Role of Hawaii Oil Seed Producers in Hawaii County Planning: An Integrated Approach


 Presented by Hawaii Oil Seed Producers LLC Board of Directors
200 Kanoelehua Ave  206, Hilo HI 96720
Here we present the very beneficial role that Hawaii Oil Seed Producers LLC (HOSPRO) can play in providing food, energy, economic opportunity, and sustainability for the Big Island community. We earmark where specific paragraphs of the HICDP fit into the overall plans of HOSPRO and discuss actions and strategies that serve to strengthen the Plan and the County. Such a plan comes at the opportune time when Saudi Arabia oil facilities have been hit with missiles destroying part of their oil production capacity and pushing oil prices up. Hawaii, located so far from existing energy sources, is in desperate need of its own sustainable energy supplies.

The Covid-19 pandemic has created a loss of 49% of State revenues and ~32% of jobs by June 13, 2020 (Hawaii Free Press online). Legislators are calling for public-private partnerships to identify new income and job generators, and innovation in creating a more sustainable economy. Here, we present an opportunity to create on the Big Island the foundational base for training, research and production of a circular bioeconomy based on oil palm vegetable oil similar to what the Midwest has done with soybean oil
a.     Beginnings
HOSPRO was born out of a Phase I proof of concept study conducted by co-Funder Dr. William W.M. Steiner when Dean of the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management at University of Hawaii-Hilo (CAFNRM). Dr. Steiner raised approximately $130,000 through private donations to import over 10,000 hybrid phytosanitized seeds of the African (Elaeis guineensis) an American (Elaeis oleifera) oil palms. Phytosanitation was required by the USDA to prevent importation of harmful pests and diseases. The seeds were grown to ~2 feet tall after successful propagation and farmed out to volunteer farmers located around the island at various elevations with varying soils, rainfall and temperatures. Three varieties were tested which all contained genes for dwarfness (short height), extra fruit production and cold resistance. 
b.     Results of Proof of Concept
Several questions were to address biological and economic opportunity. These included: 1. Would the trees grow in the Hawaiian environment? 2. What elevation, rainfall clime and temperature regime were most conducive to growth? 3. Which of the three hybrids would do best in Hawaii? 4. What existing insect and fungal pests would attack oil palm at what stage of growth, how destructive would it be, and could it be easily controlled? 4. How long would it take to develop fruit? 5. How much fruit could be expected to make vegetable oil? Answers to these questions presaged questions of how to go about developing a vegetable oil industry and what benefits to expect from growing oil palm for in Hawaii.
c.     Current and Future Goals
Some ten years later the results of the proof of concept study are conclusive. Not only do oil palms thrive in Hawaii, they produce oil nuts on a par with Costa Rica where the seeds were originally obtained. This translates to a minimum of 600 gallons of oil/acre. HOSPRO studies show that although a limited number of insects and fungi will attack oil palm especially in the sprouting and seedling stages, these are all treatable by recommended, off-the-shelf pesticides easily obtainable. And once trees reach a height where protective thorns develop (4 feet) they become very resistant to any pests including wild pigs. The success of this investigation led to the formation of HOSPRO to promote new goals that deal with promotion and expansion of this industry which is well proven in other parts of the world (Malaysia, Africa, Indonesia, New Guinea, Central and South America). Average oil production of 600 gallons/acre is ten times what can be expected from growing soybeans in the Midwest of the USA and in Argentina. Given the limited agricultural land in Hawaii this is and ideal relationship. Like soybean oil, palm oil is edible, can be used in development of many industrial and cooking applications as well as for energy.  This makes palm oil a robust investment because if something replaces the need for bio-oil for energy (solar or algae), the oil can be used in other industrial applications and for development of new industries. The trees, which live for 25 years, need never go away like sugar did, yielding long term agricultural benefits including job stability.
