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How Jackfruit Saved Sri Lanka During Times of Starvation - From WWII to The Pandemic

Amidst the harrowing times of both the Second World War and the recent COVID-19 pandemic, Sri Lanka found an unlikely hero in the jackfruit, saving the nation from the clutches of starvation. It's hard to believe this beautiful Indian Ocean isle would literally be saved by a fruit called Jack.

Because of its unique ability to counter food shortages, the Sri Lankan High Commissioner to South Africa Sirisena Amarasekara even called for UN Food agencies to promote Jackfruit production as a means of counteracting food shortages.

The career public servant shed light on how this humble fruit played a crucial role in alleviating hunger during challenging periods and proposes a sustainable solution for future food security.

jackfruit growing wild

Source: PFN -Jackfruit growing wild

During the throes of the Second World War, when Sri Lanka faced severe food shortages, jackfruit emerged as a vital source of sustenance. The fruit's abundance and resilience made it a reliable food source, helping to stave off hunger during a time of global upheaval. It is used in curries the Sri Lankans are renowned for, replacing animal meat as its taste and texture has the ability to mimic shredded beef for instance. See jackfruit curry recipe here.

Young jackfruit curry

PFN: Jackfruit curry

In recent years, jackfruit once again came to the aid of Sri Lanka's rural community during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. The restrictions on movement and disrupted food distribution posed a significant threat to food security. However, jackfruit, grown in many Sri Lankan homes, provided a lifeline by addressing short-term food shortages.

Now the popularising of jackfruit consumption in warm, wet and even drought-prone regions could significantly reduce the costs associated with food distribution. Canned jackfruit is now widely available originating not just from Sri Lanka but most other Asian countries. See our earlier stories on these products.

Young shredded jackfruit

Source: © Buppha Wuttifery  Young shredded jackfruit

By promoting jackfruit cultivation, Sri Lanka offers technical assistance and planting materials to interested nations, enabling them to secure a more sustainable and cost-effective food source, especially in challenging times.

Jackfruit is also becoming more popular in Western countries as a plant-based protein alternative either on its own or integrated with other foods such as mushrooms. Already forinstance jackfruit plantations are being established in Northern Australia with the younger and smaller ones ideally suited for cooking purposes. The larger ones are sweeter and have a more fruity flavour making them ideal for snacks and desserts.

Source: PFN - Shredded Jackfruit Tacos, Jackfruit & mushroom burger, Jackfruit & mushroom patties

Should UN funding agencies embrace this vision, Sri Lanka stands ready to extend its support, ushering in an era where jackfruit not only sustains nations but also cultivates hope and resilience in the face of adversity.

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