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Struggle for the land of Hawaii

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  • Category: Hawaii

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A&B also attempted to convert some of its sugar cane land to a trial grazing pasture to support Maui cattle.

Since 2016, A&B entertained discussions with “hundreds” of interested parties, most of whom intended on growing one crop on only parts of the plantation land. The company eventually found Mahi Pono, a startup farming venture company that is the lovechild of a California-based agricultural group, Pomona Farming, LLC, and Canadian pension investment manager, Public Sector Pensions Board. According to Pomona Farming’s website, “Mahi Pono is a Maui Farming Company dedicated to transforming 41,000 acres of vacant former sugarcane land and 15,000 acres of watershed into a thriving hub of diversified agriculture, community engagement, and local employment.” According to Maui’s former mayor, Alan Arakawa, Maui residents want to maintain the rural, agriculture-based essence of our island, and choosing Mahi Pono as the new owner of the 41,000 acres was apparently the right decision.

Discuss Shan Tsutsui news article and possibly musings from Dad’s friend (about politics of Mahi Pono acquiring the land)?

2018 also brought a shocking end to the 17-year battle over water rights between A&B and Native Hawaiian farmers when the state Commission on Water Resource Management ordered the full restoration of ten of Maui’s streams for kalo farming and limited diversion of seven more streams for habitat restoration. Further, in an August 2018 article published by Pacific Business News, A&B agreed to sell over 300 acres of its agricultural land to the state of Hawaiʻi to expand the Kahului-Maui airport. Since shutting down its sugar cane production, A&B sold approximately 46,000 acres of land and profited about $270 million.

Some may see the sales as good deeds by A&B – instead of keeping the land to themselves and seemingly doing nothing with it, they are investing in Maui’s organic, agricultural future. I am hopeful that one of Mahi Pono’s goals is the preservation and improvement of Native Hawaiian health and provides opportunities to Hawaiian farmers to achieve that goal.


On paper, Hawaiian health has significantly improved over the past 60 or so years. And yet, to this day, Hawaiian health professionals remain concerned about the health challenges faced by the Hawaiian population. To understand why, we must look back at the history of Hawaiian health. History suggests that in Ancient Hawaiʻi, Hawaiians were physically fit and strong from their labor and had low-fat, high-carbohydrate diets. However, it was attractive for women to be overweight, for it showed that they were of high social status and had easy access to food. Nonetheless, the traditional Hawaiian diet consisted of “a high amount of complex carbohydrates (78%), a moderate amount of protein (12%), and a small amount of fat (10%)…” In a 1963 study, diabetes rates were six times higher in Hawaiians living in Hawaiʻi than Caucasians living in Hawaiʻi. Full blooded Hawaiians were found to have a diabetes prevalence rate of 48.8% while part Hawaiians had a diabetes prevalence rate of 26.6%.

By 1998, the poor health conditions of urbanized native populations in the Pacific had been properly recorded; yet, there was little to no information about fruitful strategies to promote health within said populations. Because “medically competent” healthcare professionals are unaware of the correlation between lifestyle choices and recurring illnesses, they cannot treat native patients adequately. There are various reasons for the disparate health of native populations: “Accessibility to health services, including geographic distances, cost, and acceptability or compatibility of health programs with the ethnic cultures they serve, are serious barriers to health care for native populations.” Illnesses such as diabetes and hypertension were unusual in Pacific Islanders before Westernization caused a shift in diet and a decrease in physical activity.

In 2007, Native Hawaiians had the highest prevalence of obesity/overweightness out of all the ethnic groups in Hawaiʻi at 70%; in 1990, the average life expectancy for a Chinese person residing in Hawaiʻi was 83 years, whereas the average life expectancy for a Hawaiian was 72 years. In a 2008 study of Hawaiians, Filipinos, Japanese, and Caucasians living in Hawaiʻi, Hawaiian participants had the highest caloric intake out of all the ethnic groups as well as higher body mass indexes and higher waist-to-hip ratios than both Japanese or Caucasian participants. These health issues can be attributed to the impact of Westernization experienced by many ethnic (specifically, native) groups:

…the change away from traditional foods to high fat, high calorie, low fiber, refined foods, canned meats, imported food products and alcoholic beverages has resulted in significantly higher prevalence rates of obesity, cardiovascular disease, high blood cholesterol levels, glucose intolerance and the eventual occurrence of Type II diabetes mellitus within these ethnic populations.

Luckily, there are now organizations and programs in place to actively combat the negative health impact of Westernization on Native Hawaiians, such as Traditional Hawaiian Diet programs.

Traditional Hawaiian Diet (“THD”) programs began in 1987 and their initial intention was to study “serum lipid remediation.” They eventually became part of intervention programs and were (and are) successful in remedying the effects of some illnesses that plagued Hawaiians, especially diabetes cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure. THD programs normally last for three weeks and aim to teach obese and chronically ill participants about several things, including the culture and value surrounding traditional Hawaiian foods, portion sizes, and cooking techniques. THD programs can be summarized as:

The THD programs include a diet of traditional foods, dining at a congregate site for breakfast and dinner, packing a takeout lunch and snacks, participating in health and cultural education sessions, and monitoring by a project physician and trained health personnel.