Since one of the three tested hybrids demonstrated better growth and fruit production, focus will be on developing a nursery to grow the millions of trees necessary to develop the industry. Thus, the new goals will constitute Phases II and III. In Phase II the goals include: 1. Establish a nursery with a 100,000 tree annual turnover; 2. Establish marketing and development procedures to plant the trees on the thousands of acres of former sugar plantation land now being used in for low-end economic foraging or growing only weeds; 3. Take a closer look at what crops (besides shade tolerant ones) and livestock can be reared amongst the oil palms; 4. Set up and begin oil production with an oil press obtained with USDA funding; 5. Establish a program to partner with land holders in both urban and rural environments-already we have a list of 35+ owners who desire oil palms; 6. Establish a training program for interns that desire to learn how to grow and process the oil nuts for the future industry. The next phase (Phase III) would concentrate on developing industrial applications and marketing techniques for new products and new spin-off industries. 

a.     Development Concept
The Hawaii Island Community Develop Plan (HICDP) calls for an increase in total acres of active food production. In Section 3, our plans resonate with policies 301-303, 305, and 308-310. By planting oil palm, we would protect valuable ag lands because oil palm uses 1/3 the water that sugar cane did while requiring 25% of the fertilizer. It would provide weed protection for those lands and serve a more productive use of the land. We would partner with: County, State and Federal agencies and other groups (UHH, HCC, Charter Schools) to build training programs and community capacity; support development of new markets and stabilize programs, cooperative groups and others promoting agriculture via a sustainable industry; aid the aquaculture industry by providing palm waste products for fish (and animal) feed; provide a huge impetus to develop bioenergy with a very viable fuel resource (oil palm nuts) that is ecologically sound, sustainable, and complementary to food production. Here are some details.
HOSPRO operates with a Board of Directors that are palm growers, land holders, and advanced degree professionals with experience in biology, energy production, engineering, horticulture, education, business management and accounting, and entrepreneurship. This group of experts understand the need for a sound groundwork on which to build the new industry. Thus, time frames are available for implementation of each phase of development with specific goals marked by milestones. Past milestones included test for best hybrid, obtaining an oil press for oil extraction and beginning building of a database of potential growers. 
The development concept must be dynamic by nature since funding can be sporadic. The idea, unlike SE Asia which destroys rain forest for oil crops, is to utilize existing small and large landholder plots derived from sugar cane lands in Hawaii. We will ask land holders to sponsor a portion of their palm acquisition but also hope to have support from County, State and Federal grants to help that acquisition. We experienced an 18% loss of trees in the Proof of Concept partly due to loss during seedling stages and partly due to other factors (loss to pigs, loss to volcanic activity, human error/mismanagement, farm-switching to other crops). We believe that with dedicated growers investing some funding the likelihood of crop loss and mismanagement will be greatly reduced to about 10%. Thus, we have to plan for 100 trees/acre for a successful target planting of 90 trees/acre. This means 1,000 acres planted will require a nursery capable of growing 100,000 seedlings. This would mark a good beginning nursery. Obviously to plant 100,000 acres of fallow sugar cane land would require either greatly expanding the nursery or budding off sister nurseries to areas where most useful. In this way economic benefits can be maximized, and sound economic development planning can quickly accrue.
b.     Integrated Agriculture
Hawaii’s economic benefit from agriculture results mostly from growing horticultural products, papaya, coffee and tea, macadamia and pineapple (though the latter is in decline) and cattle mostly for export. As pointed out in the development plan 85% of Hawaii food is imported and this is a major reason why; large farm holders and horticulturists are exporting to money making markets rather than grow for local consumption. One third of Hawaii farmers are new and beginning farmers and are likely growing for local markets but also are likely small land holders given the high price of Hawaii land. 
