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.

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?

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.

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.

This tour was such a unique experience for me because I didn’t know much about cacao, but now I have a better understanding of what it’s like to process it.

Students gathered in orchard.
Alumnus Colin Hart talks to students about orchard airflow.

By Tiera Arakawa.

If you are looking for fun and adventure throughout the school year, a club to consider is the Agriculture Club. The Agriculture Club goes on adventures, tours, does projects that the students would like to do, and volunteers with various jobs of interest. Since my sophomore year of college, I have realized how important it is to get involved around the campus, find ways to give back to the community around us, and make long lasting friendships. For that reason, I decided to join the Agriculture Club because agriculture is what I am passionate about and I like to know that the little things that I do, especially volunteering is making a positive impact in our community.

The course will examine the history of women’s involvement in agriculture from interdisciplinary lenses, including social sciences, women’s studies and agricultural sciences.

Brooke Hansen holds a sprouted palm tree.
Brooke Hansen

Agriculture and Gender and Women’s Studies come together in the fall for a unique course on the role women have played in farming, agriculture, food production and food resiliency throughout human history. The new course at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo will examine this history and current global scope of women’s involvement from interdisciplinary lenses, including social sciences, women’s studies and agricultural sciences.

The entire breadfruit tree is a multipurpose and useful resource.

By Damon Adamson.

Belonging to the Moracceae (Fig or Mulberry Family), breadfruit or ‘ulu in Hawai‘i encompasses four primary sub-species: Artocarpus altilis, Artocarpus incisus, Artocarpus mariannensis or Artocarpus communis. Grown in the Hawaiian Islands, as well as throughout the Pacific Basin area. They have been hybridized and many diversities have become prolific. There are currently 24 distinct species of breadfruit. Fruit size, shape, coloration, seeded or seedless, and seasonal ripening are a few of the differences.

The fair celebrated the bounty of students’ work and the presence of horticulture and agriculture in the community.

By Claire Kinley.

Group of students with goats.
Goat & sheep outreach with animal science students at the fair.

In April the College of Agriculture Forestry and Natural Resource Management at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo held an Agricultural Fair on the grounds of the College of Agriculture building. The fair highlighted student projects from different courses of the college ranging from value-added products, vegetable harvests from the campus gardens, and animals from the UH Hilo farm. The fair was open to the public to come and celebrate the bounty of the students’ work and give appreciation for the presence of horticulture and agriculture in the community.