Hawaii Counts the Cost


IF there is one dominant world problem causing the community of nations an unbroken series of headaches, it is the increasing urge toward greater selfsufficiency. What this has meant to countries operating on wartime economies, such as Germany, Italy, Japan, has recently become depressingly evident. But, apart from the belligerent powers, there exist areas which for less lethal reasons are manifesting a decided interest in some phases of economic selfsufficiency. Nowhere is this truer than in our own Hawaiian Islands, which are endeavoring to-day to reassess their relationship to the mainland — and in the process are dealing with as complex and fascinating a set of military, social, and economic currents as are to be found anywhere.

A little over a quarter of a century ago, Ray Stannard Baker undertook to examine the ‘Paradise of the Pacific,’and found, among other things, that, ‘to the outside visitor the Island life conveys a curious sense of unnatural strain and overstimulation — a condition in which many fine and sincere men are struggling with almost impossible difficulties.’ His comment might almost have been made yesterday, so applicable is it to contemporary Hawaii. To reappraise adequately this ‘condition,’to do justice to the projection into the present of these ‘difficulties,’to analyze new ones that have arisen, is a complicated task beyond the scope of a general magazine article. Yet by describing Hawaii’s efforts to assure her food supply at all times, by explaining why her campaign in this direction has thus far stalled, and by outlining the exciting possibilities in prospect if the Islands do become more self-sufficient, — and if they do not, — we can at least indicate some of the pressing issues that must be settled if the Territory is to remain, next to the Panama Canal, our most valuable overseas asset.

No one can live very long in Hawaii without the overwhelming realization that Island stability is based upon two major crops, sugar cane and pineapples, both of which require long growing seasons, large-scale operations, and heavy investments in mills and equipment. After driving mile upon mile through sugar-cane country, past plantations each one of which is a small town in itself, with stores, churches, a bank, and assembly hall, the visitor cannot help appreciating those facts: that 60 per cent of the population owe their livelihood to sugar production, and that 70 per cent of the Territory’s annual income is derived from sugar. The pineapple industry, less extensive, is controlled largely by the sugar interests.

For years the Islands have been made to produce in the neighborhood of 1,000,000 tons of raw sugar annually — about 14 per cent of the sugar consumed in the United States. This has been possible only through the resourcefulness of the leaders of the industry, involving the intensive study of soils, fertilizers, varieties of cane, eradication of pests, and improved methods of irrigation. Arid lands have been transformed into green fields by developing water supply; transportation facilities have been built up; plantation laborers have been provided with many of the prerequisites of daily life, including free housing and medical care. The success of the industry — last year sugar shipments amounted to approximately $63,575,478, which, together with pineapple shipments of $59,487,394, accounted for 92 per cent of total ‘exports’ — has depended directly upon the mighty triumvirate of land, labor, and water supply. Adequately financed and kept abreast of the latest scientific developments through their own experiment stations, the sugar-cane and pineapple plantations have developed the corporate type of farming to a degree of efficiency perhaps unsurpassed anywhere in the world.

The Hawaiian economy, then, depends upon marketing sugar and pineapples on the mainland, using the income from sales of these crops to purchase the commodities necessary to Island life — amounting last year to ‘ unloads ’ of some $113,000,000. It should be noted, parenthetically, that Islanders, quick to emphasize that Hawaii is ‘an integral part of the United States,’ prefer the use of the terms ‘shipments’ and ‘unloads’ to the foreign-sounding ‘exports’ and ‘imports.’ To-day the Islands provide about one third of their food requirements, although Oahu, on which live nearly 60 per cent of the total resident population, supplemented by army and navy forces and their households of nearly 35,000, produces only 15 per cent of its own food supply. Since Hawaii is climatically adapted to the production of sugar cane and pineapples, it has been insisted by some exponents of the free-trade theory that the Islands should become even more dependent upon outside commodities, capitalizing upon the natural asset of climate to achieve a satisfactory balance of trade. It is understandably among these exponents, concerned above all with the control of land, labor, and water supply, that one finds the most apparent misgivings about large-scale crop diversification.

