Quite a few well-intentioned academics, more often than not in the social and ecological sciences, do us no favor by over romanticizing the pre-European contact past of Hawai‘i’s agriculture.

By Bruce Mathews, dean of the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource ManagementUniversity of Hawai‘i at Hilo.

Sepia colored old print of valley with farmland.
He‘eia Valley, O‘ahu, 1910.
Bruce Mathews
Bruce Mathews

Hawai‘i rightly takes great pride in its rich agricultural history, the mālama ‘āina (deep care, stewardship, and respect for the land) of the Native Hawaiians, and no doubt much can be learned from the past. This being said, most conservation and resource management discussions in Hawai‘i pertaining to the revitalization of local agriculture tend to be far too insular, and focused on Eden-like interpretation of the past and anecdotal commentary for impactful progress to be made on viable paths forward. Yes, pre-European contact agriculture was self-sufficient, organic by practice, and did not rely on external inputs, however many bio-cultural, technological, and socio-political parameters have changed since that time. And there is strong evidence that pre-European contact agriculture and aquaculture had much greater impacts on Hawai‘i’s environment than previously thought (Kirch, 1982; Anderson et al., 2017). Native Hawaiian upland field systems based largely on intensive ‘uala (sweet potato) cultivation in the highly valued locations of greater natural soil fertility would have eventually run into sustainability challenges induced by gradual soil nutrient depletion (Vitousek et al., 2004; Hartshorn et al., 2006). In this regard it is also worth noting that no till aboriculture/agroforestry based on cultivation of ‘ulu (breadfruit) trees had some distinct environmental and subsistence agriculture advantages and should be further investigated (Rolett, 2008).

UH Hilo’s beekeeping program is a special experiential learning opportunity for students and helps to promote the importance that bees play in local and global sustainability.

Group photo holding oversized check, students are in bee hats.
(Left to right) Chef Alan Wong, Professor Lorna Tsutsumi, and students Daniel Lunnom, David Russell, and Batina Grossett. At right is Bruce Mathews, dean of UH Hilo College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management.

Now in its seventh year, the Adopt-A-Beehive with Alan Wong program has awarded over $20,000 in scholarships to beekeeping students at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo. This year’s recipients are Daniel Lunnom, Batina Grossett and David Russell, who each received a $1,000 scholarship on April 14, 2018, at the UH Hilo Agricultural Farm Laboratory in Pana‘ewa.

In today’s highly competitive world, students need to realize that graduate programs in agriculture are increasingly looking for students with greater preparation in the natural sciences, biotechnology, statistics/predictive analytics than the minimum requirements for a BS in agriculture.

By Bruce Mathews, dean of the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource ManagementUniversity of Hawai‘i at Hilo.

Group of students stand in vegetable garden on the UH Hilo campus.
UH Hilo students in a class on sustainable agriculture gather in one of their vegetable gardens on campus.
Bruce Mathews
Bruce Mathews

A fall 2017 University of Hawai‘i at Hilo Student Association (UHHSA) survey of College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Natural Resource Management (CAFNRM) students was recently shared with me by student Alexis Stubbs. The survey indicated that nearly 60% want a government job, a little over 25% will seek a career in some aspect of farming, about 5% want to work in the agricultural/landscape service sector, and the rest don’t know.

This information may be a bit concerning, particularly if one means a government job in agriculture as the number of annual entry level openings in permanent governmental agriculture positions are very limited in Hawaiʻi relative to the numbers of graduates. In terms of further graduate studies nearly 40% indicated that they definitely want to attend graduate school while nearly 35% indicated no intention of further studies. These data are also concerning given that quite a few students that I visit with seem to lack much of an idea about how to best prepare themselves for graduate studies and how to optimize their competitiveness for graduate school assistantships and scholarships.

Professional beekeeper Harald Singer, from the Department of Integrative Zoology at the University of Vienna, gave a talk on “Interactions between honeybees and Varroa mites influenced by cell sizes and hygienic behavior.”

Harold Singer with group who came to hear him speak.
Harald Singer (center with lei) came to UH Hilo to give a talk on beekeeping and Varroa mites.

Professional beekeeper Harald Singer, from the Department of Integrative Zoology at the University of Vienna, recently gave a presentation at the University of Hawaii at Hilo on “Interactions between honeybees and Varroa mites influenced by cell sizes and hygienic behavior.” Singer specializes in small breeding cells in honeybees and ways to overcome the Varroa crises.

In attendance were UH Hilo students, staff, faculty and community beekeepers and representatives from the apiary program of the Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture.

Singer is a professional beekeeper, bee inspector for the Styrian state government, president of the European Beekeeper Association, and a member of the Professional Beekeeping Association of Austria. He comes from a family of beekeepers and has taught beekeeping professionally.

