ACT 211 - The Taro Security and Purity Task Force

Posted by kahea at Sep 09, 2008 08:59 PM |

For taro farmers, taro buyers and taro eaters, some information from Onipaa Na Hui Kalo on the Taro Security and Purity Task Force. The following provides information on the origins of the Task Force (Act 211), what and who it is (and is not), and its goals:

How did the Task Force come to be?
As a food crop, taro is a multi-million dollar industry in this state. Its importance in Hawaiian culture is beyond measure. As are its contributions to health, education, family and community economics, the arts, and the visitor industry. Ensuring that taro and poi will be around in the future has become increasingly difficult with lack of water, access to taro-growing lands, and crop diversity; the apple snail, taro diseases; a shortage of taro farmers; and competition from taro imports.

In 2006 under Senator Russell Kokubun’s SCR206 the Department of Agriculture was tasked with opening a dialogue to look at non-gmo alternatives to research, policy, education, crop and market issues for taro.  One of the desired outcomes expressed by all of the participants in the effort launched under SCR206 was a Task Force to continue the to reach taro farming communities, set priorities, make recommendations and implement initial projects. Based on that recommendation, SB2915 was drafted by taro farmers and introduced by Senator Kalani English in 2008. This bill proposed a two-year, funded, Taro Security and Purity Task Force. The bill and its budget received unanimous ‘aye’ votes from the legislature and was passed into law, becoming Act 211, on July 3rd, 2008.

However, Governor Lingle used her line-item veto power to delete the funding for the Task Force, which forced the Task Force to pursue its work without the necessary financial support in spite of the fact that taro remains an icon to the State’s identity and was officially designated as the State Plant in 2008 (Act 71). OHA has agreed to provide initial funding as a partner and administrator of the Task Force. It will be necessary to find additional resources to fulfill all the goals of the Task Force.

What and Who is the Task Force?
Act 211, the Taro Security and Purity Task Force represents the first time that guidance for taro and the problems farmers are facing will come from the real experts – farmers – and from the taro itself, as odd as that may sound to many. It is precisely this guidance that has been missing from the table for decades.

  • The Task Force is NOT an “anti-gmo advisory group”. Its task is to find, prioritize and support non-gmo alternatives to taro farmers’ issues in Hawaii. A working definition of “taro purity” and “taro security” is necessary to guide Task Force decisions over the next two years.
  • It is also NOT an Hawaiian-only task force. Taro farmers in Hawaii are Hawaiian, Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Portuguese, Caucasian, etc. Collectively we want taro, the lifestyle of taro farming and the value of taro in our communities to survive.

So, who is this Task Force for? It is for the taro itself; for the survival of a lifestyle that is fast disappearing in these islands; and for the economic survival of the smallest taro patches to the largest. They all feed us.

What are the goals of the Task Force?

There are nine goals outlined for the Task Force under Act 211, subject to the priorities identified by its members:

1. Develop guidelines, protocols, and recommendations for taro policy, non-gmo based taro research, and the allocation of resources to ensure that taro is saved and protected in Hawaii.

2. Develop a program of incentives and projects that have the support of a broad spectrum of taro growers that will enhance taro security, protect taro purity, provide support to taro farms and farmers, and improve taro markets for the long-term.

3. Support the recovery of traditional Hawaiian taro cultivars throughout the State.

4. Increase public awareness of the value of taro and its role culturally, socially, in health and well-being, environmentally, and economically in the State.

5. Develop a program to provide taro education and training opportunities.

6. Develop a program for commercial taro growers to maximize business viability and success.

7. Develop a taro farming grant program to assist taro farmers in need to preserve the cultural legacy of taro farming for future generations.

8. Discuss the feasibility and impact of requiring the Department of Land and Natural Resources to provide reduced lease rent rates for taro farmers on state-leased land.

9. Develop taro research and outreach for the control and eradication of apple snails.

Who is the Task Force?
The Task Force will have a minimum of 17 members. Act 211 states that the Task Force shall have one representative from each of the following agencies and organizations:

Department of Agriculture
Department of Land and Natural Resources
Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation
University of Hawaii
Office of Hawaiian Affairs
Onipaa Na Hui Kalo

It shall have a minimum of two representatives from each of the following islands: Hawaii, Maui, Molokai, Oahu and Kauai.

At least one representative from the botanical garden community involved in the cultivation and protection of the traditional Hawaiian varieties of taro will also be a member of the task force.

Most importantly, Act 211 states that “at no time shall less than 50 percent of the Task Force be comprised of taro farmers.”

Island representative qualifications:
1. A minimum of three years as a taro farmer.
2. A commitment to attend all Task Force meetings for a minimum of one year; the life of the Task Force is two years.
3. A commitment to communicate with all taro growers on your island; not just those in your own network. The success of the Task Force depends on this.

A broad group of taro representatives are sought that include commercial, sustenance, cultural and educational growers.

Why house the Task Force at OHA?
A state recognized entity was administratively necessary to house the task force. It was taro farmers’ requests that placed it under OHA rather than the DOA or UH for a number of reasons, not the least of which were issues of trust and the conflict over gmo taro research. Some also felt that OHA was a culturally appropriate place for the task force to be located. For some, Haloa, is the first kanaka maoli, and OHA carries its namesake, the “oha”, or children, of Haloa.

OHA also recently purchased Makaweli Poi Mill on Kauai and is now a member of the lo’i-to-table flow to market. They need to expand their understanding of what incentives and projects will better support taro, farmers and millers to be successful. By working with all taro farmers, OHA helps improve the chance that taro, luau and poi can get to every Hawaiian.

As the administrator of the group, OHA will select the best qualified kalo farmer applicants to serve as representatives. In addition, OHA will cover the costs of holding the task force meetings, as well as member travel fees for kalo farmer representatives.

The deadline to send applications is September 15, 2008.

Applications must be written and include the applicants’ full name, address, a brief description of their fulfillment of the four qualifications, what they believe they will be able to contribute to the task force and a short list of what they believe are the most important issues facing kalo.
You can send applications to Sterling Wong of OHA’s Native Rights, Land and Culture division by email to or by regular mail to 711 Kapiolani Blvd., Suite 500, Honolulu Hi, 96813.  For more information call 594-0248.

For more information please see:

Who is Onipaa Na Hui Kalo?
Onipaa Na Hui Kalo is a statewide organization formed more than 10 years ago, with over 300 practitioners and enthusiasts who grow kalo in backyard gardens, on reclaimed kuleana lands, and large scale farming operations. Members come from all the islands. Onipaa Na Hui Kalo operates as a hui that works by consensus rather than as a formal organization. Members help each other to increase knowledge of growing kalo and kalo issues, to encourage more taro farmers on the land and to reactivate loi kalo to productive use.

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