Signs Held High

Bernie Bicoy held her sign high in the afternoon heat at the April 16 event. It reads hoe imua, or “paddle together.” “We need to support each other to benefit the economic future,” Bicoy said. She was having fun in the sun, “It reminds me of the peaceful demonstrations of the 1960’s.”

Ranch and Monsanto employees team up in a show of solidarity.

By Brandon Roberts

Horns were honking as 80 Molokai Ranch and Monsanto employees proudly waved their mana`o, holding signs street side at Kulana O`iwi. They are hoping the “Rally for Change” event will get across a positive message, as well as create hope for change.

Many in the event are directly affected by the Molokai Ranch shutdown, which cut around 120 jobs in March.

“This is peaceful, and we want to be heard with what we want for our island,” rallier Linda DeMello said, displaying her message that we are all human.

“This is what family is all about. I am here to support the children and grandchildren,” said Janice Pele, a Maunaloa kupuna. She is keiki o ka `aina, a mother of 12 and grandmother to many more. She said she supports Molokai Ranch’s Master Plan to develop La`au Point.

Auny Maile Pidot is the po`o (head) of the Maunaloa kupuna, and has been there most her life. She has lived through the coming and going of the pineapple plantations, the Kaluakoi Sheraton Resort, and multiple Molokai Ranch owners.

“I have seen hard times,” she said. “I want to be here for the employees, we are all ohana.” Aunty Pidot did more than just talk, as she participating in the La`au planning process. “La`au and the Plan can be done and still be culturally preserving and respectful.”

“Everybody should work together and not fight off the big companies, but find solutions,” said Maka, a Monsanto employee. “We cannot be Hawaiians fighting Hawaiians.” He cheered as cars went by saying he is here to “show support for the sisters and brothers.”

Coupled with solidarity is an underlying nervousness amongst the Monsanto participants, a fear that the “activists” have their sights on Monsanto. “We are standing up before it happens to us,” said one Monsanto employee.

“If we lose Monsanto, we lose millions of dollars in revenue to this island,” Maka said. “We have got to have jobs. We are the foundation for these companies.”

Monsanto is now the largest private corporation on Molokai, employing around 100 full-time and 50 seasonal workers. The bio-tech company is not without controversy; growing hundreds of acres of genetically-engineered corn on the island, which has many concerned.

In a recent meeting with Monsanto Molokai general manger Ray Foster and community affairs manager Paul Koehler, the two stated they did not see an impact from the Ranch closure to their 99 year land lease with the Ranch. They also said they were not pursuing land acquisitions from the Ranch.

“We have no current plans for expansion, but it is not out of the question,” said Foster.

Monsanto currently leases 1,800 acres from Molokai Ranch, with only 400 of those acres planted, and the rest used as a buffer-zone between plantings. They are currently updating their drying facility, a project which should be finalized in May.

According to annual reports, Monsanto spends around $8 million a year on Molokai, and $144 million State-wide. Across the islands, they have 4,820 acres and employ over 2,000.


One Response to “Signs Held High”

  1. Manoakua says:

    As our Monsanto-employed family and friends demonstrate in sympathy for their recently released MRP worker colleagues, it seems to me that there should be greater awareness as to exactly what Monsanto is doing on the island. I recall back in 2005 when our activist community (Ritte, et al) initially raised questions about Monsanto’s activities that focused on a number of unanswered questions about the company’s bioengineering research in GM/GE (genetic modification/genetic engineering).

    The ongoing corporate public relations blitz would have us believe that the major corporate seed stock providers for the world’s food growers are principally engaged in GM/GE research in an effort to enhance and improve food resource availability and distribution, when in fact it is starting to appear that their motives may actually stem from an altogether different purpose: creation of a world-wide monopoly on agricultural seed stocks.

    A substantial amount of recent corporate seed-stock bioresearch has been dedicated to the creation of ‘self-limiting’ seeds; that is, seeds that after one planting and one growth cycle will not reproduce seeds for replanting. While this may not seem sinister at first, the suggested intent is frankly startling, for the result of this would be to force reliance of the entire world’s agricultural grain growers on purchased seed stocks from a small but powerful number of corporate seed stock providers. The magnitude of such a world-wide franchise on seed stock provision could create profits that might potentially rival that of oil production. The question that naturally arises is this: is Monsanto actively working on this particular objective on Molokai?

    ADM (Archer Daniels Midland) and other major corporate forces in the multi-billion-dollar agribusiness world are after profit first, with all other considerations having secondary or tertiary importance. To think otherwise is rather foolish and implies gross misunderstanding of how the business model actually works at the corporate level. Although Monsanto operations on the island provide an important source of local income for a number of Molokai families, more needs to be known, in my opinion, about the extent and intent of these seemingly innocuous activities.

    Although Molokai should be grateful (as appropriate) to any business that elects to invest carefully in the island’s languishing economy, we cannot in the same moment refuse to address any possible ethical questions that questionable research might raise. In my opinion, those activists amongst us in the community who are best prepared and able to inquire into this matter should do so, for what better way to keep less-scrupulous activities from the awareness of the world than to sequester research in remote, isolated locations (such as Molokai, with its fragile local economy), where the chances of such activity being discovered and brought to light are greatly reduced? If Monsanto’s motives stand revealed as entirely ethical and untainted, the island owes the company a profound and sincere ‘Mahalo!’ for its investment and support. If, on the other hand, Molokai is being exploited and dupped into supporting a corporate effort intended to create a world franchise on seed stocks, it is an entirely different matter. Despite the fact that jobs and business are important for local livelihoods and may depend significantly upon Monsanto’s economic involvement with Molokai, remember that on the mainland there is no such thing as ‘pure aloha’ in the business world and no ‘gift’ ever comes without a price!

    Considering how the Hawaiian ‘aina has been consistently raped and plundered by mainland corporate business for almost 200 years, it would be greatly unwise to turn a blind eye and look away, without first determining what is pono and what is not in this regard.

    Mahalo for listening. Malama pono!


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