Food Resiliency in Hawaiʻi

Cover Image: Clyde Imada, botany research specialist, teaching Bishop Museum docents about Native Hawaiian Plants.

Food Resiliency

Did you know that 85-90% of food in Hawaiʻi is imported? 

Hawaiʻi is one of the most geographically isolated island chains in the world, nearly 2,500 miles from the nearest continent. We are heavily dependent on food that is imported into the state, which not only puts our food security at risk if supply chains are disrupted, but also increases our carbon footprint. This affects what is known as our “food resiliency”or “food security.” 

Food resiliency is the idea that through adverse changes in the world, we have the ability to sustain ourselves. To establish food resiliency, it is also a good practice to learn about food security. There are four components of food security: food availability, food access, food utilization, and stability. If plenty of food is easy to access by a population, all of that food doesn’t go to waste, and there is a constant production of that food, food security has been achieved. 

In Hawaiʻi, increased risk of food destruction or supply chain disruption due to climate change or natural disasters highlights the need for greater food resiliency and security. In the past, it was rare that hurricanes would make direct landfall on the Hawaiian Islands. However, due to climate change there has been a recent shift northward of hurricanes, that puts us at elevated risk of being directly hit by hurricanes. These hurricanes could seriously damage Honolulu Harbor, where 80-90% of all food consumed in Hawaiʻi is delivered (approx. 3,000 tons of food per day), disrupting and cutting off external food supplies to the islands. 

Making Change

Hawaiʻi as a state is reliant on imported goods, but is it possible to be self-sustaining? As with everything, change is possible, but it takes a lot of change and a lot of preparation: 

‘A‘ohe ‘ulu e loa‘a i ka pōkole o ka lou.  

ʻŌlelo Noʻeau #213, Mary Kawena Pukui.  

Translation: No breadfruit can be reached when the picking stick is too short.  

Meaning: There is no success without preparation. 

It is estimated that the food stocks across the Hawaiian Islands are enough to support all residents and visitors for around 5-14 days if all imports are halted or cut off. But this hasn’t always been the case! Pre-western contact in 1778, the Hawaiian Islands were a thriving food producing region. Over 1 million metric tons of food was produced annually from the 250,000 acres of land used for food production, pre-contact. In comparison, there are currently 900,000 acres of cropland in Hawaiʻi today, producing around 150,000 metric tons of locally consumed food.  

By replacing just 10% of the food that Hawaiʻi currently imports, we would save approximately $313 million, which could be invested into agriculture in the state. Researchers have found that an island needs to be growing at least 50% of its staple crops (e.g., rice, ʻulu, potatoes, wheat) in order to be self-sufficient if disaster strikes. This change needs support from all levels, from government support through policy and funding, businesses focusing on local produce, and the community to create demand and catalyze change. 

Image: Bishop Museum educators harvesting kalo (Colocasia esculenta) at Kākoʻo ʻŌiwi.

Restoring indigenous agricultural practices will also be a key aspect in the coming years in transforming Hawaiʻi into a more food secure and resilient community. This will require us to draw on Native Hawaiian teachings and knowledge to transform our current food system into one which will guide us to a sustainable future. Combining and integrating Hawaiian values with contemporary technology and understanding allows us to combat many of the problems we currently face. 

Part of what you can do is learn about the foods we produce here in Hawaiʻi, learn to prepare and cook with them, and create demand for more locally produced foodstuffs, all while understanding the rich cultural history in which they are rooted.  

Image: Mango tree next to Atherton Halau on Bishop Museum campus.

Local Food in Hawaiʻi

There are many local foods grown on Hawaiʻi, and a number of these are also grown on Bishop Museum’s 15-acre campus! Currently we have ʻulu (breadfruit), manakō (mango), maiʻa (banana), kō (sugar cane), ʻuala (sweet potato) and wī (tamarind) growing here. Next time you’re on our campus, look around for these; how many can you find? 

There are many local foods grown on Hawaiʻi, and a number of these are also grown on Bishop Museum’s 15-acre campus! Currently we have ʻulu (breadfruit), manakō (mango), maiʻa (banana), kō (sugar cane), ʻuala (sweet potato) and wī (tamarind) growing here. Next time you’re on our campus, look around for these; how many can you find? 

Below, we explore the history and uses of our personal favorites, ʻulu and manakō, followed by some of our favorite recipes for both; enjoy! 

Image: Fruiting breadfruit tree.

ʻUlu- Breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis

ʻUlu is a canoe plant, originally from New Guinea and the Indo-Malay region of the Pacific. Polynesian voyagers brought ʻulu with them as they travelled the Pacific (hence the name canoe plant). There are hundreds of known varieties (cultivars) of breadfruit across the Pacific and the world. Cultivars not only differ in appearance (morphology); they also vary in flavor, texture, nutritional composition, timing of fruit production, tree size and shape, and growing conditions. 

Breadfruit is an energy-rich foodstuff and a great source of complex carbohydrates, fiber, and minerals, including potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, and zinc. Breadfruit is also a good source of niacin, thiamine, Vitamins B and Vitamin C. It’s also gluten free, and provides all necessary essential amino acids for good health! 

Breadfruit season occurs several times a year, usually peaking during the hot summer months. Breadfruit trees begin to produce fruit in three to five years and can produce for many decades. They also require very little care or maintenance, and need little in terms of labor or materials for their upkeep. Breadfruit thrives under a wide range of ecological conditions, and is an important component of traditional agroforestry systems. 

