WHY DO HAWAIIAN ORANGES 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 the cost of local Sharwill avocados; look at California lemons at five times the cost; or look at California oranges at three times the cost--rows of the expensive, oranges on display while the fruit up mauka goes unharvested only to fall and rot. Perhaps the dock strike should have continued for a year or
two so these stores pushing the produce from overseas and the mainland would have been forced to offer local fruit. Many local mauka stores offer Hawaiian produce, why not the big supermarkets?
Statistics from the year 2000 USDA / Hawaii Agriculture Statistic service show that we grow and sell 640,000 pounds of avocados yet still import 825,000 pounds from Chile, California and Mexico. Some commodity groups give the 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 of local production.
Anyone driving upcountry highways and roads will see lemon trees in the mauka fields loaded with fruit that falls and rots. Stores say they don’t want to sell our “ugly” lemons. Limes, tangerines, oranges and grapefruit are no exception to these dismaying figures. Take a look at the stickers on the mangos in most chain stores and more often than not you will find the point of origin is Ecuador, Chile, Peru or Brazil.
National produce magazines are filled with success stories of grocery stores featuring “local” produce, publicizing “buy local” campaigns, and educating consumers on unique local varieties. This does not seem to happen much in Hawaii. Produce and store managers are usually reluctant to depart from the safe path of mainland buying procedures. Even in stores which publicly pride themselves on offering local products, Florida tangerines and California oranges are featured, while local fruit takes a back seat, or is not sold at all.
From test marketing on the Big Island, it is clear that there are significant numbers of Hawaiian consumers who will seek out and buy Hawaiian produce when given a choice. These consumers, many of whom have grown up in Hawaii (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 local consumers to find “local” produce as it is for local farmers to find fruitful markets.
Tourists face similar consumer challenges. Resort hotels offer guests “tropical Hawaiian” drinks made with mango, guava, and lilikoi puree from a French company. There is no major processor here.
WHAT IS TO BE DONE?
Produce buyers and chefs often cite the lack of organization and inconsistent supply as why they don’t buy and offer more local fruit. But part of the problem is the lack of awareness of buyers and chefs about what is available to them. “Ugly” citrus and local avocados are but a few of the over 100 different exotic fruit available in the state. Clearly more education is needed for buyers, consumers and growers. To provide this education and to accelerate development of this agricultural sector, the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, UH College of Tropical agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR), the Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism (DBEDT) and county governments can all do more to cooperate and actively assist in the following areas:
(1) Technical assistance and coordination for producers to provide a steady and reliable flow of local produce to market--development of new, and to aid existing, farmers’ cooperatives to organize growers.
(2) Encourage supermarkets to offer and feature local fruits and vegetables, coupled with a vigorous “buy local” campaign. As local store demographics have changed dramatically in the past few years with a great influx of new residents, it is necessary to inform the stores’ customers about the more exotic types of fruit found in Hawaii.
(3) Establish publicly administered farmers’ markets on each island, while providing assistance to existing farmers‘ markets. It is important to insure that fruit sold is, in fact, grown in Hawaii and “Island Fresh”.
(4) Economic incentives for processors to build or expand capacity so that tourists can enjoy “tropical Hawaiian” drinks made with local, not imported, fruit. “Inspection” fees of fruit shipped in from offshore locations could assist in funding these economic incentives.
(5) Expand the Farmer/Chef program developed by UH to encourage island chefs (particularly newer arrivals) to look at what the growers have to offer and to rethink their current use of imported avocados and other imported fruit.
(6) Provide education to farmers on creative marketing principles and strategies. Produce buyers often cite lack of flexibility as the reason more local produce is not purchased, and cruise ship industry buyers echo this as a reason why they buy so little Hawaiian fruit.
(7) Seek changes to the substance and application of federal restrictions in order to give mainland access to Hawaiian produce on at least equal 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’s oranges, mangos, guava and other local produce are harvested and marketed--rather then falling to rot in the mauka fields.