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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Poi supply to thin out by summer

Associated Press

LIHU'E, Kaua'i The head of Hanalei Poi Co. forecasts a poi shortage this summer as plant diseases, flooding and snails have attacked the state's highest-producing taro fields.

The shortfall in taro production has forced Bino Fitzgerald, the company's head, to stop offering poi over the Internet, once the source of 10 percent of the company's sales.

Hanalei Poi the only poi mill in the Hanalei area has also refused to fill individual orders to ensure it has a steady supply of poi for Big Save, Wal-Mart, and other major local retailers.

The lack of taro in Hanalei will be felt around the state.

State statistics show Kaua'i taro made up more than 72 percent of Hawai'i's taro production last year. And of Kaua'i's supply, between half and two-thirds comes from Hanalei Valley, Fitzgerald estimates.

The shortage means there likely won't be poi at summer wedding receptions, graduation parties and other events that make the months from March to August peak poi months, Fitzgerald said.

A variety of pests including pocket rot (a disease that forms pockets of rotting tissue in the corm) and leaf blight exacerbated by the recent rains have hurt taro production.

The plant's longtime menace, apple snails, also has hurt.

Social factors have further contributed to taro woes.

Farmers are growing older and younger generations of potential farmers are finding work in higher-paying construction and visitor industries.

Important farmer tools including fuel, fertilizer, plastics and other materials are becoming more expensive, which makes farming more difficult.

To survive, Fitzgerald said he's not taking on any new big accounts. Instead, he plans to market poi as a niche, gourmet product, where the focus is on quality rather than quantity.

"We've got to take care of our local people and local markets," he said.