HOSPRO and overseas studies show that crops like coffee, tea, cacao and even cattle and especially goats can be grown in the shade of oil palms for local production. Besides these potential export crops, most leafy vegetables such as arugula, beets, bok choi, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, horseradish, kale, leeks, lettuce, parsnip, peas, radish, rutabaga and others can be grown in shade-partial shade. This means that integrated cropping can be done under oil palms especially if slightly raised beds are used. Thus, producing oil for energy crops is not incompatible with producing food. This aspect of HOSPRO plans supports policy strategy 314.
c.     Relation to Infrastructure Planning
County support of an oil palm nursery would go far in supporting policy 250 and 269 by providing fuel for alternative energy vehicles, and for policies that ensure energy production and distribution to communities beyond supporting just the electric grid. Depending on just the electric grid ignores the need for biofuel for high torque diesel engines for off-road vehicles, heavy trucks, tractors, cranes, and other diesel-based equipment. In Europe diesel is used in about 39% of autos on highways versus 3% in America even though modern biodiesel shows a 20%+ conversion efficiency over gasoline and 30% reduction in air pollutants, factors that fit well with policy 269. Although the County calls for and promotes increase of electric vehicles on Hawaii Island, it does not do a similar call for promoting biofuel vehicles which would have a faster impact on lowering vehicular energy usage and pollution. We stand ready to partner with the County on research and development of palm oil as a renewable energy resource and in training and education programs for green job growth (see policy 269). We would point out that the County Planning Board calls for supporting renewable energy incentives for utility-based systems but not biofuel; this should be remedied in the plan to increase favorability of funding for sustainable biofuel resources. For example, policy 270 promotes biomass energy for fuel production but not oil palm. An oil palm nursery supported in part by state infrastructure grants (action 15.3.15) would go a long way to make a nursery the heart of Big Island economic development.

A major section 3 goal is to create a diverse, stable and innovative Hawaii Island economy consistent with island ecology, character and cultural heritage. Oil palms are non-invasive; after thousands of years of selection they require cultivation to grow. They do not require annual replanting as a tree crop, and fertilization and watering (if required) can be targeted and not broadcast. The trees grow and produce well where rainfall is above 80” and opportunity for fertilizer or pesticide escape to polluting levels is minimal thus supporting ecological integrity. The number of well playing jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities go well with the goal desiring to build economic self-sufficiency and reduce import dependence. Agriculture is and probably will always be a mainstay of Hawaii Island’s economy but what it lacks in good paying jobs, sustainability and job diversity can be made up by making palm oil a primary Big Island product. What’s more, it may even play stable role in promoting tourism.
a.     Projected Jobs and Income Diversity
HOSPRO projects that a palm oil industry will generate jobs in several categories, including as nurserymen, field plantings, fruit harvesting, equipment operators, extraction mill operators, truck drivers and oil haulers, heavy equipment operators, mechanics, engineers, marketers, and processors, planning and marketing, direct growing and harvesting operations. Similar to the defunct sugar industry, oil palm will generate 1 job/100 acres of oil palm based on estimates from Indonesia. In extraction and processing, some 10 jobs will be generated/mill. Supporting jobs will generate another 10 jobs/1,000 acres planted. These estimates do not include any need for lawyers and scientists to develop spin off industries though these higher paying jobs will be a necessity. These jobs do not go away and in this sense are sustainable as well as diverse. At the lowest job levels (nurserymen, field hands) salaries should range in the $18-$20/hour range. At mid-entry levels salaries may be in the $30-$45/hour range. For managers, scientists and other professionals, salaries may range up to $85/hour. A study is necessary to determine the actual numbers that might be generated.
b.     Resulting Diversified Industry and Innovation

c.     New Industries
Economic diversity is derived from industry development, innovation and entrepreneurship. HOSPRO’s short-term development goals include establishing the nursery and extraction mill to immediately create about 20 jobs in the intern arena. These trainees would become the backbone to further development. A mill will immediately spin off two new industries; one would be to develop animal and fish feed from protein rich waste produced during milling. About 40% of processed fruit/nuts ends up as waste byproduct. This material could be made available for processing to the new feed mill on UHH Ag farmland owned by Oceanic Institute. Waste that is not processable can be ground and composted to make a mineral and nutrient rich compost to be sold for fertilizer. Over time as the vegetable oil production expands and stabilizes, oil can be sold to Pacific Biodiesel for processing into biodiesel Eventually oil can be examined by scientists using protocols from other countries already producing biochemicals to develop new products such as cooking additives and edible oil, perfumes, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and plastics. This may be 10-15 years down the developmental road. This section supports policy 301-302 and policy action 3.16 in the Hawaii County Plan.
