A Canadian pension fund is completing the due diligence process in the final stages of a 55,000-acre purchase of Alexander and Baldwin’s Maui land holdings, a high-ranking State of Hawai‘i official told a group of farmers at the Hawai‘i Farmers Union Convention in October. Individuals who overheard the comment told MauiTime Friday that the state official said the Canadian buyer intends to grow citrus and coffee in Maui’s Central Valley, with the coffee operations as part of a deal to supply Starbucks. “They are mono-cropping and it’s conventional,” one source said. “In other words, food for export.”
Local companies and organizations that were in discussions with A&B to purchase the Central Valley agricultural lands for farming now say their negotiations with A&B have stalled.
“We are not actively marketing our agricultural lands for sale,” Alexander and Baldwin spokesman Darren Pai told MauiTime in an email Friday. “We are engaged in discussions with agricultural users who are interested in farming substantially all of the acreage. Our primary goal since the shutdown of HC&S has been to find third parties with viable farming plans, and we believe we are making progress in that regard.”
“If the discussions are successful,” Pai added, “these farming initiatives could result in a lease or sale of lands, or a combination. We will need to conclude those discussions before we can substantively engage with any other group or individual. It is important to note that since we ceased sugar operations we have engaged with hundreds of parties, both local and from the mainland, as we have worked to find viable farming activities.”
Alexander and Baldwin is the largest private landowner on Maui, and since the cessation of its sugar operations in 2016 has been the subject of much speculation and interest regarding the fate of the 36,000 acres previously used to grow sugarcane.
Bill Greenleaf, a farmer, co-owner of Greenleaf Farms, and former Hawai‘i Farmers Union chapter president, has been concerned about the future of Maui’s Central Valley ever since the sugarcane operations were shuttered.
Greenleaf says although off-island investors understand the power of profit, “People who live on Maui understand the opportunity that a well-developed plan around food security offers.”
“After all these years, isn’t it incumbent on A&B to consider the future of the people of the Island of Maui?” he asked.
Greenleaf heard the comments made by the State of Hawai‘i official regarding the sale of 55,000 acres of A&B’s Maui land holdings, and, concerned, responded with a letter to Governor David Ige.
He questioned why an “Eco Development group from Chicago who have 40 years of experience in the business of repurposing large tracts of land” was suddenly shut out of negotiations.
“This group and its consultants have met with A&B. They have shared their plans and history with A&B. This group would like to begin and cannot as A&B has not been willing to share their asking price. A&B has discussed leasing the land to the Maui group but has recently shut them out of the discussion,” he wrote.
“The story changed at the HFUU State Convention,” Greenleaf continued. “It was revealed that A&B is nearing completion of a sale to a group who are not from Hawaii. This revelation brings up some questions. Why is A&B ignoring a responsible and respected group with an offer? Who is the group A&B is making a deal with? What will they grow? Will it feed the people of Hawaii or be non-food crops? Will their cultivation practices add more run-off to our reefs and CO2 to our air?”
Governor Ige’s office was unable to provide a comment by deadline Friday.
One organization, Food Security Hawai‘i, has been interested in the possibility of purchasing Central Valley land to lease to farmers for local food production. This would include the Pu‘unene sugarcane mill, which would be used for processing infrastructure and a food hub.
“We have a master plan for farming in the Central Valley,” said Susan Campbell of Food Security Hawai‘i. “We did an extensive land search in the Hawaiian islands and this [Important Agricultural Land] in the Central Valley is the only land that has the ability to create food security for the Hawaiian Islands. It is the only land that has the right the combination of elevations. It also has the infrastructure already inside – it has roads, there’s a mill that could be turned into feed mills. One of the problems in the Hawaiian Islands is that we don’t have the infrastructure: We don’t have mills, we don’t have slaughterhouses, we don’t have that, and that’s the plan that we had put together.”
Charlotte O’Brien of Food Security Hawai‘i is bound by a non-disclosure agreement with Alexander and Baldwin, but stated, “We’re on good terms with A&B. We hope to be next in line to bring our farmers to the table to discuss with A&B the potential of buying that land. The former sugarcane lands are ideal for food security because there are very few large-scale agricultural lands that still have water.”
She added, “I have heard the rumors. I have no idea if they are true or not, but if it’s true that another large, foreign corporation were to come in and buy that land for exploiting any specialty crop it would be a travesty and a theft from our children’s future.”
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