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During the past 20 years in Hawaii, sugar (the one time "King Cane") has dropped down to two plantations, one on Kauai and one on Maui - a 70% decline in production. Pineapple remains only on Central Oahu and Maui - a 42% decline in production. Almost the entire island of Lanai was, until recently, blanketed with pineapple. The former "Pineapple Island" is now known as "Hawaii's Most Enticing Island" - phasing in tourism.

Although they are still the state's leading crops, these Hawaiian staples, celebrated as part of the Islands' culture and history, face an uncertain future. Great change is coming!


Amazingly, Hawaii has less than a seven day supply of many foods, especially perishables. Some 90% percent of our food is still imported. Hawaii will never be totally self-sufficient - the goal is to produce food for the local market efficiently enough to replace most imports. Hopefully, it will be done based on a philosophy of self-sufficiency, sustainability and stewardship reflecting "Aloha 'Aina" - Love of the Land.

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Sugar Cane Plant


Hawaii's economy is largely dependent upon its $10+ billion-a-year tourism industry. However, agriculture in Hawaii is both growing and changing and revenue from diversified (varied) agriculture has doubled in the last 20 years. Approximately 12,000+ people work on farms with most in the diversified agricultural sector. The Big Island of Hawaii is the state leader accounting for 1 million of the state's 1.8 million acres in diversified agricultural production.

How do we cultivate the 'aina (land), these magnificent island ecosystems, while maintaining their inherent natural wealth in perpetuity? Hopefully we will make righteous choices. The future of agriculture in the Hawaiian islands should be "sustainable". Sustainable farming systems are capable of maintaining their productivity and usefulness to society indefinitely. Such systems must be resource conserving, socially supportive, commercially competitive, and environmentally sound. Sustainable agriculture stimulates the production and consumption of locally and regionally grown produce. Strong local food production helps to buffer our island food supplies from external forces. Our food security is enhanced. Our dependency on imported food decreases.



The Malama Learning Center located at the Kapolei High school campus,on the island of Oahu, is envisioned as a living laboratory using art, science, conservation and culture to encourage sustainable living in Hawaii using Hawaiian culture and values of caring for the land and the sea.

"Thousands of children who visit the Waianae Coast Cultural Learning Center for hands-on experiences that teach them the importance of care and respect for the land," said Eric Enos, executive director for Ka'ala Farm, which works to transfer cultural knowledge and practices to future generations and restore the ahupua'a concept (traditional subdivision of the land).

"Another 'aina-based (land-based) program emphasizes the importance of culture in the word agriculture," says Kukui Maunakea-Forth, MA'O Organic Farm. We impart to our youth a sense of belonging, the rewards of hard work, and pride in themselves and their community."


While farm employment is declining nationally, Hawaii's is growing. Although statistics vary depending upon definition and methodology, estimates show that Hawaii's total agriculture sales (farm production, agricultural service, forestry and fisheries, and food processing) contribute at least $1.94 billion annually. Agriculture (including distribution), contributes as much as 3.0% of gross state product.

One of the barriers to building an agriculture industry is that farmers - most of whom operate on relatively short-term leases - have little incentive to invest heavily in equipment, supplies or other infrastructure. As a consequence, thousands of acres are fallow.

Good agricultural land is available, some 100,000 acres around the Islands. Perhaps 10,000 acres could grow all the perishable food Hawaii needs. Unfortunately, key factors in utilizing these acres are the high cost of some land, tax laws & leasing difficulties, water, labor & transportation.

You just can't grow cucumbers on $95,000-an-acre land.

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Taro Field Hanalei Valley, Kauai

The seeds of a new industry are being planted in Hawaii. Called "agritourism", this blend of travel associated with farming is a growing phenomenon. Flowers or nursery farms are the most common type of farms with agritourism activities, followed closely by livestock (cattle and horse operations), coffee, fruit, vegetable and macadamia nut farms.

Farm tourism includes a range of components - long-term farm stays, walking tours, ATV adventures, bed & breakfast accommodations, restaurants serving regional cuisine, agricultural fairs and festivals, and living history farms.

Specific examples of agritourism include:
  • B&B's with a direct connection to the agrarian environment - such as the Macadamia Meadows Farm on the Big Island.
  • Agricultural fairs and festivals that are primarily rural in nature - such as The Ulupalakua Thing hosted at Ulupalakua Ranch and Tedeschi Winery on Maui - featuring what's new in Hawaii-grown products.
  • Living history farms focusing on how the crops were grown, harvested, and processed and how the farm family lived and worked - such as Kona's Uchida Coffee farm on the Big Island.
  • Restaurants serving Hawaiian Regional Cuisine by chefs who have sought out the produce of local farmers - such as Sam Choy's and Alan Wong's on Oahu.
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Exotic Hawaiian Fruit Tray


Savoring and sharing the bounty of the land is a basic Hawaiian value shared by residents in the Islands - it is Aloha Made Visible.

It is no mere coincidence that the State Motto of Hawaii is:
Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono
which translates:
The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.

Imua Hawaii (Go Forward Hawaii)

Island Tom Clements
February 2005

Portions of this article were excerpted from a report by
Dean Andrew Hashimoto of the
University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR)
and the Hawaii Magazine September/October 2004.

Other sources of information included:
CTAHR Economic Issues EI-3b, February 2002
"Summary: Agriculture's Contribution to Hawaii's Economy - An Update"

DBEDT Statistics
CTAHR On Sustainable Agriculture in Hawaii

On Agritourism:
Hawaii Agricultural Statistics
Ag-Tourism in Hawaii
AgMRC (Agriculture Marketing Resource Center)

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