Sustaining Molokai Native Hawaiian Family Farms

Final Report for SW09-502

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2009: $47,420.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Region: Western
State: Hawaii
Principal Investigator:
Alton Arakaki
UH-College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, Cooperative Extension Service
Glenn Teves
UH CTAHR Cooperative Extension Service
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Project Information


The five Native Hawaiian farmer-participants were mono-crop farmers at the beginning of the project. They produced sweet potato, watermelons or papayas as their only crop. The project provided opportunities for participating farmers to gain experience in producing other crops to diversify their business and farm's biological environment. After three years in the project, four of the five participants have moved away from having a mono-crop operation; growing and marketing alternative crops they selected to produce during the project. One of the participants chose not to begin growing his second crop until he had better control of the deer population around his field that was causing great crop damage.

This project that utilized on-farm experiential training methods to teach crop production techniques and lessons was successful in providing participants with the knowledge, skills, experience and confidence to produce more than a single crop on their farm. The community has benefited from the project, as more locally-produced fresh vegetable are now available from the participants’ farms.

Project Objectives:

1. Plan and design five on-farm tropical sustainable demonstration family farms in month 1 of project.

2. Order supplies for the establishment of five tropical sustainable demonstration family farms in month 2 of project.

3. Begin installing five sustainable tropical demonstration farms.

4. Maintain the production of diversified crops and monitor plant biological environment, beginning month 4 and through the duration of the project to month 30.

5. Collect soil and plant tissue samples, analyze samples, conduct educational activities with producers beginning in month 4 and through the duration of the project to month 30.

6. Conduct annual field days in project month 10, 20 and 30.

7. Collect production and cost of production data beginning in month 4 and through the duration of the project to month 30.

8. Prepare and publish project information as an extension bulletin and share with clientele in month 34 through month 36 of the project.

9. Conduct project evaluation in month 34 through month 36 of the project.


The Hawaiian islands, 2390 miles from California to the east and 3850 miles from Japan to the the west, are the most isolated land area and civilization on earth. The population of 1.3 million people produces only 5% of their nutritional needs and imports the rest from global food suppliers. In 2008, it was estimated that Hawaii has about an inventory of one week of stored food supply. A recent survey of farm supplies showed that 98% of the crop production supplies and inputs are imported. When suppliers were asked about transportation costs, they responded that import transportation adds about $5.00 to a 50 lb bag of fertilizer.

Farmers on Moloka’i tend to produce crops within their “comfort zone,” including crops about which they have developed historic knowledge and experience growing and marketing. They fortify this comfort zone from potential competitors by capitalizing on expensive and specialized equipment, such as mechanical equipment and farm implements that contribute to reducing the per unit cost of production. As they increase their expertise and capitalization in their crop, they increasingly become trapped in this “comfort zone” and in their mono-cropping production system. As a result their production system becomes a production system that produces ‘a lot of a few crops’, similar to the now declining Hawaiian sugar and pineapple industries. Economy of scale, knowledge and experience become their competitive advantage.

In order to increase Hawaii’s food supply, growers need to move away from being mono-croppers and diversify the crops they produce on their farm. Crop diversification also will improve economic stability and biological diversity of the farm. The project sought to diversify the crops produced on participating mono-cropping farms on Moloka’i. In the process, participating farmer experienced using locally available farm inputs and resources. The project utilized on-farm hands-on and experiential teaching and learning methods to train participants to produce another crop on their farm. The project provided opportunities for PI’s of the project to work closely with farmers to help hedge against production risks that come with the steep learning curve of growing a new crop. The participants have bought into Western SARE goals that promote diversifying crop production, farm income stream, biological environment and providing island consumers with diversity of food crops, all contributing to developing a sustainable food system for communities and at the same time supporting and promoting good environmental stewardship.


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  • Castle Adolpho
  • Russell DeCoite
  • Noah Freeman
  • John Henry Kaiama
  • Rick Tamanaha


Materials and methods:

1. Consultation meetings were held with project producers individually to identify the alternative crop they wanted to produce on their product demonstration farm, located on their farm site. Each producer conducted their own market analysis for their crop.

