WHY DO HAWAIIANORANGES ROT IN MAUKA FIELDS?
By Ken Love, President and Bruce Corker, Vice President
West Hawaii Chapter
Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers
Anyone assessing the future of Hawaiian agriculture needs to
take a walk through the produce section of Safeway.
Take a look at the tiny avocados from Chile at three times thecost of local Sharwill avocados; look at California lemons at five times thecost; or look at California oranges at three times the cost--rows of theexpensive, oranges on display while the fruit up mauka goes unharvested only tofall and rot. Perhaps the dock strike should have continued for a year or
two so these stores pushing the produce from overseas and themainland would have been forced to offer local fruit. Many local mauka storesoffer Hawaiian produce, why not the big supermarkets?
Statistics from the year 2000 USDA / Hawaii Agriculture Statisticservice show that we grow and sell 640,000 pounds of avocados yet still import825,000 pounds from Chile, California and Mexico. Some commodity groups givethe conservative estimate that 1.3 million pounds fall and rot in Kona alone.The state imports 3.4 million pounds of lemons yet has no measurable amount oflocal production.
Anyone driving upcountry highways and roads will see lemon treesin the mauka fields loaded with fruit that falls and rots. Stores say theydon’t want to sell our “ugly” lemons. Limes, tangerines, oranges and grapefruitare no exception to these dismaying figures. Take a look at the stickers on themangos in most chain stores and more often than not you will find the point oforigin is Ecuador, Chile, Peru or Brazil.
National produce magazines are filled with success stories ofgrocery stores featuring “local” produce, publicizing “buy local” campaigns,and educating consumers on unique local varieties. This does not seem tohappen much in Hawaii. Produce and store managers are usually reluctant todepart from the safe path of mainland buying procedures. Even in stores whichpublicly pride themselves on offering local products, Florida tangerines andCalifornia oranges are featured, while local fruit takes a back seat, or is notsold at all.
From test marketing on the Big Island, it is clear that there aresignificant numbers of Hawaiian consumers who will seek out and buy Hawaiianproduce when given a choice. These consumers, many of whom have grown up inHawaii (often on mauka farms), know how delicious our tree-ripened, “ugly”oranges, lemons and limes can be. They also will buy local strawberry guava,jaboticaba, lilikoi, and lychee. But it is often as hard for localconsumers to find “local” produce as it is for local farmers to find fruitfulmarkets.
Tourists face similar consumer challenges. Resort hotels offerguests “tropical Hawaiian” drinks made with mango, guava, and lilikoi pureefrom a French company. There is no major processor here.
WHAT IS TO BE DONE?
Produce buyers and chefs often cite the lack of organization andinconsistent supply as why they don’t buy and offer more local fruit. Butpart of the problem is the lack of awareness of buyers and chefs about what isavailable to them. “Ugly” citrus and local avocados are but a few of theover 100 different exotic fruit available in the state. Clearly more educationis needed for buyers, consumers and growers. To provide this education and toaccelerate development of this agricultural sector, the Hawaii Department ofAgriculture, UH College of Tropical agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR),the Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism (DBEDT) andcounty governments can all do more to cooperate and actively assist in thefollowing areas:
(1) Technical assistance and coordination for producers toprovide a steady and reliable flow of local produce to market--development ofnew, and to aid existing, farmers’ cooperatives to organize growers.
(2) Encourage supermarkets to offer and feature local fruits andvegetables, coupled with a vigorous “buy local” campaign. As localstore demographics have changed dramatically in the past few years with a greatinflux of new residents, it is necessary to inform the stores’ customers aboutthe more exotic types of fruit found in Hawaii.
(3) Establish publicly administered farmers’ markets on eachisland, while providing assistance to existing farmers‘ markets. It isimportant to insure that fruit sold is, in fact, grown in Hawaii and “IslandFresh”.
(4) Economic incentives for processors to build or expandcapacity so that tourists can enjoy “tropical Hawaiian” drinks made with local,not imported, fruit. “Inspection” fees of fruit shipped in from offshorelocations could assist in funding these economic incentives.
(5) Expand the Farmer/Chef program developed by UH toencourage island chefs (particularly newer arrivals) to look at what thegrowers have to offer and to rethink their current use of imported avocados andother imported fruit.
(6) Provide education to farmers on creative marketingprinciples and strategies. Produce buyers often cite lack of flexibilityas the reason more local produce is not purchased, and cruise ship industrybuyers echo this as a reason why they buy so little Hawaiian fruit.
(7) Seek changes to the substance and application of federalrestrictions in order to give mainland access to Hawaiian produce on at leastequal footing with foreign produce.
Hawaiian agriculture is taking small steps in the right direction,but we have a long way to go. All of us will benefit when Hawaii’soranges, mangos, guava and other local produce are harvested andmarketed--rather then falling to rot in the mauka fields.