Development of a Sustainable Polyculture and Marketing System for Exotic Tropical Fruits

2004 Annual Report for SW03-055

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2003: $156,800.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2006
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $76,200.00
Region: Western
State: Hawaii
Principal Investigator:
Richard Bowen
Department of Nat Res and Envir Mngt

Development of a Sustainable Polyculture and Marketing System for Exotic Tropical Fruits


“The 12 Trees Project” has exceeded expectations with supplemental grant funding, fundraising, and with donated community time and resources, with over 200 Kona residents becoming involved in the project. Fifty-four chefs helped select 12 exotic tropic fruit species not yet commercialized. Two or more trees from each species have been transplanted and are being organically farmed on a 1-acre demonstration site. The site is being developed into a demonstration agtourism attraction. Student chefs have created and consumer-tested 45 recipes which will be published in a Guidebook for Chefs. Markets for two project fruits have begun to be developed.

Objectives/Performance Targets

1. Identify 12 species of exotic tropical fruits that have a high potential for market acceptance throughout the year.

2. Develop and demonstrate a prototype polyculture tropical fruit production system based on sustainable production technologies.

3. Develop direct and wholesale markets for both fresh fruit and processed products.

4. Assist the Kona Pacific Farmers Cooperative in expanding into new activities, including the long-term marketing of the fruits developed in this project.


Accomplishment 1. Using the preferences of chefs, 12 species of exotic tropical fruits that have the highest potential for market acceptance were selected.

Many of the accomplishments of the project are documented on the project website: The website has served as a useful tool in disseminating information about the project and in involving the community in project development.

Information was first collected on the uses of the fruits around the world and their nutritional values. Photographs were acquired or taken of the various fruit candidates. Over 100 different species of exotic fruits grown in the Kona districts were initially considered; pictures of 78 of the species can be seen at ( The information collected and the photographs were published on the project web site as well as handed out and displayed at agricultural and culinary meetings and events. Fifty-four chefs filled out ballots. Their priorities were considered, along with the need to have fruit year round, in selecting the 12 fruit species to be developed in the project. Information on and pictures of the 12 selected species can be found on the project web site (

1. Loquat
2. Mysore berry
3. Poha
4. Pomegranate
5. Cherimoya.
6. Tree tomato/tamarillo
7. Rangpur lime
8. Tropical apricot
9. Grumichama
10. Surinam cherry.
11. Kumquat
12. Brown turkey figs

Accomplishment 2. A site demonstrating the organic polyculture of the 12 fruit species has been established and is being developed into a demonstration agtourism attraction.

Donations have allowed the project to accomplish much more than could be accomplished with the budget. Over 20 people have donated labor, technical advice, services and materials for cultural practices, and trees to the project. An informal advisory panel of 19 people has been formed to guide the project. Local farmers have been recruited to advise on the appropriate cultural practices for each of the 12 fruit species. An organic farmer is advising on organic practices. Additional advisors on the panel cover various technical and organizational issues.

Dick Kuehner, a retired designer of visitor attractions for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, voluntarily prepared a design for the demonstration site/visitor attraction/educational center ( and obtained a $25,000 grant from the Hawaii Tourism Authority to fund signage and displays. A fruit tree plant sale was organized to raise money for landscaping the site; it netted over $2,500 while encouraging people to plant exotic tropical fruits. Landscaping, signage and displays are needed to develop a truly attractive visitor and educational center.

Information on growing each of the 12 fruits has been collected and is available on the project website. This information will later be used to develop farmer field guides.

A local contractor installed the irrigation system, donating his labor. Deep holes were dug with a backhoe and filled with good soil mixed specifically for the type of tree. NRCS donated sample ground covers, and the USDA-ARS donated fruit fly traps and weed mats.

The trees were transplanted in July 2004. The trees were either purchased from or donated by area farmers. The transplanted trees have done extremely well, recovering much more quickly than anticipated.

Accomplishment 3. Faculty and Student chefs at the University of Hawaii, West Hawaii Center Culinary Arts program have developed and tested with consumers 45 recipes, which are being included in a Guidebook for Chefs.

The project manager has been purchasing fruit from local farmers for donation to the University of Hawaii West Hawaii Culinary Arts program. Fruit from the Kona Research Station is also collected and donated. At the school, student chefs take the fruits, which are either fresh or have been processed, and develop recipes. The project manager meets with the students on Thursdays to discuss how the fruits are used in different parts of the world and to suggest menu options. The resulting menu items are served to the public at Thursday and Friday lunches. This successful dining program will expand to include a breakfast in the spring semester. The project is sponsoring a contest for the best condiment (syrup, jam, jelly, etc.) made from the fruits of the 12 Trees project.

