Lawmakers and the breadfruit initiative


Lawmakers have been touting the need to develop another industry to help provide jobs and create a sustainable future. But when an opportunity to pursue a new industry—albeit a much smaller scale than tourism—presents itself, they turn a blind eye, develop amnesia, or appropriate a measly $600 to help develop a CNMI Breadfruit Program that many of them earlier vowed to support.

Gov. Eloy S. Inos, who has been advocating a breadfruit program, submitted to the Legislature a $60,600 funding request for the CNMI’s Breadfruit Program’s “startup” in the fiscal year 2016 budget. The House of Representatives initially approved the governor’s $60,600 requested funding. But the Senate drastically reduced it to $600, even as it increased legislative leadership funding to $300,000, took away some funding for tourism, and allowed for additional government hiring, among other things.

When the deadlock was broken between the House and Senate, the resulting compromise budget bill reflected the Senate’s $600 funding for the breadfruit initiative.

Days later, the Senate rewarded their Saipan colleagues with a $2,500 monthly subsistence allowance. That’s $30,000 a year. Multiply that by three for three Saipan senators. Tinian and Rota senators each has a monthly subsistence allowance of $5,000 or $60,000 a year. Multiply that by six for six Rota and Tinian senators.

What’s more, two senators are current/former members of the CNMI Breadfruit Initiative Team. Sen. Sixto Igisomar (R-Saipan) became a member when he was still Commerce secretary, while Sen. Arnold Palacios (R-Saipan) became a member when he was still Department of Lands and Natural Resources secretary.

It is not unreasonable to expect that at least Igisomar and Palacios would champion the cause of the breadfruit initiative in the Senate or the whole Legislature, knowing the potential of a breadfruit industry. It was disappointing to say the least that they voted to scrap the breadfruit program of needed money, except for $600.

A breadfruit program is taking off in other parts of the region. The CNMI has started planting breadfruit trees, and workshops held by Hawaii experts for those in the CNMI interested in cultivating breadfruit trees and exporting them. But the CNMI program needs so much more in funding support; much more than the $600 that the Legislature was able to come up with.

The CNMI needs to take the lead because of its quota-free clause in the Covenant and the Jones Act. These put the CNMI “in a better position” to ship out breadfruit.

Gov. Inos has been promoting the breadfruit initiative for three fundamental reasons: 1) the fiber content is known to combat non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and hypertension (the humble fruit is a superfood); 2) it’s for food security for every village or family; and 3) it has a billion-dollar potential for gluten-free flour and the sap, according to breadfruit experts from Hawaii, is currently valued at $1,000 per gallon.

It was in 2013 when the Inos administration kicked off the breadfruit initiative. In a brief ceremony, Inos marked the event by leading the transplanting of Ma’afala breadfruit plantlets, touting the breadfruit’s potential to help fuel the local economy. The governor also formed a Breadfruit Initiative Task Force led by Ivan A. Blanco, who at the time was with the Office of Grants Management, and now press secretary.

Inos himself said in 2013 that the demand for gluten-free food source such as breadfruit has picked up, and the CNMI—where breadfruit is a staple—is seeing its economic potential.

That was days after the House of Representatives adopted House Joint Resolution 18-12 by a vote of 17-0, expressing support in diversifying the CNMI’s economy by developing breadfruit flour as a value-added agricultural export product.

Perhaps Igisomar, Palacios and most of their colleagues at the Legislature can still redeem themselves and practice what they preach—that of looking for ways to develop new industries, create jobs so people can feed themselves, and boost the local economy—by appropriating startup funds for the breadfruit program via the Saipan and Northern Islands Legislative Delegation chaired by Rep. John Paul Sablan (R-Saipan).

Let us see whether lawmakers, who are prompt in funding road repairs, fishing derbies, bus shelter stops, basketball courts and buying lawnmowers would also see the importance of helping a potential industry get off the ground.

While CNMI tourism is doing okay these days compared to previous years, and the Saipan casino’s supposed “live training facility” just held its grand opening, it doesn’t hurt to pursue another industry that will complement tourism.

Hopefully, elected officials on Capital Hill would stop believing that a Saipan casino, charging tourists additional fees or legalizing marijuana for medicinal use are the only ones to complement tourism, boost the economy and cure all of the CNMI’s financial woes.

Haidee V. Eugenio Eugenio

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