Posted by & filed under Biodiversity, Community Projects, Deforestation, Land, Plant Systems, Regional Water Cycle, Soil Erosion & Contamination, Swales, Village Development, Water Contaminaton & Loss.

The Permaculture Research Institute USA has partnered with Sust`ainable Molokai to embark on the bold mission of permeating the Hawaiian Islands with permaculture goodness. Traditional Hawaiian agricultural systems, before the arrival of Europeans, were ingenious and sustainable. Indeed, their ahupua`a systems, known as high island ‘Ohana’ systems to permaculturists, are one of the few truly sustainable agricultural systems ever known — an awesome legacy that should instill pride and purpose in modern-day islanders. Unfortunately, the last century, in particular, is seeing multiple major threats to the island state’s unique ecology — soil erosion, biodiversity loss, and Hawaii has become Big Biotech’s GMO test capital of the world (see video at very bottom of post).

But permaculturists are fighting back, as you’ll see:

Seeing millions of tons of topsoil muddying Hawaii’s shoreline was shocking for me to see. It represents centuries of sustainable land use — now getting washed away through ignorance and malpractice. If this remains unchecked, Hawaii could well become a desert island….

Reawakening an appreciation for traditional systems and adding in modern permaculture techniques could go a long way towards improving what is a very vulnerable food security situation in Hawaii. Like many places that were once fully self-sufficient in foodstuffs, Hawaii is today almost completely dependent on imports. Given the domino effect of collapsing economies, high energy (and hence, food) costs, and increasing unrest in our currently highly globalised world, Hawaii seriously needs to rethink its current trajectory and start phasing industrial agricultural systems out entirely.

The good news is Hawaiians have their own constitution on their side (see quote below), and the Hawaiian Department of Agriculture itself should be a great ally, if their own statements are indeed sincere:

Hawai‘i is located approximately 2,506 miles from the continental United States. Between 85-90% of Hawai‘i’s food is imported, which makes it particularly vulnerable to natural disasters and global events that might disrupt shipping and the food supply.

The Constitution of the State of Hawaii, Article XI, Section 3, says, “The State shall conserve and protect agricultural lands, promote diversified agriculture, increase agricultural self-sufficiency and assure the availability of agriculturally suitable lands.

Increasing food self-sufficiency in Hawai‘i will require sound public policies, the best available science, an efficient industry, and a public willing to support local agriculture. It requires protecting agricultural land and water, enhancing food safety, investing in agricultural research, and addressing rising costs for labor, energy, and transportation. — A Hawai`i Department of Agriculture White Paper, December 16 2008 (PDF)

Let’s give all the support we can to the efforts of the Permaculture Research Institute USA and Sust`ainable Molokai. Watch the PRI USA’s course listing for courses you may wish to attend.

7 Responses to “Permaculture Taking Off in Hawaii”

  1. JBob

    Very good video. I have one question about how the vegetation on the swales is managed. With all the trees planted (I didn’t see any tree guards or fencing) grazing isn’t an option. Is it just ‘chop and drop’ around each tree you planted for a few years? Any mechanical mowing? It looks like the growth was fast and furious; just wondering about which techniques will be used to manage it in the desired direction/species mix.

  2. Edith Wiethorn

    Thank you for envisioning & creating this graceful & informative video for the world. The narrative captures our thoughtful minds & hearts like the Gabons capture the siltful water. I will send on the link to my dear E on Kauai – to incubate an invitation from the growing energy there? Seeing the Gabons going in is poignant. I had Gabons put into a south-facing hillslope after the Ro wildfire burned over our 120 high desert acres. The hilltops were reseeded from BLM? helicopters & we had the rest range-drilled just as it was beginninng to snow, December 23,1992. We got good snow cover & the grass is still going strong. E’s mother selected the seed mix ~ 6 varieties including dryland alfalfa for nitrogen-fixing support. We hoped it wouldn’t look like a [beautiful] alfalfa field – & were glad the alfalfa was unintrusive but functions well. The savanna habitat attracts diverse wildlife, including groups of antelope & cougars that follow later & sniff the fragrant blades that have brushed antelope bellies. Now that I’ve seen your excellent video – I will revisit those Gabons in the spring – maybe with the young man who put them in – working by hand & then heaving huge stones from his flatbed truck. He has the perfect wife by now – she’ll be impressed! :-)

  3. Bernie Edwards

    Well of course there are no surprises here, although I do feel for the ancient peoples of Hawaii, who I suspect were managing just nicely by themselves in their own time honoured way before this unspeakable threat to their wellbeing was introduced.

