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Water Win: Hundreds Respond to Taro Farmers' Call for Help

Art kindly donated by Solomon Enos, Hawaiian Artist/Farmer.
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A big MAHALO! is due to the hundreds of people who responded to the call from taro farmers! They submitted testimony in droves and packed the room at the Water Commission hearing last Wednesday in Haiku–to demand that East Maui Irrigation Company (EMI) stop diverting every last drop of water from the streams of East Maui.

The Commission took two days’ worth of public testimony and ultimately agreed with the taro farmers, scientists, and general public that EMI is diverting too much water from at least 8 of the 27 streams at issue.  The Water Commission ruled that EMI must return at least 12 million gallons of water a day to those 8 streams in order for the native stream life to survive.

This is a historic decision was made possible only by the consistent and growing public pressure to uphold the constitutional rights of taro farmers and the legal obligations of the state to protect native ecosystems against the profit-seeking interests of corporations.  Mahalo piha to everyone who took the time to participate.  This decision will serve as a model for water restoration efforts throughout the islands.

Here is the mahalo we got from the attorney for the taro farmers in East Maui, Alan Murakami with the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation:

Mahalo nui loa for all the help…  I think it really helped get the word out and I was impressed by the hundreds that responded to our call for help.

There is still much to do during the so-called “Adaptive Management System” being overlaid on this decision.  It simply means that the staff will use the next year to do what it was supposed to do before the decision on appurtenant rights…

In short, I think the community pressure put on the company and the commission worked wonders.  You should congratulate yourself for the supportive work you did.  Now the implementation… more work to do and I hope I can count on all of you to post the updated information as it becomes available – both good and bad.  I certainly think the news of the almost miraculous restoration of conditions at the muliwai is one of the headline things to report.

The fight continues today with a contested case hearing in Haiku to invalidate the leases improperly issued to EMI and its parent corporation, Alexander & Baldwin, for use of the land where the diversions are located.  Whatever the outcome of this contested case, history has already been made in East Maui and nothing can stop the people-powered momentum towards restoring all the streams that have been improperly and immorally diverted from their nature course for far too long by multi-national industrial agriculture corporations. Stay tuned for updates on this string of historic decisions.

Mahalo nui loa to the people of East Maui for continuing this historic fight, and their legal team at the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation.

Life is where the water is.
As the Hawaiian kupuna and natural resource experts had foretold- just one month after restoring stream flow to Waikane stream, in Wailuanui East Maui, native marine life has already re-inhabited the stream, estuary (muliwai) and bay. The local community can finally return to their traditional practices such as farming, fishing, and enjoying the cool water recreationally. It had been 30 years since the Waikane native ecosystem existed in its natural healthy state. It is hoped that coming generations will not have to experience the environmental devastation that the community has suffered without water.

Showdown: Taro Farmers vs. Big Business

Public Hearing to Restore Water to East Maui Streams
Wednesday Sept. 24th
at 1:00 pm till testimony is pau
Haiku Community Center, Maui.

Parched loi in East Maui, July 2008

From Marti:

Tomorrow the taro farmers of East Maui will confront (for the umpteenth time) the corporation(s) stealing water from their communities. Taro patches and native streams are dry all through the Hawaiian Islands because former sugar plantation/corporations continue to divert water from their natural course – selling the water back to users and banking the water for future housing developments (note: “water banking” is a nice way of saying “water wasting”).

The Hawaii Constitution specifically grants traditional taro farmers the right to water over newcomer users like these big corporations.  But the state has not enforced the law.  It’s been more than five years since the taro farmers of East Maui won their case in court and water still has not been released from the diversions.

Tomorrow’s hearing before the Commission on Water Resources Management is another attempt to get the state government to uphold the law and protect Hawaii’s natural and cultural resources by establishing minimum in-stream flow standards, which will require the release of water currently being illegally diverted by East Maui Irrigation Co. (a subsidiary of Alexander & Baldwin, one of “The Big Five” corporations that once dominated Hawaii during the days of sugar plantations).

Keep watching. The next hearing will be on October 1, 2008, when the taro farmers argue their motion to compel the state government to follow the law and release the water.

To learn more, visit

Hawaii County Council Bill Banning GMO Gets Closer to Approval

Posted by kahea at Sep 10, 2008 08:18 PM |

From West Hawaii Today:

Hawaii County is a step closer to being able to prevent the introduction of genetically modified taro and coffee.

