Sustaining Molokai Native Hawaiian Family Farms

Project Overview

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

Annual Reports


  • Fruits: melons
  • Vegetables: eggplant


  • Crop Production: cover crops, crop rotation, double cropping, fallow, fertigation, irrigation, multiple cropping, organic fertilizers, application rate management, tissue analysis
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, agricultural finance
  • Pest Management: biological control, chemical control, cultural control, economic threshold, field monitoring/scouting, flame, integrated pest management, mulching - plastic, sanitation, trap crops
  • Production Systems: transitioning to organic
  • Soil Management: green manures, organic matter, soil microbiology, soil quality/health

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Issue Statement

    The Hawaiian islands and its 1.3 million people are the most isolated state in the nation, with the closest land neighbors in California, 2390 miles to the east and Japan 3850 miles to the west. Today, it's estimated that Hawaii has an inventory of 1-week of stored food supply, just about the length of time it takes the containerized ship to arrive from California. Only 20 years ago, we had almost 20 days worth of food. There is a need to increase the supply of locally produced food; this trend is dangerous and must be reversed. In a recent survey of the inventory of farm supplies at the local cooperative and by United Agri-Products on the island of Hawaii indicate that more than 98% of the inputs used by farmers are imported. Farm inputs, including fertilizers both organic and non organic, soil amendments, bagged compost, planting media, pest management items, seeds, irrigation supplies, fencing and other items consumed by farmers, are shipped to the islands by surface transportation that takes about 4 days to travel 2390 miles from California. Farm inputs are just as vulnerable as our food supply. When suppliers were asked about pricing, their responses were "cost plus," where "plus" was transportation cost that included a fluctuating fuel surcharge. Transportation costs added another $5.00 onto a 50lb bag of fertilizer at the local cooperative. The cost of petroleum-based farm supplies has not escaped the wave of recent skyrocketing petroleum fuel prices. There is a need for Moloka'i farmers to use local sources of farm inputs. Recycling centers established around urban centers are producing compost from green waste and fish-bone meal from processors. The challenge is connecting the urban recycled products and rural family farms. In addition, there are invasive species of seaweed that can be fished out of the coasts that may provide micronutrients for nearby farm crops. Of the 8 major Hawaiian islands, Moloka'i is the least developed and the only island where agriculture is still the main economic driver. In 2007, the Molokai agriculture industry generated more than $14 million or approximately $2000 per capita, as compared to $500 per capita in Statewide agriculture value. More than 85% of the family farms served by the Cooperative Extension Service on Moloka'i are native Hawaiian, and are considered to be under-served and a disadvantaged population by the USDA. Full-time farmers on Moloka'i tend to produce crops within their "comfort zone", including crops they've developed historic knowledge and experience producing and marketing, and fortify this comfort zone by capitalizing on expensive, specialized equipment for specific crops, such as a potato digger for sweet potato or power blowers for orchard crops. As they increase their knowledge, experience and capitalization in a crop, they become more trapped within this "comfort zone" and in a mono-cropping production system. As a result, their agriculture industry becomes a production system that produces 'a lot of a few crops,' similar to the now declining Hawaiian agriculture industry that once produced 300,000 acres of just 2 crops, sugar and pineapple. Of the total production in Hawai'i agriculture, 95% are non-food and export products, while only 5% are food crops for local consumption. In order to increase our supply of locally produced food and improve our food security position, producers need to diversify crops to produce a variety of crops we consume. Crop diversification on a farm will also contribute to creating a crop microclimate that is more biologically diversified and balanced. Studies has shown that a biologically diverse cropping environment can contribute to decreasing crop losses from plant pest build-up frequently found in a mono-culture system. Past research on Moloka'i confirmed what other similar studies have found in identifying "how farmers learn and adopt technologies," finding that they learn more from each other than by any other method, including extension literature and field days. The concerns addressed when farmers see other farmers adopting a technology are related to their confidence of the new technology, the economic feasibility of the technology, and the amount of manipulation required to incorporate it into their present production system to make it work. Potted trials and small plot demonstrations cannot impact and influence farmers in the same way. Most native Hawaiian family farms on Moloka'i are reluctant to risk the small amount of capital they have on technologies that need to be extrapolated from a very small plot demonstration, so there is a need to create opportunities for farmers to learn from other farmers. Farmers have consistently stated, "Show me!", so demonstration appears to be the preferred mode of technology transfer. The proposed project will set up five tropical sustainable demonstration farms on producers' farms engaged in mono-cropping. The producers will be required to plan and execute a production and business plan to produce at least two crops they're not presently growing to meet market demands. The demonstration farms will be integrated into existing farm operations. The demonstration farm will utilize as much locally produced farm inputs as possible, including compost, fish-bone meal and crushed coral. The on-farm project will conform to the principle that farmers learn from farmers best by creating opportunities to interact at field days on these demonstration projects. The demonstration project will provide cooperators with opportunities to gain new knowledge and experience in order to grow different crops. Cooperators will: 1) Gain confidence in the efficacy of locally produced farm input; 2) Contribute to increasing the supply of locally produced food; 3) Support the local enterprises generating farm fertilizers and inputs, thereby keep money in Hawai'i and decreasing leakage; 4) Have an opportunity to learn from each other; and 5) Gain knowledge of the benefits derived from a biologically diversified growing system. This project addresses four of the five goals, and will also attempt to involve children of these farm families in the project.

