When the first Polynesian settlers arrived in the Hawaiian Islands some 1500 years ago, they were smart enough to carry with them viable corms of their food staple, Taro (Colocasia esculenta) or “kalo” in Hawaiian. Even today, every part of this plant is eaten with gusto in Hawaii. Rich in vitamins and minerals, the leaves are used to wrap meats and steamed to make “laulua.” More importantly, the corms are baked or steamed and mashed with water to produce dough-like “poi.” This sweet, starchy pudding is low in fat, high in Vitamin A and complex carbohydrates, and very easy on the stomach. In fact, “poi” is so gentle and nutritious that it is used as a milk substitute for babies with allergy problems. Taro is more than just an excellent food source, however. According to the Hawaiian creation chant, “kalo” is the elder brother of the first Hawaiian, and thus, of the entire Hawaiian race. In Hawaii, the taro plant is a sacred, cultural icon and an important link to past traditions.
In spite of a growing demand for taro products, yields have declined in Hawaii over the past 50 years, with the lowest production (4M lbs) recorded in 2007. Urbanization took an early toll, but diseases and pests have had a major, negative influence on taro production in recent years. Most notably, the invasive, exotic, Channeled Apple Snail (Pomacea canaliculata) has become a severe agricultural pest in the taro pondfields, called “lo’i”. First introduced in Maui in 1983-84 for the aquarium trade and an alternative food source, P. canaliculata is now found on every major Hawaiian island, save one. The three most important taro growing communities are all heavily infested, along with the lower reaches of most streams, numerous wetlands and estuary sites (Lach and Cowie, 1998; Cowie, Hayes and Levin, 2004).
Though generating $2.7M in 2008, 105 taro farms survive tenuously in Hawaii today because of taro imports, land, water, and labor shortages, plus an array of new diseases and pests. The Channeled Apple Snail, however, may be the one pest that pushes taro farmers over the edge. Snail control methods in Hawaii include water level management, hand picking of eggs, herding ducks, employing screening on pipes and in canals, and carefully inspecting introduced plants. Nevertheless, the snails continue to take a heavy toll while adding considerable labor costs. Typical losses due to snails are 20% of the crop, but heavily infested fields can be completely wiped out, destroying 10-12 months of time and effort.
I’d like to send some of our Apple Snail Traps to Hawaii to see if they can help these determined farmers, but I lack the right contacts. All I can say is these traps are working well here in Florida. I have had the privilege of visiting Hawaii in the past, and the view of the taro fields near Hanalei was the most beautiful agricultural setting I have ever seen. One day, I hope to see those emerald fields again. “Aloha” is a word used in Hawaii to say either “hello” or “goodbye.” So, I say longingly, “Aloha, Poi” hoping that it doesn’t mean “goodbye” to such a sacred and nutritious Hawaiian food and a wonderful, traditional way of life. Posted by Jess Van Dyke
Statewide Strategic Control Plan for Apple Snails in Hawaii (9/30/2006):