The County Council Environmental Management Committee unanimously sent a bill to prohibit growing genetically modified versions of those two crops to full council with a positive recommendation. Council Vice Chairman Angel Pilago, North Kona, introduced the bill, which provides for criminal prosecution of anyone bringing in and growing the genetically modified plants. He previously introduced a resolution, which passed, asking the state Legislature to prohibit genetically modified taro and coffee; that measure failed earlier this year.

The bill “protects cultural practices,” as well as protects the taro and coffee industries “via county home rule,” Pilago said.

Under the bill, it will be illegal to “test, propagate, cultivate, raise, plant, grow, introduce or release” genetically engineered taro and coffee.”

County Corporation Counsel and the county prosecutor’s office both reviewed the bill before it was presented to the council, Pilago said.

“We all know if this goes to the state Legislature, they’re not going to do anything as a body,” South Kona Councilwoman Brenda Ford said.

Hamakua Councilman Dominic Yagong asked a representative of the Corporation Counsel’s office what would happen if state legislators enacted a law to allow genetically modified taro and coffee to be produced in Hawaii. That law might supersede the county’s law, depending on the wording, the deputy corporation counsel said.

Barring that, “it would be legal?” Yagong asked. “It would have jurisdiction over the scientific community and companies, they would be banned from bringing it in?”

Upon hearing an affirmative answer, Yagong noted that he isn’t necessarily opposed to scientists changing genetic makeup of plants, but when farmers ask for it, not when they oppose it.

More than a dozen people testified in support of the bill, while two testified against it.

ACT 211 - The Taro Security and Purity Task Force

For taro farmers, taro buyers and taro eaters, some information from Onipaa Na Hui Kalo on the Taro Security and Purity Task Force. The following provides information on the origins of the Task Force (Act 211), what and who it is (and is not), and its goals:

How did the Task Force come to be?
As a food crop, taro is a multi-million dollar industry in this state. Its importance in Hawaiian culture is beyond measure. As are its contributions to health, education, family and community economics, the arts, and the visitor industry. Ensuring that taro and poi will be around in the future has become increasingly difficult with lack of water, access to taro-growing lands, and crop diversity; the apple snail, taro diseases; a shortage of taro farmers; and competition from taro imports.

In 2006 under Senator Russell Kokubun’s SCR206 the Department of Agriculture was tasked with opening a dialogue to look at non-gmo alternatives to research, policy, education, crop and market issues for taro.  One of the desired outcomes expressed by all of the participants in the effort launched under SCR206 was a Task Force to continue the to reach taro farming communities, set priorities, make recommendations and implement initial projects. Based on that recommendation, SB2915 was drafted by taro farmers and introduced by Senator Kalani English in 2008. This bill proposed a two-year, funded, Taro Security and Purity Task Force. The bill and its budget received unanimous ‘aye’ votes from the legislature and was passed into law, becoming Act 211, on July 3rd, 2008.

However, Governor Lingle used her line-item veto power to delete the funding for the Task Force, which forced the Task Force to pursue its work without the necessary financial support in spite of the fact that taro remains an icon to the State’s identity and was officially designated as the State Plant in 2008 (Act 71). OHA has agreed to provide initial funding as a partner and administrator of the Task Force. It will be necessary to find additional resources to fulfill all the goals of the Task Force.

What and Who is the Task Force?
Act 211, the Taro Security and Purity Task Force represents the first time that guidance for taro and the problems farmers are facing will come from the real experts – farmers – and from the taro itself, as odd as that may sound to many. It is precisely this guidance that has been missing from the table for decades.

  • The Task Force is NOT an “anti-gmo advisory group”. Its task is to find, prioritize and support non-gmo alternatives to taro farmers’ issues in Hawaii. A working definition of “taro purity” and “taro security” is necessary to guide Task Force decisions over the next two years.
  • It is also NOT an Hawaiian-only task force. Taro farmers in Hawaii are Hawaiian, Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Portuguese, Caucasian, etc. Collectively we want taro, the lifestyle of taro farming and the value of taro in our communities to survive.

So, who is this Task Force for? It is for the taro itself; for the survival of a lifestyle that is fast disappearing in these islands; and for the economic survival of the smallest taro patches to the largest. They all feed us.

What are the goals of the Task Force?

There are nine goals outlined for the Task Force under Act 211, subject to the priorities identified by its members:

1. Develop guidelines, protocols, and recommendations for taro policy, non-gmo based taro research, and the allocation of resources to ensure that taro is saved and protected in Hawaii.

