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Executive Summary of Moloka'i Report

An Assessment of Sociocultural Factors Influenced by the Implementation of the Moloka`i Agricultural Community (MAC) Project, Moloka`i, Maui County, Hawai`i

USDA Natural Resource

Conservation Service

Social Sciences Institute

Authors: Michael Johnson, Anthropologist, NRCS Social Sciences Institute
Frank Clearfield, Director, NRCS Social Sciences Institute

October 1997

Executive Summary

An Assessment of Sociocultural Factors Influenced by the Implementation of the Moloka`i Agricultural Community (MAC) Project, Moloka`i, Maui County, Hawai`i

In June of 1997 members of the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service's (NRCS) Social Science Institute traveled to the Hawai'ian island of Moloka`i to study sociocultural impacts of the Moloka`i Agricultural Community (MAC) development program. This investigation provides a "snapshot" of the positive effects of the MAC program, as well as continuing challenges that the program faces.


NRCS Social Sciences Institute (SSI) staff collected a combination of primary and secondary data in order to assess any sociocultural impacts of the MAC program. SSI staff interviewed fourteen individuals about multiple aspects of the MAC program. Interviews were videotaped so that a lasting record of the investigation was captured and primary data could be re-examined, if necessary. A videotape record of the investigation may also be made available through the SSI World Wide Web site in conjunction with a text report. Review of secondary data included examining progress reports and audits of the MAC program, research into the culture history of Moloka`i and Hawai`i in general, and an examination of the data on Moloka`i, Maui County, and Hawai`i in the 1990 U.S. general population census and the 1992 Census of Agriculture.

The Population of Moloka`i

Moloka`i has a relatively small population of about 7,000 residents, of which roughly 61% are rural. The majority of residents are of Asian/Pacific Islander ancestry (79%), and have relatively low household and per capita income levels. Moloka`i has an unemployment rate of almost 6%, roughly double that of the state of Hawai`i (Geolytics 1996). There is little disposable income available to practice intensive agricultural development or natural resource conservation.

Impacts of the MAC Program

The MAC program appears to be adding a needed component to the expanding Hawai`ian homesteader efforts on Moloka`i. One condition of eligibility for the MAC program is the establishment of a NRCS conservation plan on the lands intended for cost-share.

MAC monies are providing an effective way for people to become actively involved in improving small land units; sometimes as little as five acres. Given the relatively low income levels on Moloka`i, this type of consideration is vital to program success.

During interviews, people stated that several intangible benefits were gained from participation in the MAC program. These benefits included strengthening of family and community ties, an increased sense of pride, both in self and community, and increases in the awareness of traditional cultural values.

Some MAC program participants are using their improved lands to educate children. These educational uses included the value of farming as a way of life, and the value of respecting the land, both as a commodity and as part of a spiritual/religious system.

The increases in pride, family closeness, and community support, coupled with both development and conservation of natural resources, speaks highly for the MAC program.

Projected Needs for Sustainability

The MAC project appears to be successful in providing cost-share monies to people wishing to develop small acreages for agricultural purposes. For this program, and the agricultural/rural lifestyle of Moloka`i to continue, however, several additional factors are needed.

The current focus of the MAC project is on development of natural resources, rather than strictly on conservation. In addition, there are several infrastructure needs on the island, such as livestock marketing facilities and markets for other agricultural commodities. Development of such infrastructure is needed for long-term sustainability of the benefits accrued from the MAC program.

Success Factors and Challenges

Success Factors

Several factors appear to contribute significantly to the success of the MAC project. Some of these success factors are:

  • The project has a clearly defined objective.
  • There is a clear need for conservation and on-farm improvements
  • There is a clearly defined application and rating method in place.
  • The makeup of the committee which prioritizes requests is composed of local people who are trusted by other members of the community.
  • All community farmers may receive assistance (no exclusionary clauses).
  • A limited but steady stream of financial, technical, and other resources are available.
  • Community members can participate through "sweat equity"; i.e., providing their portion of cost share through "in-kind" work.
  • Partnerships are effectively operating between the community and the public sector.
  • The project coordinator is long term member of the community and is trusted within the community.
  • There are tangible proven successes as a result of the project.
  • Local community members apparently feel a great deal of "ownership" toward the program.
  • Conservation planning and education of future generations are part of the projects.
  • Individual projects have increased personal and family pride.
  • The project tasks have encouraged neighbors to ask for and receive help from neighbors and friends. These actions have instilled a "barn raising" mentality and a sense of community accomplishment and pride.


Several other factors may limit the effectiveness of the MAC program, including the following:

  • Community and individual needs outweigh available assistance - technical, educational, and financial.
  • Community infrastructure projects are needed (e.g., slaughter house, perimeter windbreaks).
  • Individuals do not have the capital to purchase and maintain the necessary farm equipment to be productive.
  • Farmers are receiving little to no income from the practices that have been implemented.
  • Some cost shared practices have a low conservation and production value.
  • Projects emphasize individual practices rather than Resource Management Systems.

The implementation of the Moloka`i Agricultural Community project would serve, in many respects, as an excellent example of locally led natural resource conservation. The joint efforts of state and federal agencies in concert with private land operators have resulted in many positive changes for both the land and the people of Moloka`i.