Monsanto Could be its Own Worst Enemy

Using too much water could force the company to downsize.

Editorial by Todd Yamashita

There are some who will have you think that Monsanto employees are in danger of losing their jobs at the hands of environmentalist and activists. The biggest threat to Monsanto however, is its own growth and thirst for more water.

For the time being, Monsanto is obviously here to stay. Seed experimentation has been on Molokai for three decades and with a new multi-million dollar seed drying plant and hundreds of additional acres, there is no sign that this expanding corporation will be leaving the Friendly Isle any time soon.

Monsanto Molokai is an excellent company to work for. They are the largest private employer providing more than 150 jobs with some of the best wages and benefits in the ag-labor field. They also provide our local non-profits with thousands of dollars in grants and have generally been a good neighbor.

Monsanto has also hired laid off Molokai Ranch workers, helping Molokai’s economy to rebound.

Unfortunately, the biggest threat to Monsanto workers is Monsanto itself. Like most large corporations, Monsanto’s number one priority is to maximize profits. In this case it means planting as many acres as possible, and using a lot of water – a practice which could ultimately force the corporation to downsize.

Over the Limit
Last November, General Manager of Monsanto Molokai Ray Foster said that the company was sensitive to the island’s water needs and that Monsanto had a water conservation program for times of drought.

Last month however, amidst a 20% water cutbacks mandated by the Molokai Irrigation System (MIS), Monsanto is requesting an increase to its water use. However with water supply levels in the Kualapu`u reservoir over 60 million gallons short of where it was this time last year, many are left wondering where the water will come from?

The MIS was built for the Hawaiian Homesteaders which is why the law reserves two thirds of its water for Hawaiians. As the MIS becomes short on water due to dilapidation and drought, Hawaiian Homesteaders are beginning to feel the pressure.

Non-homestead ag-users like Monsanto currently account for 84% of MIS water consumption. Monsanto itself is using almost twice the amount of water of all 209 homestead users combined.

Homesteaders have gone through the courts to fight for their rights in the past (Hawaii State Supreme Court denies Molokai Ranch pumping permit Dec 26, 2007) and are guaranteed to return should water distribution remain lopsided.

Implausible Solutions
Monsanto is offering the DOA cash to increase pumping. While this might seem like a positive effort, it probably won’t help. The MIS is the only state-run irrigation system that regularly operates at a profit, yet it is the most dilapidated and mismanaged. Obviously, positive cash-flow doesn’t equate to a better system.

Although improvements are being made to one problematic area at a time, a system-wide overhaul of the MIS, which will take years, is the only thing that will increase higher sustainable water levels.

But more water won’t necessarily help either. As homesteads continue to grow (homestead water use increased 35% in 2007) non-homestead users like Monsanto will increasingly be held to their 1/3 allocation of MIS water.

Living Within Your Means
The corporate model of taking as much as possible doesn’t work on Molokai, it never has. In 1905, Molokai Ranch started the island’s first large scale sugar plantation – they pumped so much that their fresh water turned salty, killing the entire crop before the first harvest. A century later, the Ranch put companywide operations on the line to develop La`au Point –the development’s lack of water shut everything down.

Regardless of whether or not activists and environmentalists want Monsanto to continue growing and testing genetically modified corn, it is Monsanto’s responsibility to operate within the law. Hawaiian’s 2/3 right to water specifies the limit. If Monsanto continues expanding beyond their limits and beyond the threshold of Molokai’s water capacity, like Molokai Ranch, Monsanto will be forced to downsize.

The best thing we can do to protect the jobs of those who work at Monsanto, is to ask Monsanto to curb its growth in proportion to the available water resources.


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.