Yet this school of thought suffered somewhat of a jolt when the maritime strike on the Pacific Coast, which lasted from October 28, 1936 to February 8, 1937, cut off supplies from the mainland, with the result that prices rose immediately and a few items of food were not available at any price. Housewives found the strike playing havoc with their budgets. Oranges were selling at $1.35 a dozen, a rise of 255 per cent. Onions rose 215 per cent, rice 34 per cent, potatoes 23 per cent, wheat flour 29 per cent, corn meal 47 per cent. Considerable concern was caused by the rapidly decreasing supply of canned milk, which is widely used among plantation workers. Fresh fruits and vegetables which normally come from the mainland increased in price more than any other class of foods, followed by cereals and bakery products. Except for foreign or government ships, a few freighters from the East Coast, and oil tankers, no vessels entered or departed from Hawaiian ports during the strike. The Acting Governor of Hawaii, Charles M. Hite, in his report to the Secretary of the Interior for the fiscal year 1937, pointed out that ‘the strike again emphasized the necessity of a more diversified agricultural system and a more effective and less costly system of distribution between the various islands.’ The pertinency of this suggestion was evidenced as recently as May of this year, when a strike by employees of the InterIsland Steam Navigation Company paralyzed shipping between the Islands, with the result that within a week after the strike began prices on the Honolulu vegetable market mounted 10 to 15 per cent and residents of Oahu found their table fare again restricted.

A system of diversified agriculture is by no means a new idea in the Territory. The early Polynesians in the Islands introduced the taro, sweet potato, breadfruit, coconut, banana, and many other fruits and vegetables from the South Seas. When immigrants from America and Europe arrived, they tried out various new crops with which they were familiar — in most cases, as Dr. Harold L. Lyon has asserted, with very little success. Of late years, however, the urge toward greater self-sufficiency in foods has taken definite form, crystallized by the lessons of the 100-day maritime strike. There are four general arguments advanced in favor of diversified agriculture for the Islands: to produce more of the food consumed, to improve the diet, to ship out-of-season crops to the mainland, and to provide farming opportunities for those of the younger generation not adapted to work on the sugar-cane and pineapple plantations.


The most powerful force in encouraging greater self-sufficiency is the Hawaiian Department of the United States Army, which considers the problem primarily from the point of view of defense. It is customary in military circles to consider the Islands as the western outpost of American defense, an extension as it were, 2000 miles to the westward, of the American coast line, and there is much talk in the Islands of how Hawaii, in the hands of an enemy, would be a spearhead pointing at the west coast of America. So serious is this job of guarding the mainland and the naval base at Pearl Harbor (when, for any reason, the fleet is not within Hawaiian waters) that army forces on Oahu now number over 21,000, the largest American troop concentration anywhere.

The civilian in Hawaii, who generally has little to do with the Service communities, is constantly reminded of the military significance of the Islands by the army and navy bombers and pursuit planes which roar overhead day and night. Radio programmes, sponsored by military units, inform him of the army’s rôle in case of war. For instance, while I was in the Islands, Hawaii’s anti-aircraft regiment, the Sixty-Fourth Coast Artillery, presented a radio drama, entitled ‘Moonlight Cavalry,’ as a feature of its celebration of Organization Day. The feature was announced in one of the Honolulu newspapers, in these words: —

‘This drama, written by Lieutenant Colonel Ward E. Duval, C.A.C., vividly depicts the rôle which the Sixty-Fourth Coast Artillery would play should an enemy attack the island of Oahu. Big guns, searchlights, and machine guns all do their part. Sponsors of the programme hope to impress listeners with the fact that their army in Hawaii is constantly on the alert and continually training to defend them and their homes against any possible enemy.’

Not once during my stay in the Islands did I succeed in obtaining official comment upon the offensive value of Hawaii in any war which might have to be waged across the Pacific. Persons raising the question are regarded with reserve. The emphasis, for public purposes, is on defense, and any suggestion that the building up of the naval base is linked with possible offensive commitments in the Far East inevitably receives a noncommittal response.

In time of war or of great catastrophe, it devolves upon the army in Hawaii to feed not only itself but the hard-working civilian population — only the tourists loaf — of approximately 400,000 persons. Under present conditions this is, of course, impossible. At the conclusion of the maritime strike of 1936-1937, Major General H. A. Drum, then commanding the Hawaiian Department, uttered this warning: ‘If Hawaii makes no change in her system of production, and her shipping is cut off from any cause, her food stocks will be depleted in a few days — in a few weeks she will know deprivation — and in a few months she may face starvation.’