    Western SARE Goal #1

    This project will focus on diversifying existing native Hawaiian farms growing a single crop. Each demonstration farm will be using Hawai'i-produced farm fertilizer and amendments generated from recycled waste materials, including compost from green waste and fish-bone meal, a by-product of fish and livestock we consume, as a substitute for imported petroleum-based fertilizers and amendments. The alternative inputs will be used to produce crops that will contribute to the economic welfare of the family farms, diversify the kinds of crops available to the community, and increase the supply of locally produced food. This project will demonstrate the importance farms play in sustaining urban population centers by using their recycled waste materials to produce food that is cycled back into a sustainable community system. The demonstration farms will reduce the need for traditional petroleum-based fertilizers, and will reduce the risk of non-point agriculture pollutants, such as nitrates from fertilizers, from entering our ocean by utilizing natural slow-release fertilizers as opposed to petroleum-based concentrated fertilizers. The recycled waste products from urban sites contain organic carbon that is greatly lacking in semi-arid soils on Moloka'i. These materials will enhance the wealth and productivity of the soil. Studies of the locally produced fish/bone meal have shown it to have positive nutritional benefits, above and beyond the N-P-K levels. If farmers confidence is increased in utilizing the locally produced fertilizer as a substitute for imported ones and can see the economic benefits, farmers will be more inclined to incorporate the local product into their farming system. Additionally, utilizing locally produced inputs will decrease the carbon footprint by using inputs produced in Hawai'i, cutting out imports, and decreasing input costs. This change will benefit the community by decreasing the cost of food and also strengthening farms financially .

    Western SARE Goal #2

    Improving the economic viability of family farms is a function of keeping input cost down while sustaining yields. A sustainable farm will provide self-employment for farmers and create employment opportunities for others. One factor that triggers farmers to adopt a technology is its economic feasibility and contribution to profitability of the farm. Farmers can increase their income by reducing their cost of production or by becoming a price "giver" by increasing demand for their product. The second can be dangerous if the price goes below the cost of production. Nitrogen is most important element for plants. A potted study on locally rendered fish-bone meal (A. Arakaki, 2008) indicated that the cost of elemental nitrogen from the locally produced organic input was $2.39 per pound as compared to $9.67 for the imported blood meal farmers presently use. Potentially, if the project can demonstrate that the local source of nitrogen can produce similar or better plant yield and quality, it will reduce the cost of nutritional nitrogen by 400% and reduce the farmers cost of production. The locally produced inputs are made without using chemical additives, thus are characterized as products that can be used on certified organic farms. In 2005, the Cooperative Extension Service on Moloka'i initiated activities to develop an organic papaya production industry on the island. As a result, Moloka'i farmers including many native Hawaiian farm families, are producing and exporting organic papayas to mainland markets. Moloka'i farmers are the only ones selling organic papayas to mainland markets. As such, they have command on the price that contributes to the economic sustainability of their family farm, and consequently their families.

    Western SARE Goal #3

    Farmers on Moloka'i have experienced crop losses to soil-borne insects and diseases. Sweet potato farmers experience losses from sweet potato weevils that spend part of their life in the soil, wireworm, and reniform nematodes. Presently chemical pesticides and cultural practices are the only alternatives to manage these pests. Taro and papaya farmers experience losses from soil-borne root-knot nematode (Meloidegyne javanica) and Pythium spp. Western SARE studies (Miyasaka, Arakaki, Sipes, Cho 2007) have shown that by increasing soil organic matter and consequently micro-organism activity in the soil, you can decrease crop losses from soil-borne pathogens. The proposed project of setting up sustainable tropical demonstration farms will create farms growing a diversity of crops and utilizing locally produced organic matter as a substitute for conventional chemicals to produce food. By using and increasing the organic content of the soil and increasing the activity of soil micro-organism, it will help manage soil-borne pests and reduce the need for farmers to apply more toxic materials. Farm crop diversity will also create a production environment that will be more biologically diverse and balanced. Studies have shown that a biologically diverse plant environment will be more balanced as compared to a monoculture, and will not promote the dominance of one species of plant pest. This concept of pest control can be costly due to transportation and application costs, but in the long run will have many benefits, including healthy soil and also healthy crops. The proposed project will focus on providing mono-crop producers with opportunities to gain knowledge in farming a diversity of crops. By doing so, they will be creating a biologically diverse crop environment on their farm.

    Western SARE Goal #4

    One of the main outcomes of this project is to stimulate crop diversification. Most of the Native Hawaiian organic farmers are planting papaya, and they will need a rotation crop or risk falling into a monoculture mode. As a result, the soil health and diversity will be compromised, with resulting soil-borne disease. Diversification will build strength in each farm as the farmer is able to fall back on another crop if their existing crop is experiencing problems, whether it be farm-based or market-based. This project will set up five sustainable tropical demonstration farms to produce a diversity of crops using locally produced fertilizers and amendments. It's important that farm enterprises rotate their crops as part of their business strategy and maintain biological diversity in the crop growing environment. The project will not demonstrate what crops can be grown organically in Hoolehua, Moloka'i, but it will also demonstrate that locally-produced inputs can be applied to crops across the board, and not just one crop, giving farmers the confidence in transferring the technology to other crops. Diversity will add strength to these farms, and will benefit the community in consuming a diversity of crops.

