On Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, “Seeds of Hope – Na Kupu Mana‘olana” had its Moloka‘i premiere at Kalanianaole Hall in Kalamaula. Nearly 70 people representing residents and community groups, as well as co-sponsors Moloka‘i Community Service Council, Moloka‘i MOMs (“Mom on a Mission”) Hui, Hawai‘i SEED and Ola Moloka‘i. The MOMs donated homemade healthy, organic refreshments for the event, including snacks made from local “Wai‘anae Gold” milled kiawe flour donated by ‘Ai Pohaku The Stone Eaters in Wai‘anae, O‘ahu.
HRDC Chair Alan Murakami introduced the film, which was followed by a panel discussion featuring University of Hawai‘i College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources Extension Agent Glenn Teves; Hawai‘i SEED board member and Native Hawaiian activist Walter Ritte; and Jack Spruance, Moloka‘i Livestock Cooperative General Manager – all of whom were featured in the documentary. The panel was moderated by Moloka‘i activist, cultural practitioner and filmmaker Hanohano Naehu.
Protection of agricultural resources was a central issue of the discussion, with considerable time devoted to the question of water and the special use reserved by law for the Department of Hawaiian Homelands. Moloka‘i is considered the birthplace of the Hawaiian Homestead movement, due to the 1920s struggle to establish Hawaiian Homesteads in areas of the island with few water resources. A federal mandate that two-thirds of the Moloka‘i Irrigation System’s agricultural water be reserved for the Department of Hawaiian Homelands is increasingly overlooked, historically by plantation agriculture, and currently – according to some – by genetically engineered seed companies who are now consuming the lion’s share of the island’s agricultural water. Teves stressed the importance of being vigilant about preserving the two-thirds preference for homestead farming, as well as prioritizing farming for consumption.
Another issue brought up by Teves was the importance of preserving local seed diversity. Teves described a search he had made for tomato varieties that had been bred specifically for Hawai‘i’s climate, but were lost several decades ago. He was able to recover them by traveling to the East Coast to track down this particular seed and bring it back to the Islands. Teves also distributed vegetable crop seeds from his collection at the event, and gave away two ‘ulu trees as prizes in a raffle.
With the strong presence of GE seed company Monsanto on the island, a portion of the discussion dwelt on the recent events surrounding Kaua‘i’s Bill 2491, requiring the disclosure of pesticides used in agricultural production. Ritte expressed his discouragement at how Moloka‘i, which is part of Maui County, lacks the decision-making power to advocate effectively for its own laws. He also emphasized that the island’s residents had to therefore be responsible for educating themselves on many of these citizen right-to-know issues.
The audience’s questions focused on the island’s history, the legacy of plantation agriculture, including pesticides and elements like the black plastic that was used to keep weeds down and whose shredded remnants are now found everywhere. The issue of how people treat the island’s resources was also discussed, to avoid situations like that of Kalamaula, where plantation agriculture had depleted the aquifer so much that it became saline, requiring that water be brought in from elsewhere even today.
Several people stressed the need to resurrect small-scale, sustainable farming – as Ritte stated, it’s not a question of whether it can be done, but whether we can do it again. Referencing his daughter-in-law Mercy Ritte’s MOMs Hui, Ritte stressed the need to understand what is happening to Moloka‘i’s resources today in order to protect the future of our children and grandchildren.