2. Develop a program of incentives and projects that have the support of a broad spectrum of taro growers that will enhance taro security, protect taro purity, provide support to taro farms and farmers, and improve taro markets for the long-term.

3. Support the recovery of traditional Hawaiian taro cultivars throughout the State.

4. Increase public awareness of the value of taro and its role culturally, socially, in health and well-being, environmentally, and economically in the State.

5. Develop a program to provide taro education and training opportunities.

6. Develop a program for commercial taro growers to maximize business viability and success.

7. Develop a taro farming grant program to assist taro farmers in need to preserve the cultural legacy of taro farming for future generations.

8. Discuss the feasibility and impact of requiring the Department of Land and Natural Resources to provide reduced lease rent rates for taro farmers on state-leased land.

9. Develop taro research and outreach for the control and eradication of apple snails.

Who is the Task Force?
The Task Force will have a minimum of 17 members. Act 211 states that the Task Force shall have one representative from each of the following agencies and organizations:

Department of Agriculture
Department of Land and Natural Resources
Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation
University of Hawaii
Office of Hawaiian Affairs
Onipaa Na Hui Kalo

It shall have a minimum of two representatives from each of the following islands: Hawaii, Maui, Molokai, Oahu and Kauai.

At least one representative from the botanical garden community involved in the cultivation and protection of the traditional Hawaiian varieties of taro will also be a member of the task force.

Most importantly, Act 211 states that “at no time shall less than 50 percent of the Task Force be comprised of taro farmers.”

Island representative qualifications:
1. A minimum of three years as a taro farmer.
2. A commitment to attend all Task Force meetings for a minimum of one year; the life of the Task Force is two years.
3. A commitment to communicate with all taro growers on your island; not just those in your own network. The success of the Task Force depends on this.

A broad group of taro representatives are sought that include commercial, sustenance, cultural and educational growers.

Why house the Task Force at OHA?
A state recognized entity was administratively necessary to house the task force. It was taro farmers’ requests that placed it under OHA rather than the DOA or UH for a number of reasons, not the least of which were issues of trust and the conflict over gmo taro research. Some also felt that OHA was a culturally appropriate place for the task force to be located. For some, Haloa, is the first kanaka maoli, and OHA carries its namesake, the “oha”, or children, of Haloa.

OHA also recently purchased Makaweli Poi Mill on Kauai and is now a member of the lo’i-to-table flow to market. They need to expand their understanding of what incentives and projects will better support taro, farmers and millers to be successful. By working with all taro farmers, OHA helps improve the chance that taro, luau and poi can get to every Hawaiian.

As the administrator of the group, OHA will select the best qualified kalo farmer applicants to serve as representatives. In addition, OHA will cover the costs of holding the task force meetings, as well as member travel fees for kalo farmer representatives.

The deadline to send applications is September 15, 2008.

Applications must be written and include the applicants’ full name, address, a brief description of their fulfillment of the four qualifications, what they believe they will be able to contribute to the task force and a short list of what they believe are the most important issues facing kalo.
You can send applications to Sterling Wong of OHA’s Native Rights, Land and Culture division by email to or by regular mail to 711 Kapiolani Blvd., Suite 500, Honolulu Hi, 96813.  For more information call 594-0248.

For more information please see:

Who is Onipaa Na Hui Kalo?
Onipaa Na Hui Kalo is a statewide organization formed more than 10 years ago, with over 300 practitioners and enthusiasts who grow kalo in backyard gardens, on reclaimed kuleana lands, and large scale farming operations. Members come from all the islands. Onipaa Na Hui Kalo operates as a hui that works by consensus rather than as a formal organization. Members help each other to increase knowledge of growing kalo and kalo issues, to encourage more taro farmers on the land and to reactivate loi kalo to productive use.

self help: restoring stream flow.

From Alan Murakami of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, on behalf of East Maui Taro farmers and Na Moku Aupuni O ko`olau Hui:

Background. The law provides for various appropriate remedies for dealing with and managing serious conflicts over uses of stream water. The biggest conflicts over stream water uses have festered for years because of the massive diversions of East Maui streams by East Maui Irrigation Company for decades. EMI diverts as much water for its plantation uses in central Maui as the average amount that all of O`ahu consumes. The biggest conflict involves the water EMI is taking illegally from streams that feed taro patches and support native stream life vital to the preservation of Hawaiian traditional and customary practices in the cultural landscapes of Wailuanui and Honopou Valleys.

