Anyone who’s been to Maui knows the valley’s defining landscape feature is the vast flowing fields of sugar cane. It surrounds the main airport on almost all sides, continuing up the leeward slope of Haleakala and east along the Hana Highway for miles; fields of green that just stretch on and on and on. With even a light breeze, these gentle giants seem to dance across the land, bending and swaying and rolling across the valley. This has been Maui’s valley landscape for decades, the one residents and visitors alike have grown to know, love, and identify with. But it’s all about to change dramatically.
On January 6, 2016, Alexander & Baldwin, Inc. (A&B) announced that it would close it all down; transitioning out of farming sugar cane after millions of agribusiness dollars were lost in 2015. Their plan is to switch to a “diversified agricultural model” where they will convert 36,000 acres to something else. But will that something else include? The people of Maui are concerned about this.
A&B has touched upon some of the agricultural possibilities; Cattle pasture, food crops, agro-forestry and energy crops (a form of crop to energy production) but people of Maui can’t help but worry that A&B will sell some of the acreage to real estate development companies and will not involve agriculture at all. Fear of rapid development and “turning into Oahu” is a real sentiment amongst the people of Maui.
One by one, A&B burns the remaining cane fields, and Maui watches with a nostalgic sigh, knowing that the recently cleared fields won’t just reappear as they always have. Instead, vast acreage of brown dirt sits in waiting and we the people of Maui watch it closely with ever suspicious eyes.