    Western SARE Goal #5

    The project attempts to demonstrate to farmers that growing a diversity of crops and using underutilized locally produced inputs will not impact the economic viability of their farm but instead may increase their economic competitiveness. Regionally, it will support the economic sustainability of local enterprises engaged in recycling waste resulting by utilizing it on farms. In turn, Moloka'i farms will convert this waste into healthy food for the community. The non-chemical nature of these inputs will reduce the risk of introducing toxic-point and non-point pollutants into the environment. This system will create an ethic among farmers and community of recycling our waste, including green waste converted into mulch from our land fill. Queen Liliuokalani Children's Center, a native Hawaiian social agency works closely with CES and has advised Extension Agents on Moloka'i that the economic security of native Hawaiian families directly contributes to social stability of those families. While the project has a strong bias toward whole-farm production systems research and the education of growers, project leaders clearly understand the social implication of the project's success and its contribution to economic security and social stability of farm families and their communities. The native Hawaiian farming community is an at-risk community plagued with many maladies related to health and food choices. Per capita, they have the highest incidence of obesity, hypertension, heart-related diseases, cancer, and diabetes, many of these related to poor diet. The diversification component of this project will benefit many families on the island by making available fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables available to them.

    Timeline of Activities, What and Who
    • Activity Timeline (project months #s) Who Responsible 1. Plan and design the 5 on-farm tropical 1 Teves/Arakaki/Producers sustainable demonstration family farms.2. Order supplies for the establishment of 2 Teves/Arakaki 5 tropical sustainable demonstration family farms. 3. Begin installing 5 sustainable tropical 3 Teves/Arakaki/Producers demonstration farms. 4. Maintain the production of diversified crops 4 to 30 Teves/Arakaki/Producers and monitor plant biological environment. 5. Collect soil and plant tissue samples; analyze 4 to 30 Teves/Arakaki samples; conduct educational activities with producers. 6. Conduct annual field days 10, 20 and 30 Teves/Arakaki /Producers 7. Collect production and cost of production 4 to 30 Teves/Arakaki/Producers data 8. Prepare and publish project information as a College 34 to 36 Teves/Arakaki Extension Bulletin, post on College website and mail to Extension farmers mailing list 9. Conduct project evaluation 34 to 36 Teves/Arakaki
    Producer's Roles and Description

    The roles inherent in this project are the same extension agent-to-farmer role. The only difference is the project and consequently the agents will fund their inputs for this new initiative. The farmer will ultimately decide what he will grow and when he grow it. The agents will not impose anything on the farmers by controlling the purse strings. We will work together on their plan all the way to field days. The tropical sustainable demonstration farms will be installed on producers farmers and integrated into the farmers production schedule and system. It is the intent of the project to cause minimum disruptions and alterations of the existing farm system as possible. In order to accomplish this intent, producers will be involved in planning and designing the demonstration farm. Planning will include what, when, where, and how the demonstration project will be conducted. What will be planted will be decided by the producers with Extension Agent guidance and also based on market analysis; when will depend on producers' planting schedule and sequence; where will depend on field rotation schedule; and how will define the size of the demonstration and the time and management resources farmers are willing commit to this education project. Producers will work jointly with Extension Agents in installing the demonstrations on their farm, which will include measuring the fields, calibrating instruments and equipment, conducting land preparation activities, applying pre-plant soil amendments and plant nutrition, installing drip irrigation system for the crops. Producers will be required to plant the crops and keep continuity with their planting schedule, and be responsible for performing cultural practices required for the crops and their production plan. Producers will be required to maintain production records. The proposed project will demonstrate to producers that sustainable agriculture systems and practices are viable and profitable alternatives to their mono crop "comfort zone" with production records. During the 3-year period of the project producers will expand their comfort zone to include sustainable practices that they will perform repetitively. By the end of the project, producers will figure out how to integrate the production of diversified crops into their farm operations. Producers that are directly involved with the project will have first hand knowledge and experience on the sustainable agriculture practices demonstrated. This will help them determine whether to adopt or not; and producers that are not directly involved in the project will have the opportunity to talk to producers that are directly involved with the project, attend on-farm field days and engage in farmer to farmer learning. The project will also contribute to increasing the knowledge and experience bank of the farming community. The Hawaiian practice of "passing on" knowledge to the next generation is an important responsibility and value in the native Hawaiian community. This ingrained value comes from their ancient culture that never developed any written communication.

    Products and Outreach

    Educational Products: Extension Information Bulletin will be produced on the project. Information will also be posted on College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources website. Outreach Plan: Extension and NRCS professionals, producers, agricultural groups and organizations will be invited to field days of project. Project leaders will be available to present information at sustainable agriculture workshops, conferences and poster sessions.

    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.