State Agency Delays. After 7 years of patiently waiting for the implementation of the appropriate administrative remedies theoretically available to it, Na Moku Aupuni O Ko`olau Hui’s leadership has been repeatedly frustrated by the inaction of both the Board of Land and Natural Resources and the Commission on Water Resources Management in performing its public trust functions designed to protect the public interest and the water rights of East Maui taro farmers and subsistence gatherers.

Those functions are based on the presumption that these agencies will respect and enforce clear law on water rights held by these farmers and gatherers, which are explicitly protected by the Hawai`i Constitution, the state Water Code, and a long line of water case law. These laws not only respect these practices of these cultural practitioners, but provide the basis for demanding that EMI demonstrate the ABSENCE of injury to these practitioners BEFORE diversions are allowed. Despite holding all the legal advantages of these laws, the BLNR and the Water Commission have delayed, without explanation or justification, the timely implementation of these laws, leading to chronic and severe cultural and monetary damages amongst farmers and gatherers trying to enforce their rights.

Frustration. For example, the CWRM has, without explanation or legal justification, delayed action on Na Moku’s pending request to restore stream flows to support constitutionally protected water rights of taro farmers and subsistence gatherers since 2001, although the governing statute demands action within 6 months. Similarly, like its sister agency, the BLNR has allowed EMI to continue diversions from East Maui without regard for these same farmers and gatherers, even after a year since it supposedly acted to direct its staff to protect the water rights of those affected. The DLNR has failed to fully implement the year-old order of the BLNR, which was designed to provide farmers immediate interim relief from the effects of the existing EMI diversions.

Self Help. On July 9, 2008, taro farmers observing water being improperly diverted from Wailuanui Stream unilaterally released water from EMI diversions. The affected practitioners could not wait any longer, having suffered failed taro crops due to insufficient irrigation water, while EMI diversions took the water that would have savedand supported their crops. This exercise of their constitutional rights did not follow the procedure outlined in either agency’s timetable for action.

Nevertheless, the releases from EMI’s diversion works are entirely consistent with the continuation of traditional and customary practices followed by their ancestors for growing taro and gathering from the streams. It is just that the BLNR and CWRM did not, and apparently chose not to, promptly protect the superior water rights of these practitioners as the law would otherwise require. Their failure to timely implement the law directly resulted in the level of frustration felt by all practitioners in East Maui who have attempted to patiently wait for the water to which they are entitled in the affected streams.

Na Moku position. The taro farmers and subsistence gatherers who took this unprecedented action in the midst of the delayed proceedings did so without prior approval of Na Moku. Na Moku has continued to make itself available to state agencies, in all available administrative processes, in efforts to seek the orderly restoration of streams illegally diverted by EMI. However, it cannot and does not condemn the unilateral releases of water into the streams last week by taro farmers frustrated by long, and unexplained, delays by state agencies. After all, tenants of an ahupua`a do have the reasonable right to access areas within the same ahupua`a to continue their traditional and customary practices, including taro growing and subsistence gathering.

Na Moku affirms its belief that these releases reflect the reasonable and overdue exercise of these rights, protected under the Hawai`i Constitution, statutes, and case law, with which responsible state agencies cannot and should not interfere. This responsibility for this resort to self help rests entirely with the BLNR/DLNR and the CWRM. Na Moku and the taro farmers who are now acting are all frustrated by these agencies failure to act timely enough to save their taro crops. Moreover, successful taro farmers contribute heavily to enhancing Hawai`i’s food supply, its food security and long-term sustainability. Each agency should not exacerbate building tensions by any heavy-handed means to reacting to these farmer actions. The farmers are only reacting to belated processes each agency has not timely nor properly implemented.

In the spirit of moving forward in this unprecedented circumstance, Na Moku stands ready to cooperate with the CWRM and the BLNR/DLNR to continue any reasonably prompt process to assure that the rights of its members are respected and timely enforced.

Planting Your Vote, Taking Names

Since the announcement late last week about the attempt to corrupt and co-opt traditional farmers’ attempt to secure a simple 10-year moratorium on GMO taro, we’ve heard your outrage! Many of you have written to ask for details about the vote. You’re getting ready to plant your vote, and you’re taking names!

