Taro caretakers, scientists working to perpetuate plant varieties

Expert says hundreds of types of taro have gone missing in Hawaii

Published  8:19 PM HST Jun 21, 2013
WAIMANALO, Hawaii -

Hundreds of people gathered in Waimanalo on Friday to learn more about taro and how the plant is being saved for future generations.

Big Island native Jerry Konanui travels throughout the state to verify varieties of taro, or kalo, in Hawaii.

"Each taro variety has a story," he said. "Each taro variety has its good and bad. So many things is fascinating. They're treasures actually."

Konanui said there once was more than 600 varieties of taro in Hawaii and that number is now down to the 60s.

"It's a kuleana, a responsibility to maintain this," he said.

Scientists are working with taro caretakers like Konanui to find new and innovative ways to safeguard the varieties in this kalo collection at the University of Hawaii at Manoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources' Waimanalo Research Station.

The college's extension agent, Jari Sugano said, "We're looking at disease resistance, we're looking at pest-control measure, we're looking at even irrigation, trying to find innovative ways to grow taro maybe in systems that are not lucky enough to have a wetlands system."

But Konanui said modern science is limited by time and money.

"We can give excellent guidance and you don't have to waste all that money," he said. "Please get input from us cause we know best on our taro varieties. It's very difficult trying to save the taro varieties if you don't even know their names or their stories."

That was the purpose of Friday's taro field day, for anyone interested to learn anything taro and all its Hawaiian varieties.

Sugano said, "I think it's great that the kids, adults, as well as kupunas are here today, celebrating taro in Waimanalo."

The event was also designed to raise awareness of the state's Taro Security and Purity Task Force, which was established in 2008 to protect the future of taro in Hawaii.

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