It is the prescribed function of the army in the Islands to provide against ‘peacetime crises and calamities that reach or approach catastrophic proportions’ (the 100-day maritime strike was deemed a ‘commercial disturbance,’ not involving the extended use of army facilities). It is also the army’s task to take the very darkest view of what would happen to the Islands in time of war — Japan being presumably the aggressor — should there be a state of siege. Difficult though it is to conceive of a situation in which all communication with the mainland would be severed, the army is taking no chance that the problem of a sufficient food supply, the outstanding flaw in a well-nigh impregnable defense, shall endanger the success of operations in and around the Gibraltar of the Pacific. To remedy this, the Service Command of the Hawaiian Department has been entrusted with the job of working out a coördinated plan, in conjunction with civilian agencies, to assure a sufficient food supply to defend the Islands, particularly Oahu. I doubt if there is any other American community whose leaders are so aware of their vital responsibility in feeding the people in case of emergency.

Major General Charles D. Herron, commanding the Hawaiian Department, told me that under ordinary circumstances the Island food supplies are sufficient for approximately fifty days. It is known that ninety days are required to grow a staple crop such as potatoes. Without a sufficient programme of crop diversification before eventualities, Island defense would be seriously impaired, say army leaders. It has been pointed out that Hawaii is in a position somewhat analogous to England, whose dependency upon food from abroad was well illustrated during the World War. Not long ago the British Minister for Coördination of Defense established a Food Defense Plans Department, to build up food reserves for a year.

In addition to encouraging diversified agriculture on every possible occasion, army leaders in Hawaii are likewise concerned with evolving some means of surplus storage of foods and seeds. I was told by one authority that army and navy forces in Hawaii are maintaining sufficient supplies to support themselves for six months. But what of the civilian population? To help meet this problem, Hawaiian General Headquarters strongly advocates the storing up and constant replenishment of numerous varieties of seeds, some of which, it is claimed, will last up to one year. I understand that the War Department has approved an appropriation that would provide $100,000 for building an air-conditioned seed storage centre, the upkeep for the first year being estimated at $60,000, and $40,000 annually thereafter.


It is evident, then, that the matter of basic food supplies in Hawaii is inextricably bound up with army defense plans. It is no secret that the Hawaiian Service Command’s extensive research has progressed to the extent of determining which areas, now in sugar cane or pineapples, would grow other food crops advantageously. In an emergency involving the declaration of martial law, such areas presumably would be taken over at once, cleared of cane or pines, and devoted to sustaining crops. The organization and efficiency of the plantations would be indispensable aids at such a time. ‘Our conception has been worked out in most details — what is needed now is some real result-producing execution,’ said one officer.

From the army point of view, the most successful effort to date to develop local food products has been the recent utilization of taro products. Taro is one of the oldest important food crops of the Islands. The root of this plant was prized by the early Hawaiians, who cooked and pounded the tubers to a pasty substance which they called poi. This substance has been the staple starchy food of the Islands, used in much the same manner as we use bread, or as Orientals use rice. To determine the palatability and practicality of taro products, the army has undertaken several experiments with taro blend bread. For a time the entire garrison of some 21,000 men was furnished with taro blend bread, and the results, according to military officials, indicated that ‘it is entirely practicable, beneficial to health, and an important step in the development of a greater degree of self-sufficiency.’

Army leaders have fostered several other experiments with local-grown foods, but it is possible to detect on their part a certain impatience with the relatively slow progress of the diversified crops programme. It is self-evident that Hawaii, an import-export community, with conditions favoring the production of sugar cane and pineapples on a vast scale under a highly developed and scientifically conducted organization, is not going to be transformed in a few months into an economy sufficiently diversified to maintain its population in time of war. Nevertheless, the Service Command of the Hawaiian Department continues its preparations to fight in advance against malnutrition, deficiency diseases, and epidemics which may come with any catastrophe — war being the worst.