    The US in general is the GMO capital of the world, from where the GM disaster is spreading to contaminate the global food supply. GM contamination has reached Australia through weak and complicit government decisions with a case in Western Australia last year and only last week I heard of a situation in my own state of Victoria:

    When I was in the military, throughout the 1970s, there were three types of unconventional warfare we needed to defend against. These were biological, chemical and nuclear threats. It amuses me now to recall that our personal defense was a gas mask plus some form of paper suit designed to keep out these hazards. The major emphasis at the time was on nuclear defense and, while this is still a consideration, the world has stepped back some way from the brinkmanship of those post WW2 decades to the extent that this threat is no longer present in most peoples thinking.

    But what of biological and chemical warfare? Did they just fade away too? I think not. We are still in a war, a biological and chemical war. With no external enemy to be concerned about who do you think those cold war chemists and the organisations who employed them had left to experiment on? I believe that whole populations, especially among western nations, have, as the movie in the article indicates, been used as guinea pigs by the pharmaceutical and chemical industries under the guise of progress in the fields of medicine and food production. It has been in the last half century or so that we have seen the massive increase in world population, partly due to the extended longevity we have seen occur across this period as a result of ‘advancements’ in these fields. But at what cost? As the movie also indicates, in this same period we have seen the introduction of a great many modern day ills not previously prevalent in society, like for example obesity, cancer, diabetes, ADHD and other mental illnesses, all of which feed and are fed by these same pharmaceutical and chemical industries. Make no mistake, this is a war and like any other war there are casualties and there is a high price to pay. And who is the enemy? We are. These industries do not look on us as people. We are simply a resource. A resource for exploitation and profit.

    Is this progress? Is this what we want? Obviously this situation has occurred in a way that the general population has been deceived by it, lulled into a form of zombie-like complacency by some of the perceived ‘advantages’ that accompany this ‘progress’ like the ability to live comfortably and accumulate ‘stuff’, or they feel powerless or even fearfull to have the ability to make decisions that would bring about change in their own personal lives or as a group.

    So, are we, the people, powerless to stop this unwarranted takeover of our food sources and health systems? Or, do we need to see something akin to what is occurring now throughout northern Africa and the middle East? People of the Western nations are no freer in our democracies than those of the dictatorships currently falling to people power in these areas. One thing is for sure, a democratic right to vote is not the answer. Nothing of any real significance changes with a change of government in a democracy. Don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating any other form of government. I think that something a democratic leader once said, is absolutely correct: “…it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” – Sir Winston Churchill, Hansard, November 11, 1947.

    I personally believe that the age of government, national government at least, is coming to an end. People will throw off the shackles of government, of whatever variety, and begin to make their existence within groups at local levels, much as expounded in the valuable pages of the book ‘Permaculture: A Designers Manual’ by Bill Mollison. Among the radical changes we shall experience in coming decades, some of which will be unavoidable, self-government by localized communities is an inevitability. Of course this will not be some form of Utopia either but people do tend to pull together in small groups and in time of crisis for the common good.

  4. tilyeubyek

    i do remember our talk about Hawaii and Mongolia. Good my friend and keep going! never stop on the way and build Permaculture systems in your home land with many ideas and with good marketing approaches. with this fertile soil in your mind and your town land will be fit together.

  5. Malia Akutagawa

    Mahalo Craig for highlighting our efforts here on Molokai. We just finished putting in 3 swales on a Hawaiian homesteader’s property just this last week. To answer JBob’s question, we will be doing major chop and drop work on the swale featured in the video. We grew a ton of nitrogen fixing support species lab-lab, pigeon pea, cow pea, moringa. We planted native Hawaiian canoe plants, fruit, and nut trees. Youth K-12 have been visiting our permaculture demonstration site, learning about permaculture, and volunteering to do work there. We will also be teaching a first-of-its-kind Permaculture Youth Corps Summer Boot Camp in June and melding both Hawaiian traditional practices and permaculture teachings into the curriculum. Will keep people posted through the permaculture global site if anyone is interested. Aloha, Malia Akutagawa


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