carved bowls, boats and many more. Breadfruit wood is resistant to termites (this is intriguing given we have lots of termites’ constant invasion)

– Mosquito repellant: Dried male flowers when burnt serves as repellant for mosquitoes and other insects. In 2102 a group of researchers at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan Canada conducted a study that confirms that breadfruit male flowers contain undecanoic, caprice and lauric acids. The study shows that these compounds are significantly more effective at repelling mosquitoes than DEET (active ingredient in insects repellant).

My question for us Nigerians is, why aren’t our roads paved with breadfruit trees? Male flowers being deterrent to mosquitoes alone is worth the efforts. It is unlikely to stop mosquitoes at source but at least having natural ingredients to burn around the house as opposed to chemical-based Raid is an excellent start. 97% of Nigerians are at risk of malaria due to mosquito bites, South West Nigeria has the highest rate of malaria case in the country with the lowest being South East.

In recent years, Nigeria government now has turned attention into bringing back the lost glory of agriculture in the country. A few years ago a group working on eradication of world hunger met with our ex-president, Olusegun Obasanjo on his invitation and shared valuable information on how beneficial breadfruit to sorting out the end world hunger drive. Our ex president now has several hundreds of the plants in his farm, the plan was to distribute the fruits to the locals in need. This is a bit unsettling, why distributing breadfruits for free to the locals? Why not go further by educating the population of the benefits of breadfruit as a perfectly good alternative to yam and cheaper one at that. Why not encourage more farmers to take on the production of breadfruit. Radio, TV, social media are all perfectly good avenues to blow horns and in time Nigerians will get the message. Please, Baba let us use the knowledge we have to help the citizens.

Yes, we can do it all without external help – really?

It’s always fascinating sitting around fellow youths and talking about the state of our nation – that is what we do, talk. This one took a slightly different turn. It was a workshop with a panel of speakers – wise Nigerian men and women and one well known African correspondent for a major news broadcasting corporation who is British.

The panel were meant to educate the audience about some issues that are not so obvious to the general public. The event started off really well with everyone sharing what they thought should be done to change the state of our country. As always we all had lots to say, the bottom line was that we can not keep going this way, something has to give – what could that be and how do we go about it? Mr Smith (not his real name), the African correspondent who has worked on the continent for three decades suggested that Nigeria today needs external supports to get the country off her knees, Mr Smith has not finished explaining before almost everyone interjected unanimously that “we do not need any more external interventions of Oyinbos!” Needless to say he didn’t finish whatever he had in mind. Our president hiring American PR firm to help with public damage control was still fresh in everyone’s mind.

About twenty minutes later, it was Mr Smith’s turn to contribute and again, he chose his words more carefully that Nigeria will need mentors in the form of United Nations and other international bodies that could help lead us through how other nations have coped during challenging times if we truly want to move forward as a nation. And again, trust my people, the man was interrupted with resounding “No, we can do it all by ourselves, enough of external mentors.” Another very interesting point that Mr Smith touched on was that Nigerians loved to talk a lot about issues but we tend to forget that collating data to defend our points is as crucial as the points we were trying to make and more often than not people understand figures more than words. This point also received sharp red-arrow based on the fact that our problems were too obvious that we do not demand any numbers/graphs to be able to see things were not the way they were supposed to be.

I wonder if the reporter had very good points that is worth paying attention to? Most of the challenges we face today are not from Mars. They are right in our face daily.

On Education: One of the reasons our lecturers keep using strike actions as the only medium of communication is because they get paid for being at home. All our tertiary institutions from College of Education, Polytechnics to Universities are home for one reason or the other for at least three months in a given year, we’ve had nine months straight. This has been the tradition for the best part of 15 years. Yet, no matter how long they stayed at home, they are paid, where can you do this in the world?  Actually, by the time they spent two months at home, they forget why they were on strike and started yet another ‘fight’ for their salary. Nigerians need leaders among the decision-making bodies to stop this senseless strike actions. Stop any offsprings of lecturers getting any government-funded scholarship for private universities in the country and for studying abroad, that should be a good start and then include no work no pay policy in their contracts. These should force the ASUU and other representatives to find better ways to express their grievances. As it stands today the main losers were the students who are home wandering the roads and getting into troubles. Currently OAU students are at home for the last one month, they were home for about 6 months last year. OAU is not alone, all of our higher institutions are doing the same.

Health: Nigeria doctors have been on strike now for about a month and there have been numerous talks and seminars about how to go about their demands. Most Nigerians know that almost all of the doctors at Teaching Hospitals have their own private clinics, this is no secret.  There is always something, this time it was around titles and you wonder why all doctors have to be off work indefinitely to address this? When they eventually calmed down, the first thing the government would do is to pay for those week/months they did not work. In this instance the losers really are the public who rely on government hospitals for sorting them out with health concerns. Most public officials have hospitals dedicated to them all over the globe aka health tourism and sometimes the well-offs run away to either London or New York to be treated by Nigerian doctors who have been lucky to escape the rat-race of our dear nation. What a country indeed.

Social issues: Loads of social issues around the country today. Most of which am told were ‘our culture’ sometimes I wonder what our true culture were. We struggle daily to understand and argue needlessly about what is socially acceptable norm around certain issues. Take for example religious leaders who majored in cure for infertility and sometimes claim to cure mental health patients. These two examples are traditionally taboos among Yoruba at least. The belief was that everyone is capable of conceiving and given birth naturally and at any age. Also that anyone suffering from mental health must have done something wrong to offend the ‘elderly.’ The list is endless. Now today, we have what has been termed ‘baby factory’ in almost every major city, the government is after them arresting the owners. Who among the decision-making bodies would wise up and understand why we have baby factories, pay investigators to go underground to the various religious centres and learn how their baby miracles actually work? And expose them to the public.

To investigate how the mental health patients were being treated, a poor 12-year-old neighbour was heavily drugged for weeks lay down in vegetative state, he was lucky that his mother finally understood what the miracle centres do and later sort for professional help, the boy had bipolar which definitely should not be the end of his decent life, now back at school doing well while on drugs that help to control his mood swings, also with monthly check up. Can we do this all these investigations ourselves even though we are completely blinded by religion and still holding on to the fantasy of our culture?

I reckon the idea of bringing in third parties to ‘solve’ our problems as Mr Smith suggested was because he could see that we are incapable of telling the truth for the fear of rocking the boats. To be able to do it on our own will require lecturers/doctors being forced to find better ways to vent their grievances to the government otherwise face the consequences of no work no pay.

Humans are rational, we will always choose the option that has lesser negative impact. Can we do it all on our own?