Plantation authorities are working to encourage a more diversified crop system chiefly to afford plantation workers a better-balanced diet. Nutrition experts have pointed out repeatedly that the prevailing rice diet among the laboring classes in the cities and on the plantations is far from beneficial (the rice consumption per capita in Hawaii is 230 pounds, compared with 5½ pounds on the mainland). Workers are encouraged to grow sufficient green vegetables for family use, and an improved diet has been the dominating influence behind garden contests sponsored by the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, as well as the 4-H Club and Future Farmers Club gardens. However, as the Diversified Crops Committee of the Hawaiian Sugar Planters Association has emphasized, there is a surprising dearth of reliable information bearing upon the food requirements of plantation workers. The situation is inevitably complicated by the fact that the dietary of a population predominantly Oriental in origin has been steadily changing, developing along the lines of ‘American’ diet, thus necessitating either increased unloads or local production of fruits, vegetables, and dairy products.

Two years ago the Hawaii Agricultural Experiment Station, under the joint supervision of the United States Department of Agriculture and the University of Hawaii, conducted a detailed survey of all farms cultivating crops other than sugar cane and pineapples, and found that truck crops occupied less than 2 per cent of the Territory’s arable land. This small part was composed mainly of second-rate and marginal lands tilled by tenant farmers, and averaging less than five acres in extent. Sums have been appropriated from sugar-processing taxes and from territorial funds to develop truck farming and to improve local marketing facilities for farm products. As yet, however, there has been no coordinated effort at diversification related to a necessarily new form of distribution. Dr. O. C. Magistad has stressed the fact that, since a large part of the truck crops consumed in the Territory are shipped in from the mainland, many wholesalers to-day have standing orders for mainland shipment. This factor, together with the uncertainty as to quantities of truck crops available locally, induces the wholesaler to continue shipments from the mainland, rather than to plan on partial and uncertain delivery from local growers.

It was recently estimated that food costs in Honolulu for the average white family of four are 22.7 per cent higher than the average for fifty-one mainland cities. Moreover, retail prices of twentytwo farm products capable of being grown in Hawaii were found to be about 20 per cent higher. This would seem to offer local producers an unusual opportunity for profit, provided they could place foods of equal quality on the local market. Militating against such profit — even against the appearance of locally grown produce — are these factors: irregular supplies from unirrigated lands subject to droughts and floods; inability of small truck gardens to compete successfully with large-scale mechanized production on the mainland; limited capital; high cost of fertilizer and packing materials; difficulty of persuading truck farmers, most of whom are over fifty-five years of age, to adjust their age-old method of Oriental hand production to the market requirements of a modern American city.

Mr. H. H. Warner, director of the Agricultural Extension Service, University of Hawaii, has suggested two practical methods by which the Islands could produce more of their own food: the use of public funds for the development of cheap water for irrigation, which would result in the increased production of food on land without sufficient rainfall; a direct cash subsidy, justified on the basis of national defense, to return present wet-land areas to rice or taro. There are areas of good agricultural land on Oahu itself now suffering from lack of irrigation, says Mr. Warner, and also many small sources of water at present unused and actually creating drainage problems at certain seasons of the year. ‘If it is the genuine desire of the Territory and the Federal Government that we produce more of our food, it would be advantageous to draw together these water sources on windward Oahu into a gravity system with one or more reservoirs. Cheaper water for irrigation purposes would thereby be provided on near-by fertile land and without interfering with any existing systems for domestic or plantation use.'

It has also been pointed out that rich valley floors, once intensively cultivated in rice and taro, are now in pasture, or else unused at all. Growers in these areas find it impossible to obtain laborers in sufficient number and to pay the wages prevailing in the production of sugar cane and pineapples. Consequently the Hawaiian rice industry has been crowded out by low-cost production in California, where high labor costs have been met by large-scale mechanization. A general sales tax of ten cents per one hundred pounds on all rice (95 per cent of which is now received from the mainland) would provide, Mr. Warner believes, a subsidy of well over one dollar a bag for all the rice and taro now grown in the Territory. These benefit payments, it is argued, would stimulate production and gradually return to cultivation some 10,000 acres of the most fertile lands in the Territory.