2. Production plan was develop to incrementally introduce the crop into the production rhythm/work schedule of the primary crop. Disruptions to the production activities of the primary were held to the minimum.

3. Supplies for the project were purchased for the demonstration farm, and production plan for the alternative crop was executed on each demonstration farm.

4. Each producer managed the production plan and time schedule that fit into the field work activities of their primary crop.

5. P.I. provided technical advice and information on producing the alternative crops, including plant spacing; pest, irrigation and plant nutrition management; and plant production problem troubleshooting and diagnostics and recommended alternative solutions to production issues.

6. Each producer maintained production records and data on their alternative crop production activities.

Research results and discussion:

1. Individual meetings and consultations were held with each participant to discuss alternative crops that could be added into their mono-crop production system. Production needs, compatibility with existing crop and system, sustainable alternative practices to address potential problems, market competition and marketability were covered in the meetings.

2. Supplies for the establishment of tropical sustainable demonstration family farms were ordered for four of the five participating farms. Objective 2 has been accomplished for four of five project sites.

3. Field site inspection and demonstration farm locations were conducted and identified by participants and co-coordinator. Demonstration farms were established. Taro and awa were selected as the second crop on farms that produced only sweet potato, taro and papaya. Three producers selected taro, Colocacia esculenta and one choose awa, Piper methysticm, as their alternative crop. Both taro and awa are propagated by vegetatively, unlike other traditional crops such as corn, beans or lettuce, where seeds are readily available. There were concerns that the rapidity for scaling up the project for taro and awa would be hampered by the lack of propagation materials for the selected. Scaling up of demonstration production was necessary to generate realistic production time management situations and economic data. In order to overcome the issues of not enough propagation material, training and education activities on using micro-propagated taro plantlets was incorporated into the project. Producers learned and received hands-on experience to produce taro using tissue cultured taro plantlets. The technology was able to produce enough propagation material to get started and incrementally increase propagation material. The micro-propagated taro plantlet also was nematode-free, which vegetative cuttings could not guarantee. Selected cultivars of propagated awa cuttings were purchased from a nursery for the project. The initial plants were field planted for production and parent material for propagation material.

4. Participants have diversified their crops on their farm by establishing and managing their second crop and continue to expand their planting in a timely manner. Participants are continuing to maintain the production of their diversified crops and plan to use the crop in a rotational planting system with their primary crop. Producers have indicated that they are beginning to feel comfortable with the integration of their second crop into the production cycle and activity sequence of their primary crop.

5. Soil samples were reviewed to monitor soil fertility, and as plants mature, tissue samples will be taken to monitor plant nutritional conditions. Continuous educational activities and individual participant consultations were conducted to implement plans on each of the five demonstration sites. Experiential teaching methods was utilized to conduct trainings in tractor operation and maintenance, land preparation implements, soil tillage, calibration and application of soil amendments, lining-up windbreaks, installing drip irrigation, planting windbreaks, applying pre-plant fertilizer, laying plastic mulch, injecting plant nutrition, planting crop, pest management, harvesting crop and preparing for market. Participants are participating in USDA-NRCS Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) and Farm Service Agency (FSA) programs.

6. Field days have been conducted to share information amongst participating producers, other farmers and agriculture professionals.

7. Participants of the project have maintained records of the cost of production of their new crop.

8. Crop production data and records were maintained for publishing educational materials that will be shared with other farmers.

9. Post-project evaluation by participating producers has been completed.

Research conclusions:

1. As a result of accomplishing Objective 1, four of five on-farm tropical sustainable demonstration farms are continuing to implement their project to diversify their farm. Three participating producers are adding taro crop into their certified organic papaya, sweet potato and watermelon operations. One participant is incorporating awa into his certified organic papaya production. It is projected that the fifth participant will begin his eggplant project in 2011 upon completing construction of his deer fence around his farm. Crop diversity promotes biological diversification of the farm environment, provides the farm with alternative revenue streams and provides the community with diversity of food choices.

