April 21, 2016 10:19 AM   Subscribe

Water will flow once more in Maui streams long diverted to feed the island's thirsty sugar cane industry. The water will now be available for the cultivation of kalo, or taro, a plant with historic and cultural significance whose cultivation has had a complicated history. This marks a win for local taro farmers, who had been fighting for some time for the return of water. The water returns as the sugar industry departs the island for good, taking a number of jobs with it.

Earlier this year, it was announced that the last sugar plantation in the state would close in 2016, thus ending an era of sugar production that lasted over 200 years. Sugar on Hawai'i has its own complicated history, and there are some who will not be sad to see it go.
posted by cubby (12 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I was just vacationing on Maui and talked with a guy who was very excited about food security for Hawai'i. Some ridiculous amount of groceries in Hawaii are imported, down to refined sugar. It's expensive and silly and low quality. Recovering a bunch of sugar cane farmland to grow food locally may be a really nice thing.

OTOH the Hawaiian islands have significant water distribution problems; rain tends to only fall on one side of an island, so you need some way to get it to the other side. It may be best for some of that Maui water to keep flowing from the east side over to the valley in the middle.
posted by Nelson at 10:40 AM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Relevant to kalo/taro farming, a friend of mine just wrote Poi Story, a reflection on incorporating taro into Passover seders in Hawai'i. I hadn't understood how significant poi was to native Hawaiian culture until I shared a bowl with him. I appreciate his effort to connect the Hawaiian tradition to his own Jewish traditions.
posted by Nelson at 10:44 AM on April 21, 2016 [8 favorites]

As someone who was once saved by poi (it was the only food I could eat for a time as an infant) and who is now helping raise Jewish children, Poi Story really speaks to me. Thanks, Nelson!
posted by cubby at 10:49 AM on April 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

There aren't a lot of native freshwater fish or inverts in Hawaii but getting rid of the stream diversions should help a lot of neat endemic species. Most of the species are adapted for the flashiness of unimpeded streams (big pulses of water coming through due to upstream/higher elevation rains) - the larvae get washed out to sea where they develop and then as juveniles or adults, they'll migrate back into the streams to breed. These are tiny little fish and shrimp that will climb a 100 foot waterfall.
posted by hydrobatidae at 11:36 AM on April 21, 2016 [7 favorites]

If this helps both local farmers and native species, that's a win-win. Hopefully, this is just a first step in reversing the economic and ecological damage of a century and a half of colonial exploitation.
posted by tobascodagama at 11:43 AM on April 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

It's a start, but many say it's not enough: A&B’s Return Of East Maui Water: Generous Gesture Or Staged Event?

There's an county council debate for the upcountry maui seat next week, where I'm sure this issue will be discussed. Maui County votes for council seats county-wide, so the "upcountry" seat will be voted on by the whole county. (There was a petition going around at the March 26 caucus to change this and have each district vote for its own councilmember, but I haven't heard whether that has made any progress.)

As for the end of sugar, many are trying to push a transition to industrial hemp. One question that I haven't seen answered anywhere, is what happens to the cane spiders when there aren't any more cane fields? Like, should I be preparing for hundreds of thousands of spiders to descend on my house any day now?

P.S. Maui meetup anyone?
posted by melissasaurus at 12:40 PM on April 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

Well, I'm still kinda nostalgic for the old C&H Sugar commercials, in all their 'cute-kid' racism. The California & Hawaiian Sugar Company is now owned by American Sugar Refining but still has a refining plant in California. No word where their raw materials are going to come from now.
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:43 PM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

According to the last article C&H seems to be leaning towards continuing industrial agriculture, notably tree farms and biofuels crops. The only thing that's changing is no more burning and fewer jobs.
posted by My Dad at 1:34 PM on April 21, 2016

what happens to the cane spiders when there aren't any more cane fields?

If we're really lucky, they move into people's yards eat all the cockroaches before they get indoors. But either way, I'm kind glad I no longer live in Hawaii right now. XD
posted by tobascodagama at 1:38 PM on April 21, 2016

what happens to the cane spiders when there aren't any more cane fields?

Just release some Chinese Needle snakes, they should take care of them.
posted by 445supermag at 4:53 PM on April 21, 2016

what happens to the cane spiders when there aren't any more cane fields? No, I wasn't planning to sleep tonight, why do you ask?
posted by entropyiswinning at 7:25 PM on April 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

There are no native cane spiders, which is why we have the hell and horror of carnivorous caterpillars. No, really.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:17 PM on April 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

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