In late years, Island researchers have become more and more concerned with the possibility of commercial shipment of fresh papaya, mangoes, avocados, tomatoes, and string beans to mainland markets — the third general argument for greater diversification. For the past two winters, for example, shipments of Hawaiian asparagus, free of quarantine restrictions, have gone forward to the mainland during December, January, and February. Last winter a number of lots were reshipped by refrigerated express from Oakland to New York City, where they were snapped up at $1.00 to $1.25 per pound wholesale. Hawaiian potatoes, landed at ports on the West Coast in February, have naturally found a ready market — new potatoes in midwinter!

Before sizable progress can be made, however, it will be necessary to modify the stringent regulations of the United States Bureau of Entomology and Plant Quarantine so as to permit entry of fruits. Passengers on liners from Honolulu to San Francisco or Los Angeles never fail to be impressed when they learn that ships’ supplies of fresh fruits, obtained in the Islands, must be thrown overboard before reaching the mainland. The reason for this procedure is that the strictest quarantine is maintained against Hawaiian melon and fruit flies (their inroads upon the California fruit industry may well be imagined). A number of experiments have been made to devise harmless fumigants which would kill all insects and larvæ and permit mainland entry. Of these export possibilities, the solo papaya seems to offer the most hopeful prospect.

Some agricultural authorities in the Islands are convinced that the papaya may prove to be the third Hawaiian crop, next in importance after sugar cane and pineapples. Having become inordinately fond of the fruit, during my brief stay in the Islands, I tried to find out what has to be done to facilitate its appearing on my breakfast table at home.

The papaya is a melon-like fruit, already well advertised as a nutritious food and an excellent digestant, high in pepsin content and of memorable flavor. Experiments have proved that the fumigant methyl-bromide, applied to papayas, kills all insects and larvæ, although the fruit is admittedly rarely infested. Solo papayas require eleven months from seed to fruit — a single tree is estimated to produce fifty pounds of fruit per year, with a maximum production extending over three years — and they grow best in sugar-cane land. The Director of the Agricultural Extension Service estimates that growers could produce fifteen tons of fruit per acre per year, which, retailed on the mainland at fifteen cents apiece or two for a quarter (one weighs about a pound and a half), would make money for the growers.

It is claimed, moreover, that papayas will keep under refrigeration about as well as cantaloupes. That the growth of the papaya industry would benefit shipping between Honolulu and the mainland is evidenced by the assertion of one shipping official that, were he able to utilize fully his refrigerating space on the run from the Islands to the mainland, it would mean increased revenues to the company of $600,000 annually. How this could be worked out in actual practice is a question. Assuming modification of the plant quarantine, availability of sufficient land for the crop, and commercial feasibility, with the added possibilities of such by-products as preserves and canned juice, the papaya should provide a welcome addition to our diet.


The fourth argument in favor of greater Island diversification is social in nature and involves one of the Islands’ most pressing problems: the changing aspirations and needs of a population for the most part of Oriental ancestry, but ‘Americanized’ to a greater extent than is commonly recognized on the mainland. To gain some understanding of this problem — and it is absorbing — one should bear in mind the racial extraction of the major groups making up Hawaii’s population.

There are, of course, the native Hawaiians, who have tended to become assimilated with immigrant groups. The Anglo-Saxon, North European element arrived individually and of their own accord. Other immigration was directly solicited by the Hawaiian Government and private industries to fill the need for plantation labor. The Chinese and Portuguese came between 1875 and 1898, the Japanese between 1885 and 1908, the Filipinos between 1908 and 1932. Several smaller groups of immigrants include Norwegians, Germans, Russians, Koreans, Puerto Ricans, and Spaniards. Immigration has now ceased, except for a steady accretion of people from the mainland.

Since the Filipinos are the only recent comers, there are to-day more nativeborn citizens than aliens in all but the Filipino group. American law bars from American citizenship, with few exceptions, foreign-born Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Filipinos. While the foreignborn Islanders are rapidly dying off, their descendants have multiplied enormously. For instance, those of Japanese parentage, who form approximately 40 per cent of the total population, have increased proportionately more than any other group (the army keeps an everwatchful eye on the leaders of the native-born Japanese, numbering some 37,000), and are consequently very much in evidence in all phases of Island activity. It is apparent that eventually there will be practically no aliens in Hawaii, nor indeed any of foreign birth. At present, however, Hawaii’s population is predominantly youthful.

