Seed is a fundamental natural resource that is essential to the development of Hawai‘i’s food production and future sustainability and self-reliance. Seed comes in many forms. In addition to the classic vegetable or grain seed, Hawaiian food crops such as taro and sweet potato, propagated from huli and slip, are also forms of “seed.”
Hawai‘i imports nearly 90% of its food and 99% of its seed, and the supply of both depends upon a fragile network of long-distance water and air transport, creating a vulnerable and dependent agricultural economy in the state.
Seed is the foundation of all agriculture, and open-pollinated seed, or seed varieties that can be saved and grown true to the parent, are being lost at a rapid rate. In the United States, 95% of seed varieties that were grown in 1900 are no longer available today. Only a few generations ago, crop biodiversity was maintained by people on farms and in gardens. Worldwide, in the past century, three-quarters of our food biodiversity has been lost. Of all the food plant varieties that once fed humanity, only 25% remain, and only 10% of the remaining varieties are available for sale today. These hardy genetic varieties were the mainstay of the home and market garden for centuries.
Over the last three decades, plant breeders have focused on developing varieties that are adapted to high-input chemical agriculture that takes place on large-scale farms. The seed needs of organic, low-input and smaller scale farmers and gardeners have not been addressed, and there is great potential for adapting varieties for these food producers.
The Kohala Center has received a grant through the USDA Organic Research and Education Initiative (OREI) to host a statewide Public Seed Symposium in Kona. Other sponsors include the College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Natural Resource Management, UH Hilo; the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, UH Mānoa; the County of Hawai‘i; and Keauhou-Kahalu‘u Education Group, Kamehameha Schools.
The long-term goal of the symposium is to initiate a Hawai‘i Public Seed Initiative (HPSI) to support on-farm/garden research and expertise in seed variety trials, selection, saving, and storage, and to collaborate with agricultural stakeholders in the development of an open-pollinated organic seed industry for market farmers and home gardeners in Hawai‘i and the Pacific.
Our first goal is to bring together interested farmers and gardeners in the state, to share knowledge of seed growing, selection, and saving and to plan a future Public Seed Initiative. If you are a farmer or home producer in the State of Hawai‘i and would like to learn more about growing, saving, and improving seed for your farm or garden, please join us in Kona for this unique opportunity.
Visit the Hawai‘i Public Seed Initiative (HPSI) Web site.