This article was originally published in the Feb 2018 CAFNRM/Agriculture Club Newsletter.

Topics include an overview of the law, how it affects local farms and production, and information about important exemptions and scenarios.

Luisa Castro
Luisa Castro

SPEAKER: Luisa Castro, PhD, agricultural food safety program manager for the Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture.
PRESENTATION: “FSMA: What You Should Know,” a presentation on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
DATE: Friday, February 9, 2018.
TIME: 5:00 p.m.
PLACE: University Classroom Building, room 100, University of Hawai‘i at Hilo (campus map).

Using the controversy over genetically-modified foods as its entry point, the film Food Evolution shows how easily fear and misinformation can overwhelm objective, evidence-based analysis. UH Hilo’s Prof. Shintaku weighs in.

Michael Shintaku
Michael Shintaku

Michael Shintaku, a professor of plant pathology at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, is among the many scientists featured in the film Food Evolution that tackles GMO (or genetically modified organisms) in food production. The film includes footage of Hawai’i Island and is narrated by Academy Award nominee Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Dr. Shintaku stated that in 2013, the County of Hawai‘i passed a bill banning transgenic crops (GMOs) from Hawai‘i Island, with certain exceptions (later reversed in federal court). This became a national story, attracting reporters from The New York Times and other media outlets.

The fearless women who run the UH Hilo bee program raise awareness about honey bees as vital pollinators of crops around the island and worldwide.

By Maria McCarthy, Student, Bachelor of Science in Agriculture student, with an animal science track.

Lorna Tsutsumi holds up honeycomb from hive.
Lorna Tsutsumi

Screaming, swatting and running are the common reactions that majority of people have on sighting a bee. Cheryl Yara, Alex Doi, Maria McCarthy and Vanessa Staffer of the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, do the opposite. They spend their days getting as close to the honey bees (Apis mellifera) as possible.

“I enjoy giving back to the ‘āina (land) and helping save the honey bees for our future generations to benefit from a crucial insect in our ecosystem,” Yara explains.

There are new opportunities for Hawaiʻi as an agricultural technology node and as a model for self-reliant food and food production in tropical islands.

By Bruce Mathews, dean of the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management, University of Hawai‘i at Hilo.

Ardi. Mathews, and Evensen standing for photo
(Left to right) Dr. Ardi from Andalas University, West Sumatra, Indonesia; UH Hilo CAFNRM Dean Bruce Mathews; and UH Mānoa CTAHR Natural Resource Management Specialist Carl Evensen, at Sherman Hall, UH Mānoa.

On 13-14 November, 2017, I was invited to Honolulu to meet with a delegation from West Sumatra, Indonesia to the East-West Center, the Center for Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS), and the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR) at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. The delegation included the governor of West Sumatra, The Hon. Irwan Prayitno, and the former dean of the faculty of agriculture at Andalas University in Padang, West Sumatra, Dr. Ardi.

Dr. Ardi presented a talk on the outcomes 30 years henceforth of the TropSoils Indonesia project conducted by CTAHR, the Indonesian Center for Soils Research, and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in Sumatra during the 1980s. The project developed sustainable agricultural practices based on integrated nutrient and pest management for resource limited farmers cultivating the regions acidic, low-fertility soils. Overall the economic standing of local residents improved as a result of the project however there are new challenges that need to be addressed for farmers to sustainably intensify their operations and be resilient in the face of climate change and other stresses.

Mathews was chosen to deliver the plenary talk because of his familiarity with Philippine agriculture and the Filipino community, coupled with his global outlook in agricultural resiliency.

Group standing with awardee.
Bruce Mathew (far left) assisted with the awarding of certificate to a conference participant, Francis Estrada (center), from New York. Also pictured are members of conference organizing committee (l-r) Celia Bardwell-Jones, Rodney Jubilado and Norman Arancon. Courtesy photo.

Bruce Mathews, dean of the College of Agriculture Forestry and Natural Resource Management at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, provided a candid status of the Philippine agriculture and assessed its elasticity in his plenary talk entitled, “Resilience of Philippine crop production in the face of soil degradation and climate change,” given at the First International Conference on Interdisciplinary Filipino Studies held at UH Hilo in October.

Mathews opened his talk by enumerating the many challenges associated with the decline in crop productivity, including soil erosion, organic matter losses and salinization that are often distended by climate change. Some of the many cultural practices that Filipinos employ to adapt to the changing agricultural landscape include sustainable nutrient management strategies such as the timely and appropriate applications of soil amendments, reduced tillage, and integrated soil fertility management using optimal combinations of organic and chemical fertilizers.