Ag Transformation Necessary To Supply Food, Protect Life Of The Land - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Authors

Jim Wyban

Jim Wyban is with HIplan, which is working to develop an entrepreneurial ecosystem in Hawaii. Before that he helped developed High Health Aquaculture, an SPF shrimp breeding company at NELHA in Kona.

Jason Ueki

Jason Ueki is with HIplan, which is working to develop an entrepreneurial ecosystem in Hawaii. Before that he helped developed High Health Aquaculture, an SPF shrimp breeding company at NELHA in Kona.

Hawaii and its people are hugely vulnerable to more fires while our systems are plagued with problems and inefficiencies.

In the tragic aftermath of Lahaina’s destruction, our hearts and minds must focus on how to correct the errors and reprioritize our public and private investments to insure such a tragedy never happens again.

A major contributing factor to the Lahaina fire was our outdated extractive land management practices. Integral to those practices was a complete failure to replace the demise of the plantation era with a more resilient food production agriculture system.

As a consequence, Hawaii now imports 90% of the food we eat while thousands of acres of prime ag land sit idle, covered in ready-to-burn dried weed grasses, while precious fresh water is diverted to upscale housing, military and tourist infrastructure instead of fishponds, loi and modern ag systems.

We are hugely vulnerable to more fires while our food systems are plagued with problems and inefficiencies and have shrunken in capacity over the last 30 years.

Our future doesn’t have to and shouldn’t follow this model. We can choose to redirect our resources to develop resilient, sustainable land and water management and food production systems.

According to the Heeia fishpond site, "Located in He’eia Uli on the island of Oahu, He’eia Fishpond is a walled (kuapā) style fishpond enclosing 88 acres of brackish water.  The kuapā is built on the Malauka`a fringing reef that extends from the shoreline surrounding the pond out into Kāne`ohe Bay.  Built approximately 600-800 years ago by the residents of the area, the kuapā is possibly the longest in the island chain measuring about 1.3 miles (7,000 feet) long and forms a complete circle around the pond.  This is unique as most other fishpond walls are either straight lines or half circles connecting one point of shoreline to another."
The Heeia fishpond in Windward Oahu. Hawaiians historically developed more than 350 fishponds (lokoia) across the islands. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2018)

Key to making these possible is to incorporate the latest tools, techniques and technologies into our systems so they are maximally efficient, producing high-quality products while reducing land and water requirements.

To develop a strong, technologically advanced, economically viable agricultural sector we need to incorporate advanced “AgTech.” AgTech includes advanced digital, engineering and biological tools that increase precision, reduce labor and make agriculture more productive.

These modern ag systems can produce high-paying jobs using AI and other technologies rather than manual labor of the plantation era. Instead of shovels and hoes, think of modern farming with drones, robots, machine learning, remote monitoring systems, artificial intelligence and advanced breeding systems.

Hawaii Once Was Self-Sufficient

Most AgTech now focuses on large-scale production in temperate climates like the U.S. mainland. Yet some 80% of the world’s food comes from farms under five acres, like most Hawaii farms. Finding ways for small tropical farmers to succeed can go a long way to solving critical food shortages, especially in the tropics where 40% of the world’s people live.

Investors put $51 billion into AgTech startups in 2021. Some of that investment can and should be directed to innovation in Hawaii, specifically for tropical small farms.

An excellent way to learn about this alternative future is at the upcoming THRIVE Hawaii Agrifood Summit at the Hawaii Convention Center Sept. 26-27. Visit to learn more and be part of this solution.

“Our geographical location, strong R&D and our host culture’s emphasis on sustainability, knowledge of agriculture and land management make Hawaii an ideal location for innovating AgTech solutions for small tropical farms,” notes Richard Ha, one of our agriculture and renewable energy thought leaders.

Hawaii has a rich history of agriculture innovation. Before contact, Hawaii was self-sufficient for food, feeding hundreds of thousands of people.

They grew a variety of plants and animals that they brought on their sailing canoes to cultivate and breed once they reached these shores. They bred taro, for example, into 150 different named varieties.
Hawaiians also developed more than 350 fishponds (lokoia) across the islands. These ponds were unique in all of Oceania, demonstrating a keen knowledge of the nearshore environment, fish biology and coastal engineering.

Hawaii has a rich history of agriculture innovation.

Some of our farms already use AgTech, demonstrating viability and attracting technologically prone youth. Ag innovation has developed grafted macadamia nuts, hydroponic systems, Kona coffee, orchids, anthuriums, virus-resistant papaya and microalgae as a nutraceutical.

We can stimulate more innovation and entrepreneurship by introducing AgTech to Hawaii farmers and interested high school and college youth and by familiarizing innovators and investors with innovation in Hawaii

We hope the private and public sectors in Hawaii see the incredible opportunity before us to grow profitable farms, diversify our economy and create fulfilling, life-supporting jobs and opportunities while enhancing sustainability for these islands and our people.

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About the Authors

Jim Wyban

Jim Wyban is with HIplan, which is working to develop an entrepreneurial ecosystem in Hawaii. Before that he helped developed High Health Aquaculture, an SPF shrimp breeding company at NELHA in Kona.

Jason Ueki

Jason Ueki is with HIplan, which is working to develop an entrepreneurial ecosystem in Hawaii. Before that he helped developed High Health Aquaculture, an SPF shrimp breeding company at NELHA in Kona.

Latest Comments (0)

Hawaii has simply priced itself out of agriculture. Think about. Why can farms in mainland states grow and produce food AND ship it out to Hawaii at prices cheaper than it can be done here? The land and technologies are the same in all states. so, it must be something else. My family has been in agriculture here since 1863. We used to be self-sufficient, but now struggle to exist financially.

Manawai · 1 week ago

Excellent article, and I fully support your ideas. We need to work on sustainability, and get off of our tourism kick.

Scotty_Poppins · 2 weeks ago

Land can be used for food supply or for housing profits. Which would you choose to do as a developer? Honolulu is an excellent example from farm land to massive housing development everywhere. There are farmers and ranches on all islands who are willing to provide local food supply but get no support and no help with their needs from local government agencies. AI in the near future will create a society that will become lazy, obese and useless. So sad.

kealoha1938 · 2 weeks ago

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