Hawaiian pre-contact farming systems offer opportunities for the future, study finds


250 years ago, Native Hawaiians had already achieved and surpassed a target set by Governor David Ige in 2016: they fed and maintained a complex agricultural system that sustainably fed a population estimated at around 800,000 people, or 100% of local food production. This is a figure which, in today’s world of convenience and globalization, seems far from being reached, but as the state tries to meet ambitious targets of doubling local food production from the figures of 2016 by next year, looking to the past (before Captain cookthe feet touched Hawaii‘s sand) can play an important role in planning a sustainable and secure future for food. At least that’s the gist of an article published last week in the scientific journal Nature.

After providing an overview of the unique factors affecting Hawai’i, including geological isolation, a high percentage of imported food (87 percent), a large native population, and the looming effects of climate change, the authors present the case for investigate the intersection of indigenous agriculture, food production and climate.

“Our results suggest that the amount of food that could have been produced traditionally is comparable to the amount of food Hawai’i consumes today, albeit of different types. Our models indicate that historically Kanaka Maoli could have produced a maximum of around 1.02 million[metric tons]of food each year, using 100,789 cultivable hectares, which does not include protein from land and sea animals, ”the article says.

However, with development, current land use and climate change projections, not all areas traditionally used for agriculture are available to produce this amount of food. Yet the numbers bear witness to the effectiveness of indigenous farming methods.

Contrary to the indigenous practices of Hawaiians, adds the study, “The current agricultural system in Hawai’i encompasses approximately 369,583[hectares]of active agricultural land (both cropland and pasture), but only 151,700[metric tons]of local food is produced each year, only 13 percent of all food consumed. This illustrates the efficiency of indigenous farming systems, in line with other analyzes indicating higher production per unit area on traditional farms compared to conventional agriculture.

While the article mentions that the development of agricultural areas is likely to continue to limit the area available for local food production, it gives hope to those who want food sufficiency, in the form of data: “These models can greatly assist in the selection and planning of sites in these priority areas for restoration. Given the many possible trajectories of climate change by 2100, after early and mid-century climate projections have been developed for Hawai’i, secular trajectories of change in agricultural suitability would be particularly useful for planning. land use.

Additionally, in a world facing impending catastrophic climate change, the study affirms the importance of traditional knowledge to face the future. “For indigenous communities around the world, the restoration of indigenous food systems goes well beyond food security, providing opportunities for strengthening identity, social bonds, knowledge transfer and well-being,” inseparable from the indigenous diet, ”he says.

“All of these can build social resilience to climate change. In an era of vast land use and climate change affecting both the ecological and social foundations of agriculture, our study demonstrates the potential contributions of indigenous farming systems to future food production.

Read the article, complete with maps, on Nature.com

Image courtesy flickr / moonjazz

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