NINE Ayes (Voted pro-GMO in favor of amendments)
Rep. Clift Tsuji, Committee Chair (South Hilo to Kurtistown, Big Island)
Rep. Tom Brower (Waikiki/Alamoana, Oahu)
Rep. Jerry L. Chang (Keaukaha to South Hilo, Big Island)
Rep. Robert Herkes (Puna to Kona, Big Island)
Rep. Joey Manahan (Sand Island, Mokuea, Kalihi Kai, Kapalama, Oahu)
Rep. Ryan I. Yamane (Waipahu/Mililani, Oahu)
Rep. Kyle T. Yamashita (Pukalani to Ulupalakua, Maui)

TWO Ayes with reservations
Rep. Glenn Wakai (Moanalua to Salt Lake, Oahu)
Rep. Corinne Ching (Nuuanu/Alewa Heights, Oahu)

THREE Nos (Voted in support for true protection of Haloa)
Rep. Lyla Berg (Kahala to Hahaione, Oahu)
Rep. Faye P. Hanohano (Puna to Pahoa, Big Island)
Rep. Colleen Rose Meyer (Kaneohe to Laie, Oahu)

The “poison pill” amendments prohibit any future moratoriums on any GMO, even at the county level. At the same time, these legislators reduced the moratorium to 5 years and limited the protected taro plants to the Hawaiian varieties only. Read the amendments:


Call Your Representatives:

Call Your Senators:

You can also copy and paste the email addresses below, to email all of them:,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

Again, we are NOT giving up. With your help, we are all our telling our elected representatives that Hawaii’s traditional farmers and those who support them KNOW their humble, grassroots efforts have been stolen and co-opted in favor of biotech corporations. We can do better!

Where is the fairness?

Posted by kahea at Apr 07, 2008 08:38 PM |

Words from Uncle Jerry Konanui on Big Island, on the recent attempt to co-opt SB958 by legislators on the Agriculture Committee:

Aloha mai Kakou,

It is with heavy heart and immense pain that I, Jerry Konanui, a kahu from eight generation of caretakers of our Kupuna Halo our kalo, beg for your assistance.

We have struggled against all obstacles in protecting our Kupuna staying the course of Pono. We have kept to all the concepts of my cherished Hawaiian culture. We carry the Hawaii State motto as a way of life ” Ua Mau Ke Ea O Ka ‘Aina I ka Pono,” the life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.

We worked within the system been fair and pono. We did what we were asked of us as we felt it is the righteous thing to do. The simple SB958 that we submitted and supported was truly that. There were no hidden agenda, what you read is what you got. We simply asked for more time so that as reasonable people we could all take that time out to work within the system for a just and right solution to our difficult problem, while protecting our Kupuna Haloa.

This amended SB958 gives no protection for our Kupuna Haloa, while we try to come to terms. Instead it contains preempt clauses and other promotional GE items that further silence our questions and takes our rights away. This amended bill is one that all care takers of Haloa can never agree to. This is not a compromise bill–the only winners are those that promote the GMO industry.

Chairman Clift Tsuji and I met afterwards, we shared mana’o. I asked Clift “What is this preempting County stuff doing in our Taro Bill?” He could not explain to me what it was or what it means.

I also asked Chair Tsuji what he meant when he said that GE taro can come in to Hawaii from places outside of Hawaii. Again he could not answer the questions. Chair Tsuji said when the bill comes back from the lawyers, it will be understood.

This inability for Chair Tsuji to explain his modified/amended bill seems to indicate that he just passed a bill through his committee that he really didn’t understand or know what it was about. I ask myself, how is this possible? Where is the fairness that Chairman Tsuji so eloquently spoke of?

All we had asked for was a fair hearing. With about 5,913 (7,000 to date) in support of the Original SB 958 and about 213 in oppose. It seems to me that with those kinds of numbers, the bill would pass, but what an
underhanded thing to do, to change the whole definition of the original bill into a pro-Genetic Engineering bill to put at risk our beloved Kupuna Haloa and to squeeze the life of self-rule out of our County Councils of which Hawaii, Kauai and Maui supported the original SB 958.

The shame is not on the Hawaiian Communities and the Taro growers of Hawaii, who supported the original Bill. Shame on those who have again abused the process and allowed greed to blind the clear thinking for those who were chosen to be the government of the people for the people and not a government for the rich, powerful, and influential.

The system is only as good as the protection it provides for the weakest and needy among us. I beg for all in the big house on the hill to Ku’e and kill this Hewa bill. Do what is right!!!

A humble Lepo Popolo.


Jerry Konanui, he mahi’ai wau.

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