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.

Among faculty, Professor Sakai is the lead example for hands-on learning, the core philosophy of teaching and learning at the college. He retires after 45 years at UH.

By Christopher Lu, Professor of Animal Science.

Bill Sakai with student looking at orchid in greenhouse.
Professor Sakai (right) and student examine orchids at the UH Hilo Agricultural Farm Lab in Pana‘ewa. Photo by William Ing

After devoting almost his entire professional years to the University of Hawai‘i, four years at UH Mānoa and forty-one years at UH Hilo, Professor William Sakai has retired. Among faculty at the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management, Professor Sakai is the lead example for hands-on learning, the core philosophy of teaching and learning at the college.

In Hydroponics, one of the courses taught by Professor Sakai, learning outcome was emphasized. Students were required to obtain a successful harvest at the end of semester. While it was not unusual to hear students sweat over the outcome of the harvest, the course ensured the desirable learning outcomes are achieved.

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.

King Kamehameha wanted cattle to be a sustainable food source for his people. But today, the more the state relies on mainland exports, the less chance Hawai‘i has to be independent.

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

Cattle grazing, puu in background.
Ranch cattle, Waimea, Hawai‘i. Photo by Steve Cadman.

Cattle in Hawai‘i was once considered kapu (sacred, thus forbidden) to eat when it was introduced in 1793. King Kamehameha received six heifers and one bull as a gift from Captain George Vancouver. The cows were then placed in a guarded, 400-acre parcel of land, surrounded by a rock wall. The king did this to increase the population size of his herd to one day be a sustainable food source for his people. When King Kamehameha III reigned, he lifted the kapu in the 1800’s when the herd was around 25,000 heads.

One theory suggests that instead of food, the main focus became oil, since it is the biggest nonrenewable commodity. Another theory points to permafrost.

By Clarissa Zeller, Student, AG230, Sustainable Agriculture, Fall 2017.

Map of permafrost.
Map of permafrost in Alaska. Source: NSIDC.

Growing up in Alaska I knew that most food (not including subsistence) I ate was not Alaskan grown, but imported goods. The figures are about 96 percent imported and three to five percent locally grown, showing a great imbalance and reliance of foreign goods. It’s know by the government that Alaska only has three to five days of food supply in times of state of emergency. Also, to note that the cost of food varies greatly the farther away from major cities due to transportation fees and difficulties. In the community of Sand Point a pound of grapes costs $6.49, where the average in the U.S. is $2.88—this is just one example of a village/small town in Alaska.

The big question is: Why don’t Alaskans grow more of their food?

The students received their bachelor of science in agriculture degrees on Dec.16, 2017.

The College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo celebrated 10 candidates for fall 2017 graduation. The students received their bachelors of science in agriculture degrees on Dec.16, 2017.

Prior to their graduation, a special ceremony was held to recognize their achievements at the UH Hlo Farm Pavillion in Pana‘ewa.

The Class of Fall 2017:

  • Gema Brigitte Cobian Gutierrez (VET)
  • Blake Robert Dinger (THO)
  • Kawaikapuokalani Wei Xian Genovia (AGB)
  • Kayuri Kadoya (Tropical Plant Science and Agroecology)
  • Cornel Antonius Kea (ANS)
  • Jensen Kohashi (THO)
  • Maria Jerine McCarthy (ANS)
  • Keith Mauola Metuli (TPSA)
  • Ellison Parker Montgomery (TPSA, AGB)
  • Kuupomaikaiokeaohou Lindsey Akuila Stevens (TPSA)

-This announcement was originally published in the CAFNRM/Agriculture Club Newsletter, Nov-Dec 2017 Issue 1.

A Mesoamerican method of agriculture, chinampa is an artificial cultivation system built in areas where water is the main natural resource present in the environment.

By Antonio Vera, Student, AG230, Sustainable Agriculture, fall 2017.

Man tending land near waterway.
One of the remaining Chinampas (farm island), Xochimilco, 2009. Photo credit jflo.

The chinampa, from Nahuatl chinampan, meaning “in the fence of reeds,” is a Mesoamerican method of agriculture and territorial expansion used by the Mexicas to expand the territory on the surface of lakes and lagoons of the Valley of Mexico. However, it is believed that it is a technique initiated in the Toltec era, although its maximum development was achieved in the sixteenth century. By 1519, this method of cultivation occupied almost all of Lake Xochimilco, and its combination with other techniques such as irrigation by canals and the construction of terraces, allowed to sustain a very dense population.

Photos featuring faculty and students and their hands-on activities at the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management, University of Hawai‘i at Hilo.

Student in fish facility with weighing equipment, breeding tubs in background.
Tilapia experiment 2017: Aquaculture major weighs fish in a feeding experiment with Spirulina-based diets for juvenile tilapia at the Pana‘ewa farm, UH Hilo.

Agricultural modernization is essential to enhance the productive capacity of environmentally-friendly integrative farming systems, farm worker and food product safety, and thereby economic return per unit land area.

By Bruce Mathews.

Bruce Mathews
Bruce Mathews

Whenever there are allegations of pollution or health risks generated by a medium or large scale agricultural operation there are always people who blanket attack modern agriculture, technology, and corporations. They then often advocate for small farms, production methods of the past, or even worse strongly endorse unverified “miracle” practices.

The problem with looking too much to the past is that it can stifle support for innovation which is key to a resilient food-secure future, and rural economic development. Furthermore in our often romanticized view of small farmers feeding half the world we tend to easily forget that many of these people live on a subsistence diet and frequently suffer hunger and malnutrition due to low and (or) inconsistent yields.