2. As a result of acquiring supplies, including locally-produced fishbone meal from a Hawaii-based rendering plant and coral lime from local quarry, project participants have diversified their crops on their farms and have used local sources for farm input. I also assisted the supplier of the fishbone meal manufacturer to get their product organically certified from Washington State Department of Agriculture Organic Program. Identifying and using locally available sources of farm inputs reduces the need for isolated communities in Hawaii to depend on imported supplies to produce their food; reduces our dependency of foreign oil; reduces waste entering our land fill; recycles food waste back into our food production system; and improves our island’s food security.

3. As a result of our accomplishments, sustainable tropical demonstration farms have been installed on four of five participants' farms. Participants have established the production of their second crop into fields that were once planted with their primary crop. Participants have experienced and gained production skills required to manage an integrated and diversified farm cropping system. The project provides participants an opportunity to learn these skills by hands-on experiential training activities. Experiential learning was augmented with individual consultation and workshops conducted by project leader. The project has increased the number of farmers with skills to manage and operate a diversified and integrated farm and will enhance the ability for communities to develop a sustainable food production system. As farm production and marketing efforts mature, it is projected that farm families will increase their economic security and improve the biological environment of their farms.

4. Participants have increased the area of their second crop, integrating them into their primary crops production system. Participants have expanded their production area of their second crop. No observable environmental change has been observed on participants' fields resulting from crop diversification. It is believed that production level of the companion crops needs to be increased to occupy a bigger footprint on the farm to influence change in biological condition of the field. The primary crop will continue to dominate the field conditions that influence the environmental signature of the farm. Insect population and disease infestation has been monitored on participants' farms. There were incidents of seasonal Rose Beetles and predictable Aphid infestation on the taro plants, but no nematode has been detected on the disease-free micro-propagated taro plants used for the project.

5. As a result of collecting soil samples and conducting on-going educational activities on sustainable farming practices, participants have successfully produced and expanded their second crop on their farm. They continue to apply local sources of organically certified plant nutrients. Participants have marketed taro, watermelons, awa, eggplant and value-added products made from taro. Participants are participating in USDA-NRCS Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) and Farm Service Agency programs. Participants are increasing their knowledge and skills and gained hand-on experience of caring for integrated system of diversified crops.

6 As a result of the field day, participants were able to share information about their project with other growers and agricultural professionals. Other growers have adopted sustainable practices used by project participants, such as using locally available farm inputs and developed production plans that incorporated more than one crop. The project provided opportunities for farmers to interact with other farmers to take advantage of how farmers learn best, which is learning from each other.

7. Participants have maintained production records that they shared during the field day workshop on sustainable practices they used in the project. Farmers participating in the field day have adopted practices applied in the project, such as using cover crops and applying locally available farm inputs.

8. As a result of producers' production data and record for scaling up, taro and awa production were used to develop the production table.

9. Project evaluation has been completed. Summary of evaluation result include: 100% of participants that began growing other crops continue to produced them after three years; 100% that started their second crop sold and realized revenue; the average of 86% of the crop harvested were sold in local community markets; 75% of the participants are still using locally produced plant nutrition; 100% of the participants feel they are contributing to increasing locally produced food in the community. Complete evaluation summary is attached.

Participation Summary

Research Outcomes

No research outcomes

Education and Outreach

Participation Summary:

Education and outreach methods and analyses:

Field days and farm visits were conducted to share the progress of participating farmers in developing a diversified cropping system on their farm. On-island growers and growers from other islands participated in the field days and site visits. Information such as using micro-propagated taro plantlets were present at the field days, and participants were able to see how taro, awa and eggplants were being integrated into existing sweet potato, watermelon and papaya production.

Post-project evaluation was conducted. See attached results of post-project evaluation of participants.

Education and Outreach Outcomes

Recommendations for education and outreach:

Areas needing additional study

There is a need for a guide to help farmers measure or find guidance of observable biological indicators that will tell them that their biological environment is getting better as a result of their actions to diversify the crops they are growing.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.