It should be noted here that agricultural tourism now comes into play. Tour guides, with sufficient planning and contact development with the palm oil industry, and now provide tours so that visitors can examine the basis of Hawaii Island sustainability and independence up close. This is another feature that is in need of examination by social scientists and economists. This aspect fits well with policies 326 and 345 of using strategies that promote agriculture and tourism jointly.
a.     Land Use Compatibility
Palm oil is a perennial agricultural crop product where soybean oil is an annual. Both are vegetable oils. Whereas soybeans have fungal and insect problems growing in Hawaii as well as temperate time and seasonal biorhythm displacement, oil palm is a tropical crop. As a tree crop it requires less inputs (water, pesticides, fertilizer) than most crops including soybeans, pineapple and sugar. Thus, agricultural compatibility in Hawaii should not be a problem.
Our vision for oil palm is that is becomes decentralized in production such that scattered and different communities not only have nearby fields where it is grown but also a local mill for processing. Oil produced by that mill would then be trucked to Pacific Biodiesel or to a secondary processing facility. This creates and keeps jobs local. 
a.     Urban
There are many small agricultural plots of 3-5 acres located in developing urban centers on Hawaii Island. Any of these can support oil palm growth generating vegetable oil for owner use or sale with little input. This makes it an ideal crop for small land holders. Even the common backyard can support 2-3 trees; given about 80,000 residences on Hawaii Island this could generate 960,000 gallons of vegetable oil for Hawaii Island. HOSPRO have plans to support a roving team of specialists that could help urban land holders care for and harvest their trees, similar to what managing a fruit tree (orange, pomolo, etc.) in your backyard would be like. The difference is that the landholder would know s/he is contributing to Big Island sustainability and security.
b.     Rural
HOSPRO will develop individual contracts with landholders of 20 acres or more to facilitate planting and growth of the industry. We will provide trees plus expertise in management, harvesting and eventually facilities for processing. Large landholders may be happy to know they can still maintain their livestock herds while now growing palm oil for a secondary crop as well. This facilitates policies 275-284, 301 and 309.
c.     Conservation
HOSPRO seeks to support sustainability and conservation to the maximum possible. This is one of our driving factors to produce large quantities of vegetable oil for bioenergy and transportation fuel at a time when so little is available in the islands (we use over 500 million gallons of petrogas with a large share of that belonging to the Big Island due to distances between sites). We believe we can offset 60 million gallons of petrol use (about 1/3) on Hawaii Island if we can reach our planting goals). As electrical vehicle use grows, this percentage should actually increase.
HOSPRO also believes that, like growing shade tolerant vegetables, we should be able to grow shade tolerant endangered species. We have identified twenty species which should be compatible with growing oil palms. Thus, oil palm fields can become nurseries in turn for endangered and challenged native Hawaiian species and can be fed into recovery programs by Federal agencies. This fits the sustainability objective 24 by providing plants for restoration. 

a.     Roles for the Native Culture and Building Island Resiliency
HOSPRO has two native Hawaiians on its Board. Overall, the Board seeks to have more Hawaiians who are knowledgeable about the needs and potential for biofuels on the Big Island. We will be seeking especially to train, using internships, a cadre of Hawaiians who will be able to lead the company and the Island toward energy self-sufficiency in the future. We believe that the original inhabitants of these islands had it right with respect to self-sufficiency but in these challenging times education about competing factors and developing opportunities will be necessary to build a secure, resilient and sustainable future.