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Restoring people and productivity to Puanui: challenges and opportunities in the restoration of an intensive rain-fed Hawaiian field system

Kehaulani Marshall, Ulu Mau Puanui
Chloe Koseff, Stanford University
Amber L Roberts, Stanford University
Ala Lindsey, Ulu Mau Puanui
Aurora K. Kagawa-Viviani, Department of Geography, University of Hawai'i-Mānoa
Noa Kekuewa Lincoln, Department of Tropical Plant and Soil Sciences, University of Hawai'i-Mānoa
Peter M Vitousek, Stanford University


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Prior to European contact, Hawaiian cultivators developed and sustained large rain-fed field systems based on sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) and other crops. However, these intensive systems largely were abandoned in the 19th century, and there is little knowledge of how they functioned. Since 2008, we have worked to restore people and production to one such rain-fed field system at Puanui in leeward Kohala on the Island of Hawai’i using traditional knowledge, local knowledge, and experiments to understand how such systems functioned and to provide an educational and cultural resource to local communities. We encountered both climatic and biotic challenges to using traditional knowledge for restoring agricultural production. Climatically, there has been a recent drying trend and a severe 6-yr drought. Biotically, a wide range of weeds, pests, and diseases have been introduced to Hawaii since European contact. Experimental studies of cultivation practices demonstrated that rock mulching, a traditional practice, led to significantly greater yields of sweet potato than did alternative methods. More than 3000 students and community members have participated in the restoration effort and have contributed local and traditional knowledge in the process.

Key words

biological invasion; cultivation practices; drought; Hawai’i; rain-fed agriculture; sweet potato; traditional agriculture

Copyright © 2017 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087