Subsistence Agriculture on the Horizon for DHHL Beneficiaries


Department of Hawaiian Home LandsMost of us know the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920, as amended, was signed into law on July 9, 1921 by President Warren G. Harding. An often overlooked detail of the Act is that it was originally approved as a five-year pilot project to see if the program could rehabilitate native Hawaiians, as envisioned by Prince Jonah Kūhiō Kalaniana‘ole.

“After extensive investigation and survey on the part of various organizations organized to rehabilitate the Hawaiian race, it was found that the only method in which to rehabilitate the race was to place them back upon the soil,” Kūhiō wrote to United States senators before its passage.

In its pilot stage, the Hawaiian Homes Commission was tasked with implementing the program on several acres in Kalama‘ula on Moloka‘i and in Keaukaha on Hawai‘i Island. Pending the success of the pilot, the remaining 200,000 acres were anticipated to be opened for homesteading and Kūhiō’s vision could be realized.

The kuleana of being the first participants in the Hawaiian homesteading program was placed on the backs of 42 native Hawaiians who decided to leave their homes and livelihood in towns across the island chain to begin a new life for themselves in Kalama‘ula. The homestead would later be known as the Kalaniana‘ole Settlement.

Through the cultivation of kalo, ‘uala, melons, corn and other crops, along with raising ducks, pigs and chickens, the Kalama‘ula homesteaders found a way to sustain themselves and their families. After deeming the pilot program a success, the United States Congress proceeded to fully implement the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act. The Act was later accepted as a condition of Statehood in 1959.

“The Hawaiian people are a farming people and fishermen, out-of-door people, and when they were frozen out of their lands and driven into the cities, they had to live in the cheapest places, tenements,” Territorial Legislator John Wise testified to congress in 1921. “That is one of the big reasons why the Hawaiian people are dying. Now, the only way to save them, I contend, is to take them back to the lands and give them the mode of living that their ancestors were accustomed to and in that way rehabilitate them.”

Nearly 100 years later, the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands has plans to begin offering new agricultural lots for homesteading. The offers will utilize administrative rules crafted in 2017 after extensive beneficiary consultation.

The new Subsistence Agricultural rules allow for smaller lots of up to three acres in size and removes the requirement for a farm plan, as well as the need to cultivate at least two-thirds of the acreage. DHHL’s subsistence agricultural program is intended for those who want to be self-sufficient and grow enough to feed their families.

DHHL has completed environmental assessments for subsistence agriculture lots in Waimānalo on O‘ahu and in Honomū on Hawai‘i Island. Infrastructure construction for these two areas is scheduled to begin by the end of 2020.

Subsistence Agricultural lots are among the Department’s increased product list. This program joins the agency’s well-known turnkey home program, vacant lot product, rent with option to purchase program, and kuleana homesteads. DHHL also recently added multi-family units and affordable rentals to its portfolio.