It’s out there. It’s a killer like we’ve never known.

Warnings from the United Nations are growing more frequent, more insistent and more dire. But America is not paying attention. And few in Hawaii are even aware.

The killer is world population explosion. From the time the first humans walked on Earth, it took two and a half million years for the world’s population to reach 2 billion. But in just the next 40 years, it doubled to four billion. And in the next 40 years, that four billion has doubled to nearly eight billion.

We now add 1,600,000 new people every single week. The UN projects that growth will slow, reaching only 9.7 billion instead of 16 in 2050, and 11.2 billion instead of 32 by 2100. 

Even if it does slow, the UN states that we must double world food production by 2050. For every bite of food produced in the entire world today, there must be two — in just 30 years. Even if we can achieve that, the UN predicts that we will have 370 million people without food in 2050. That’s more than the entire population of the United States.

Why is this true? 

Growing more food takes more ground water.  But growing food for just the current population has already decimated world aquifers.

NASA satellites have found that 22 of the world’s 37 largest aquifers have passed their sustainable tipping point. They are irreparably below the water needs of all their users, and will only keep shrinking. Meanwhile, global demand for fresh water will be grow by 40 percent by 2050, according to the UN.

Water is not the only problem. Desertification, caused by climate change, overuse of land and cutting forests, is a growing problem. One-third of the global land surface is now desert. 

Further, a number of countries, particularly in North Africa, the Near East and South Asia, have already reached or are about to reach the absolute limits of land available for agriculture. This, at a time when the populations of 28 African countries will more than double by 2050.


America will not be spared. With our low birthrate of 1.9 to 2.0 children per family, we are still the seventh-fastest growing nation in the world. And we have major food problems. 

We are no longer a net exporter of foods. That reversed in the 1990s. We now import $11 billion more in food than we export.   

America’s largest aquifers are also beyond their tipping points. The largest, running all the way from North Dakota to Texas, dropped another foot last year alone. It has lost 60 percent of its water in the last 60 years. Many farmers in its shallower areas have completely run out of water.

The other two aquifers are far worse off. California’s Central Valley Aquifer, underlying the San Joaquin Valley, the most productive area in America, is in desperate shape, with thousands of dry wells

For every three people in the U.S., there will be an additional 1.5 Americans to feed in just three decades. With rising temperatures, less rainfall, desertification and receding aquifers, militating against increased crop production, mainland America will be stretched to its limits trying to feed its own people.

Hawaii imports 90 percent of what we eat, and keeps only one week’s supply of food on-island. As food becomes more scarce, prices will skyrocket. It eventually will become too expensive to import most foods. And it is also quite possible that by 2050 there will be no outside food available, from anywhere. No wheat, potatoes, rice, beef, pork, chicken, eggs, milk, fresh fruits — none of it!

We must prepare for this fact or we will die. In just 30 years, we must be totally self-sufficient in food. 

Rain, Remediation, Development

There are major problems with producing enough food to feed ourselves, however. 

For some years, state Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz has been trying to revitalize farming in the flat highlands around Wahiawa with his Whitmore Project. The land involved is some of the most difficult to farm in the state because of the large amount of rain it receives and the frequent overcast skies. There are several months of the year when some crops won’t grow, and the mud is too deep to harvest those that will. 

It is not just the recurrent rain that is problematic.

Every acre where pineapple has been grown will need to be remediated before other crops can be grown there. This costs more than a thousand dollars an acre and takes two to three years to complete. Most plants cannot be grown on this soil until it is completely remediated. These are monumental expenditures of time and money for small farmers starting out.

Below the Whitmore Project, the 3,800 acres on the slope lands above the North Shore have the additional problem of polluted irrigation water. The state Department of Health requires R-1 recycled water (i.e., wastewater that must be oxidized, filtered and disinfected under certain specifications) for crops growing in or on the ground or sprinkled, but the water source, Lake Wilson, includes cleaned sewage water certified at only R-2 recycled (i.e., wastewater that must be oxidized and disinfected under certain specifications). Thus, many of our most essential crops cannot be grown on the slopes. 

In spite of the huge problems, we must expand exponentially over the next 30 years, doubling all of the acreage that now grows food for the local market, and then doubling all of that.   

Today we are going in the opposite direction, however.

More than half of our active farmland now producing food for the local market have been surrendered to developers to build unneeded houses. These prime farmlands at Hoopili, UHWest Oahu and Koa Ridge have an abundance of clean fresh water and don’t need any soil remediation.  They are also close to market, and already have cooling and cleaning and packing facilities, and the transportation to get produce to distributors.

The Golden Triangle

The Hoopili and UHWO farmlands are the last part of the Golden Triangle, known from sugar times as the highest producing land on Oahu. They are also the last undeveloped lands on Oahu that get full sun.

While strains of many crops can be developed that will grow in the rainier uplands, the common strains need sunny climate to thrive. As we start to grow the great number of fruits and vegetables that we now import, we will find many that need full sun to flourish. Once this land is gone, we will have no place on Oahu to grow them.

As the weather warms, in many places across the world, disease and pest infestations are moving across vast contiguous farmlands, destroying everything, killed off only by the freezing temperatures of winter. Hawaii will need to have completely separated farming areas, such as at Waimanalo, Kahuku, the North Shore slopes, Koa Ridge, Hoopili-UHWO and Waianae, so that if an infestation strikes in one place, foods under attack can be shifted to another.

Finally, sunny Hoopili and UHWO regularly produce one more crop a year than any other area — 1,400 acres of extra food each year. We will desperately need that food one day. 

Development of the farmlands at Hoopili, UHWO, and Koa Ridge must be stopped! 

True Agricultural Renaissance

There are so many other things that need to be done.

We must expand farm education in high schools and colleges with special effort to attract bright students. A very good living can be made farming just a couple of acres. We need to start opening up banked farmland on all islands, and growing all of the foods we now import. We must develop ranges for cattle, and re-establish our piggeries, chicken and egg farms, dairies, slaughter houses and on and on and on.

We must have a true agricultural renaissance. Our future for mid-century and beyond can be this:

Or this:

The choice is ours. But we must begin to act now. Let’s get started.

Editor’s note: Kioni Dudley’s full research paper on this topic can be found at

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