In addition to their food-providing benefits to humans, breadfruit trees also play vital ecosystem roles. They provide shelter and food for many important pollinators and seed dispersers such as birds, fruit bats, and bees. When used in regenerative agriculture and agroforestry, they can help improve soil conditions and watersheds, and have protected mountain slopes in the Pacific from erosion for more than two millennia.  

Image: Breadfruit tree leaves.

Image: Mango tree near the main entrance of Bishop Museum.

Manakō- Mango (Mangifera indica

Manakō is a recent introduction to Hawaiʻi. Originating in South Asia, the mango is thought to have been first introduced to Hawaiʻi between 1800 and 1850 by Spanish horticulturist Don Francisco de Paula y Marin, or Don Marin (Manini). However, there is some debate about its exact origins. The Hawaiian mango, known today as the “common” mango, is the descendant of one of the types introduced by Don Marin. In total, over 60 varieties of mango are grown in Hawaiʻi! Most mangoes in Hawaiʻi are grown in home gardens, with very little grown for commercial production.

Mango season in Hawaiʻi is between May and October, with the peak of the season in July. Once well established, they thrive in hot and dry environments (like our Museum campus) and produce the best tasting mangoes. In cold and wet environments, mangoes leaf but don’t produce good or sizeable fruit. After field planting, mangoes start producing fruit in two to four years and can continue to produce fruit for over a century! Mango is one of the most widely grown fruits in the Pacific, along with niu (coconut) and ʻulu (breadfruit). A few recommended varieties include the “Ah Ping,” “Gouveia,” “Pope” and “Rapoza” due to productivity and quality of the fruit. Insect and disease problems are known to limit production of mangoes in Hawaiʻi, though we are learning to be able to control these factors more and more. Harvesting mangoes is done by hand or with a mango picker. It is important to be cautious of its tree sap because of its ability to burn human skin. 

Image: Varieties of mango grown in Hawaii (Image Credit- Ken Love).

Image: Unripe mangos on one of the mango trees on Bishop Museum campus.

Mangoes are highly nutritious, contain powerful antioxidants and are filled with vitamins A, C, and E, and potassium and magnesium. The nutritional value of the fruit depends on the variety and maturity. Unripe mangoes have more vitamin C content and as they ripen, they have more vitamin A. The fruit is a good source of carbohydrates, and is low fat, low calorie and cholesterol free. One cup of sliced mangoes will supply 45mg or 100% of your daily vitamin C needs. Color is sometimes an indicator of ripeness but not always. In some cases, mangoes will ripen but remain green in color. Mangoes can be eaten ripe or processed into different products like chutneys, jams, and juices. The unripe green fruit is commonly eaten fresh or dipped in fish sauce or shoyu. 

Mango trees are very prolific when in season; however, upkeep with fallen leaves and fruit is an important factor in maintaining the tree. Producing many fruits can be good when the tree is well tended to but when neglected, the cleanup can be extensive. 

Recipes

The ʻulu and the manakō are common fruits seen in Hawaiʻi. Despite their abundance sometimes the challenge of preparation or creativity stands in the way of productively using the fruits to their fullest extent. To combat some of these challenges, here are some creative ways to make dishes that incorporate the ‘ulu and the manakō! We hope you enjoy them as much as we do! 

ʻUlu Recipes 

ʻUlu Chips  

https://eatbreadfruit.com/blogs/recipes/baked-ulu-chips  

ʻUlu Burrito with salsa (page 3)  

https://ntbg.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/breadfruit_appetizers.pdf  

ʻUlu Curry  

https://eatbreadfruit.com/blogs/recipes/ulu-chicken-curry  

 

Manakō Recipes 

Pickled Mango 

https://onoliciousHawaiʻi.com/pickled-mango/  

Mango Sticky Rice 

https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/coconut-milk-sticky-rice-with-mangoes-233842  

Mango Bars 

https://www.joyousapron.com/mango-crumb-bars/  

Learn more! 

Bishop Museum Initiatives to become Food Resilient 

Hua Kaiāulu (“community fruit”) will be an upcoming program that utilizes and introduces fruiting plants on the Museum’s grounds and focuses on the need for food resiliency and its relevance in Hawaiʻi. Keep an eye on our social media channels for announcements of this program! 

In 2022, our Botany collection led by Curator of Botany, Dr. Tim Gallager, launched the new website, Plants of Hawaiʻi. Plants of Hawaiʻi will offer users a way to view information on plants that are both native and invasive, and aid identification of the flora of Hawaiʻi. Visit https://plantsofhawaii.org/ to learn more. Consider searching for Artocarpus altilis (breadfruit) or Mangifera indica (mango) to learn more about them! 

To learn more about other sustainability efforts, click here. 

Key Terms

Canoe Plant/Polynesian Introduced Plant: A plant introduced by the early Polynesian settlers of Hawaiʻi 

Endemic Plant: An indigenous plant that evolved into a new species that can only be found in Hawaiʻi 

Food Resiliency: A resilient food system is able to withstand and recover from disruptions in a way that ensures a sufficient supply of acceptable and accessible food for all. 

Food Security: Idealized state when all people at all times have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets the dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization) 

Imported: Goods or service brought into a country for sale 

Indigenous: Naturally introduced species that can be found in one location as well as other locations of the world 

Invasive: Human-introduced species, usually harmful to native species 

Manakō: Mango (Mangifera indica) 

Native: Introduced plants that arrived via wind, wave, or wing (not by human means), associated with a specific location; see endemic and indigenous plants 

Non-Native: Human-introduced species; see canoe and recently introduced plants 

Recently Introduced Plant: A plant introduced after the year 1779 (Cook’s documented arrival) 

Sustainability: Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs 

ʻUlu: Breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis) 

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