Accomplishment 4. Markets have been developed for two of the fruits produced at the demonstration site.

The project is using a local distributor of organic produce to develop markets with high-end restaurant chefs for the fruits harvested from the project. To date, only brown turkey figs have come into sufficient production to market them to chefs. About $1,000 of figs have been sold. Experience is being gained on the need to educate chefs on the availability as well as potential uses for the new fruits.

Accomplishment 5. Information developed by the project has been disseminated widely and farmers and other community members have been trained in sustainable production and marketing of exotic tropical fruits

Two workshops have already been held on the site: fruit fly trap making, sponsored by USDA-ARS, and a fruit tree grafting workshop, sponsored by the Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers Association.

The project website has been a successful way to disseminate information on the project. Roughly 100 people per day visit the site. Press releases have generated TV, radio, newspaper and magazine coverage. A 12-minute video on the 12 Trees project airs twice a month on a Hawaii Island television station devoted to visitors. Internet rare fruit news groups are spreading the word about the project. Inquiries from around the world about the project are averaging about 25 a month.

Accomplishment 6. The project has exceeded targets and expectations.

The project has accomplished more than proposed due to the passion and dedication of the project manager and the large amount of donated time, materials, trees and fruits. Volunteers have helped with weeding, mulching and care of plants, and the project has received donations time for design services and irrigation installation.

a. In addition to the 12 types of fruit chosen by Big Island chefs, the following trees have been planted at the project site.

Green sapote
Mamey sapote
Lilikoi / Passion Fruit
Otaheite Gosseberry

Planned fruit to be planted are:

Buddha’s hand
Miracle fruit

Other trees previously planted on the co-op grounds:


b. The project manager visited Japan in 2004 and 2005, although his travel was not funded by the 12 Trees project. He observed and interviewed people working in Japanese fruit parks, for which the 12 Trees demonstration site is a small prototype. His studies in Japan have generated:
- Information on fruit parks and how they combine tourism, education and research using private-pubic partnerships.
- Knowledge of quality of figs and loquat production, new varieties developed and cultural practices used in these crops in Japan.

The Dean of CTAHR was given a presentation on Japanese Fruit Parks and a proposal for transforming the Kona Research Station into a fruit park. The Dean has asked us to prepare a business plan to determine if such a project could become self-sustaining.

c. The project manager visited Puerto Rico in November 2004, although his travel was not funded by the 12 Trees project. In addition to meeting people interested in the production, marketing and uses of exotic tropical fruits, he generated considerable interest in the 12 Trees project. A Western SARE PDP proposal is being developed to cross-train agricultural professionals from both regions in exotic tropical fruit production and marketing systems.

Remaining work to be accomplished.

1. Conduct an economic analysis of the full polyculture system and of each of the 12 fruits.
2. Develop and publish field guides for farmers.
3. Continue development of recipes for all the fruits.
4. Publish a 12 Fruits project Recipe and Guide Book for chefs and consumers
5. Continue to test market fruits with chefs and at festivals, farmers markets, retail stores and with produce buyers in Kona region
6. Conduct additional workshops for cooperative members on production and marketing of the project fruits.
7. Assess the cooperative’s capability of becoming the marketing agent for member producers who adopt the polyculture fruit systems promoted by the project.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

The immediate beneficiaries of the 12 Trees project are Kona area farmers on the Big Island of Hawaii, the chefs and restaurant customers (tourists and locals) and the local agricultural economy. The project is showing farmers how to create an organic polyculture system for exotic tropical fruits and is creating the markets for the fruit. The project is also demonstrating how to develop a fruit farm into a tourist attraction, which can supplement income earned through sales of the fruit. This will help stimulate greater supply of the fruit. The project is demonstrating how the fruit can be used to create exciting menu items for restaurants and for home consumers. This will help build demand for the fruit. The project has begun developing the market linkages between growers and markets.

The demonstration effects will not be confined to the Kona area. The tropical fruit industry throughout Hawaii stands to gain from the project. Tropical fruit growers in the Western Pacific island territories will also be able to use the same information to develop similar markets. We see this project as a prototype, demonstrating how a university, Extension program or community-based organization can help create markets for the many different species and cultivars of fruits and vegetables grown around the world.