One Third of Moloka’I Is for Sale and the Local Community Is Eager to Attract the Right Buyer

In 1848 Moloka’i was changed for good. For hundreds of years, locals lived off the island in harmony with its natural bounty and rich heritage. But that all changed during the Great Mahele, when the islands lands were privatized and outsiders, largely protestant missionary families, took control of massive stretches of land. Pineapple plantations sprang up, along with other industrial farms and ranches, affecting the islands ecology. Many of the vital stream beds dried up and the fish ponds that were part of the ancient Ahupua'a land management system were filled with silt.

Why does all of this matter? Well almost a third of the entire island is up for sale and its going for $260 million. This real estate sale is no joke and the local residents aren’t laughing. For them, it could change the entire future of the island for better or for worse.

To understand the full scope and importance of this land, we must address its history. In 1908, over 50 years after the Great Mahele, a protestant missionary family from New England, The Cooke’s, purchased over-2,000-acres of land. This became Moloka’i Ranch. While the land has transitioned between several different foreign owners starting in 1978, the Cooke’s maintained ownership of Moloka’i Ranch for almost 80 years, growing pineapple and ranching cattle. During this time, they expanded from 2,000 acres to almost 60,000 acres, using the land not only for ranching and agriculture but also to develop properties, including a golf course, hotel and lodge. Additionally, part of the land has been leased to companies like Monsanto, who grow and test GMO corn seeds on the island. All of these factors have contributed to the environmental deterioration of the island that local residents have been fighting against for well over a decade.

The land in black is owned by Moloka’i Ranch.

The land in black is owned by Moloka’i Ranch.

In the documentary Abundant Land, local residents discuss how erosion from ranching and mismanagement of the land have gradually deteriorated the soil, impacted the islands climate, and damaged the islands reefs. From pineapple plantations to ranching to growing and testing GMO corn seeds using large quantities of chemicals, thousands of acres of the islands topsoil has been stripped of life, creating barren fields. “These farming practices are kind of the antithesis of sustainable agriculture,” says local resident Karen Holt. As a result, the windy island has become prone to dust storms causing worry among residents who don’t want to be exposed to chemicals in the dust. The limited supply of freshwater on the island has been drained from the streambeds and dust and silt runoff have entered into the ocean, affecting the islands reefs and fish ponds.

In the words of Malia Akutagawa, a Moloka’i local, “One of the things that marks us as Hawaiians on Moloka’i is that we fight for this land” (Abundant Land). The locals on Moloka’i, with their long history of activism and community engagement in the islands agricultural and environmental politics, are eager to be proactive about what happens with the land and find a buyer that understands and respects their vision. In a community meeting hosted by the We Are Moloka'i Pule O'o group in October, speaker Matt Yamashita discussed the issue. “How do we attract a buyer that makes sense for this island? And what makes sense for this island?” He asked. “The residents of this island have been creating plans…[that] look at what the future should be for the island, what makes sense for us culturally?… environmentally?… economically? And when we look at all the plans we see that there is a common vision.”

Having that common vision is essential if the land is to be successfully run in a way that supports the local community, promotes sustainable agriculture, benefits the natural ecology,  and reestablishes Moloka’i as “the land of plenty.” That is exactly what the We Are Moloka'i Pule O'o group are trying to do through their community meetings, Unity walks, and outreach. And they do have a plan, detailed in a report that surpasses 800 pages and includes the Community-based Master Land Use Plan for Moloka’i Ranch, as well as various surveys, reports, impact assessments and mitigation measures. (The Document can be found here:

The community is prepared. They know what they want. Perhaps that is why multiple listings for the property have a buyer beware notice- buyers know that they’ll have to butt heads with the local community if they don’t comply. In the same October meeting, Matt Yamashita gave a warning. “We want to let potential, prospective buyers know that if you’re thinking about buying Moloka’i Ranch, you’re not just buying a piece of property, you’re coming into a community… a community that knows exactly what they want and exactly what’s good for us... And we will fight if it’s wrong. We have a long history of fighting for what is right.”

By Sofia Daniels, Abundant Land: Soil, Seeds and Sovereignty