UH boosts Kauai taro industry

College has been supporting Kauai taro growers since the 1990s

Russell Messing
Recently retired researcher Russell Messing, who ran the CTAHR Kauai county operations.

Alongside Kauaʻi’s Agricultural Research Station, the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR) helps to preserve and cultivate taro for the people of Hawaiʻi.

The island’s taro industry was hit hard by the floods of April 2018, which caused extensive damage to the taro-growing region of Hanalei.

CTAHR assisted in the renewal of the taro farms, from performing water and soil testing for contaminants to lending strong backs for cleanup. With CTAHR’s help in distributing taro varieties for regrowth, Kauaʻi’s taro industry is stabilizing.

CTAHR’s involvement goes back to the 1990s when taro varieties faced the threat of birds, pigs, invasive snails and taro leaf blight (TLB), an infectious plant disease. To alleviate these problems, CTAHR plant pathologist John Cho partnered with county officials and taro farmers to breed a better taro.

The collaboration led to a variety called Leihua Hoʻohua, which is tolerant to TLB and resistant to harmful native animals, as well as two other varieties that are suitable for growing in Puerto Rico. CTAHR distributed Leihua Hoʻohua free to growers, saved the industry, individuals’ livelihoods and the tradition of taro growing in Hanalei.

Today, 80 percent of the taro grown there is Leihua Hoʻohua, and it’s being replanted now, in the next revitalization of the valley and the industry.

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