THD research shows that “serum glucose levels among diabetic individuals are lowered and controlled without the restrictions and complicated weighing and measuring required by other diets for Type II diabetes mellitus.” The first implemented THD program was the Molokaʻi Diet Study (“MDS”) in 1987; the MDS involved meals of traditional Hawaiian foods, such as “fresh fish and occasionally chicken, taro[], sweet potatoes, yams, breadfruit, seaweed, bananas, taro leaves and sweet potato leaves, and several native greens.”

The most well-known THD program is the Waiʻanae Diet Program (“WDP”), established in 1989; it is a 21-day program compromised of 20 people who are either obese or have chronic illnesses, and are encouraged to eat to satiety; however, participants only consume pre-Western contact Hawaiian foods, with the exception of a controlled amount of protein. The main sources of protein fresh fish and sometimes chicken, similar to the MDS. In its very first study, the WDP served 10 men and 10 women whose average body mass index was 39.6 (a body mass index of 30 or higher is considered obese), and the average weight loss was 7.8 kg (about 17 pounds). Moreover, serum cholesterol, blood pressure levels, chronic asthmatic symptoms decreased amongst participants as a result of the first WDP. Further, two of the six diabetic participants completely stopped taking their diabetes medication and were able to maintain serum glucose levels by simply sticking to the THD; subsequent WDP’s have yielded similar results to that of the first WDP. To even the non-academic or non-biased eye, the WDP appears to demonstrate that consuming foods conducive to the THD is a beneficial way to lessen the effects of chronic illnesses such as obesity and diabetes.

In 2001, the year-long, three phase Uliʻeo Koa program incorporated both THD and exercise aspects and surveyed “moderately active, non-obese Native Hawaiian adults” to evaluate the wellness and physical health effects of the THD component. In Phase I of Uliʻeo Koa, the dietary component consisted of three provided meals and snacks for three weeks; in Phase II, meals were provided two or three times a week for a span of eight weeks to see how participants could manage on their own; and finally, participants were solely responsible for their dietary practices in Phase III. The Uliʻeo Koa Program offered similar information as the MDS and WDP on what a THD consists of: the THD is composed of 78% carbohydrates, 12% protein, and 10% fat. Pre-contact Hawaiians had a predominately plant-based diet, consisting of “starchy and leafy green vegetables, a few fruits, moderate amounts of protein, and minimal fat.” Examples of carbohydrate sources consumed by Ancient Hawaiians are taro and breadfruit; examples of leafy greens sources are taro leaves and seaweed; examples of fruit sources are bananas and mountain apples; examples of protein sources are fish and shellfish; and examples of fat sources are coconut and chicken.

The results of the Uliʻeo Koa Program measured kilocalories, protein, carbohydrate, fat, saturated fat, monosaturated fat, fiber, cholesterol, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, calcium, iron, and sodium. Kilocalories, protein, carbohydrate, monosaturated fat (the “good” fat), fiber, Vitamins A, C, and E, calcium, iron, and sodium intake had at least a slight increase at the end of Phase II. Sodium intake levels increased due to sodium-based preservatives found in milk, cereal, and bread, which were all foods used in the study. Conversely, saturated fat consumption decreased while cholesterol levels stayed about the same. The Uliʻeo Koa Program report emphasized the fact that taking preventative measures to preserve and benefit Native Hawaiian health is just as important as mediating the effects of illnesses such as obesity and diabetes. The report also concluded that the nutrients provided within this modified THD exceeded the National Resource Council dietary standards. The diets of koa (warriors) were that of the plant-based THD, and these warriors had both strength and stamina. So, there is little reason to believe that the THD would not provide the same benefits for the athletes, laborers, adults, and children of today.

An interesting note made in the Uliʻeo Koa Program report is that, various traditionally Hawaiian foods could not be served at every meal due to their “high cost and limited availability” [emphasis added]. Because of this, food substitutes had to be used; for example, instead of poi (pounded taro mixed with water) and fish, brown rice and lean chicken were served in daily meals. This seems to suggest that the amount of THD foods available, at the time, were not enough for even a study of 12 people over the course of a year. It is odd that foods with demonstrated health benefits over the course of at least 200 years are of “high cost and limited availability.” The answer would appear to be that, as mentioned previously, Westernization did not only result in a loss of land, culture, and identity, it resulted in a loss of good health. Thankfully, there are now a number of Hawaiian organizations try to either incorporate THD programs or mimic them in some way.

The Hui No Ke Ola Pono, located on Maui, is “one of five Native Hawaiian Health Care Systems created under the Native Hawaiian Health Care Act of 1988 and reauthorized under the Native Hawaiian Health Care Improvement Act of 1992.” Joseph Gonsalves, the executive director of the Hui No Ke Ola Pono, reserves concerns about the health of the indigenous people of Hawaii.

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