That the Territory has proved the melting pot of races par excellence goes without saying. As the younger generation grows up, it proceeds through the Americanization process of the public schools, and shares in community life with those of other racial ancestries (classroom work, sports, the R.O.T.C., and so on). The environment is fundamentally American, and the natural result is the welding together of Hawaii’s youth as one people, with common aspirations and loyalties based on the American pattern.

Paralleling in some respects the experience of the mainland, Hawaii has found that each immigrant group and its descendants have tended to graduate out of the rôle of field workers, for which purpose they were originally imported, into skilled and ‘white collar’ occupations, or into independent businesses. This phenomenon, involving seriously the Island labor supply, has been a factor in impelling plantation authorities to improve living and working conditions on the plantations in order to attract and hold second-generation inhabitants, accustomed to higher standards than their immigrant parents. Accordingly the plantations have installed better housing, better hospitals, gymnasia, athletic fields, movies, and so on. Nevertheless, the question still arises whether the second and third generation Hawaiianborn will accept agricultural work as a vocation.

The per cent of citizen employees on sugar plantations has been steadily rising, yet there is ample evidence that many of the new generations resent field labor and the supervision which is a part of collective life on the plantations. Also, the field for skilled labor is small by the very nature of Hawaii’s location and dependence upon agriculture. Thus one hears talk of the ‘social menace’ inherent in this situation, unless outlets are provided for those who spurn the security of a niche, however small, in the plantation system. Efforts are being made to encourage these young citizens to turn to small-scale independent truck farming — which, of course, serves the general purpose of greater crop diversification. Such diversification, it is held, offers prospects of adequate livelihood without too heavy an investment for those who desire to be independent operators.

Truck farms are coming into the hands of second-generation Hawaiianborn farmers of Oriental extraction, who have modern ideas of growing and merchandising. Nevertheless, as the Agricultural Extension Service will attest, these educated young farmers are in a difficult position. So strong is the filial tradition, particularly among the Japanese, that as long as their parents are living many of the young citizen farmers are prevented from carrying out improvements in the grading and packing of farm products and the keeping of accurate records of operation costs, which they know are necessary for successful merchandising in the competitive scheme. It is a period of difficult adjustment for these Hawaiian-born citizens, who have absorbed American educations, and who find themselves in fundamental conflict with their parents’ traditional system of cultivation.


These, then, are the major problems involved in any food programme designed to give Hawaii greater military protection, improved diet, new export outlets, and to provide a satisfying career for the rising generation. Being a sort of half sister to the mainland and politically a part of the United States, Hawaii cannot interfere with interstate commerce regulations; she cannot fall back on the familiar practice of fixing duties on imports in order to encourage home production. Situated geographically as a foreign country, she is nevertheless prevented from encouraging home production by the drastic methods now in effect in countries which have inaugurated thoroughgoing programmes for greater economic self-sufficiency.

So far as I was able to observe, most people in the Islands favor, in some degree, one or more of the four preceding arguments for greater food production. There have been numerous but isolated attempts to experiment with diversified crops, and there is evident a willingness to undertake coördination of these efforts. But as yet a unified and wholehearted drive, with the determined coöperation of existing Island agencies, to make Hawaii more self-sustaining has not made itself felt, despite the admittedly vital significance of the food problem.

Two alternatives seem to present themselves: Hawaii can encourage home production by various types of subsidies, or she can proceed more slowly along the present course of encouraging the production of those crops which show a long-time possibility of maintaining a competitive position with the returns from sugar cane and pineapples. In either case the interests of those dependent upon the volume of business received from outside sources would be somewhat affected — rather sharply, perhaps, if the first policy is adopted, and more slowly if the present trend continues. If Hawaii is to undertake seriously a policy of greater self-sufficiency, admitting her vulnerability because of her isolation, some concessions to the free-trade theory will probably have to be made.

Unquestionably the future well-being and stability of our most important offshore territory are wrapped up in these issues. They must be met, — and soon, — for the Islands are being drawn more and more into the maelstrom of world events.