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Sunday, September 8, 2013


Sugarcane came to Hawaii around 600 AD, for it was observed by Captain James Cook when he arrive in 1778.  The industry itself started on Lanai in 1802 by an unidentified Chinese man, but the first sugar plantation was in Koloa on Kauai in 1835.  In 1836 8,000 pounds of sucrose (which is the type of sugar from cane, and can be chemically split into glucose and fructose) and molasses were shipped to the USA.

The Great Mahele in 1848 actually displaced Hawaiians from their land, which was amended in 1850, paving the way for "foreign" control of the sugar industry.  Market demand came by way of the Civl War, which seriously crippled sugar production (to the right, painting of a sugar mill in the South), jacking up prices from 4 cents/pound in 1861 to 25 cents/pound in 1864.  Of course 4 cents in 1861 is worth almost 60 cents today, but the current price of sugar is in the range of 17 cents/pound.

The subsequent years saw control of lands by missionary families, creating the Big Five:  Castle & Cooke, Alexander & Baldwin, American Factors, Theo H. Davis and C. Brewer.  This led to dominance over the local economy.  So powerful were they, in fact, that in 1893 the Big Five orchestrated the overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani and in 1898, in partnership with the U.S. government, took control of Hawaii.

Around this period, the Hawaiian population was decimated by disease, and the remaining locals saw no value in working on sugar plantations.  Thus began the sociological process by which Hawaii became the melting pot of the world:
  • In 1850 came the first worker from China, and 50,000 by 1887.
  • To maintain a workforce unable to organize, in 1868 saw the first from Japan, and by 1924, 200,000 others.
  • A little more than a third from China returned home, and half went back to Japan.
  • In the very early 1900's 7300 from Korea (only 16% returned), and in the 1909-1930 period, 112,800 from the Philippines (36% went back).
  • In 1959 the racial breakdown in Hawaii was:
    • 32% Japanese
    • 30% Caucasian
    • 17% Hawaiian and part Hawaiian
    • 11% Filipino
    • 6.5% Chinese
  • In 2005:
    • 34%  Other ??
    • 25% Caucasian
    • 16% Japanese
    • 15% Filipino
    •   6% Hawaiian and part Hawaiian

This hodge-podge of cultures and languages resulted in Hawaiian Pidgin.  I am, thus, bilingual:  English and Pidgin.

I, thus, in 1962, a little more than half a century ago, innocently arrived at C. Brewer's Hutchinson Sugar Company in Naalehu, the Southernmost Community in the U.S.  At my first reception of company officials, I was the only person of Japanese extraction.  There was a sense of a time warp.  Except for a Filipino supervisor, and a Chinese factory superintendent, everyone else was Caucasian.  The leaders of the  sugar industry had remained an almost exclusively White culture.  Having just arrived from Stanford University, I actually was experienced at this ethnic mix.  The government was paternalistic, with the Plantation Manager, Bill Baldwin (below). as the father figure.  He introduced me to Pearl, arranged for me to return to graduate school, and nearly two decades later, shared an office with me in the U.S. Senate.

Well, 50 years later, HC&S on Maui (above photo is of the sugar fields) remains as the sole survivor, well reported in the Star Advertiser this morning by Nanea Kalani in Sugar's Last Stand.  How much more graphic can you get that sugar is close to dying in Hawaii than that curve on the left?

But is this the end of large ag farms in Hawaii?  Maybe not.  Apparently, burning the cane in the field before harvesting has become the environmental issue of concern.  I lived next to such fields, and during the fire, the sudden appearance of rats and cockroaches and smoke and particulates was overwhelming.  However, you lose up to 25% of the biomass, and, someday, biofuels will become the product of choice and you wouldn't want to reduce your feedstock production.  All it will take is for Israel to bomb Iran and all hell break loose in the Middle East, shocking the price of petroleum up to $200/barrel, and forever raising the price of oil.  Short of something cataclysmic happening to the conventional price of energy, biofuels will have a tough time getting commercialized.


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