Indigenous Cropping Systems Lab

Indigenous Cropping Systems Laboratory

Ethnography, Agronomy and Biogeochemistry

of Indigenous Cropping Systems

Prep Lab: Sherman 204

Analytical Lab: Sherman 217


College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources

The Indigenous Cropping Systems laboratory focuses on traditional and low-input farming methods, emphasizing the links between knowledge intensive practices and agricultural production. We employ interdisciplinary methods to generate a holistic understanding of agrarian systems as situated within environmental and social contexts. Our analytical laboratory primarily focuses on biogeochemical analysis, exploring nutrient cycles in plant and soil systems. We also utilize ethnographic and agronomic techniques extensively in field setting across the Pacific. We work closely with farming and indigenous communities, extension faculty and staff, industry players, and high-quality researchers to improve the awareness, understanding, and adoption of traditional practices.

Current Projects

Examination of the Hawaiian dryland field systems. The vast rainfed systems of Hawai‘i and Maui Islands were an amazing achievement. These continental-scale developments were highly intensive, and sustained for hundreds of years without the use of external inputs or legume crops. Specifically, we are currently examining (1) the role of micro-topography on nutrient distribution and the adaptation of agricultural infrastructure to those variations, (2) the impact of field walls on long-term soil moisture and its influence on soil pH and nitrogen availability, and (3) specific practices associated with nitrogen maintenance.

Breadfruit variety trials. We have established 10 replicate sites across the state of Hawaii for observation of 6 breadfruit varieties. The varieties include Ulu, Ma‘afala, Pua‘a, Otea, Fiti, and Pi‘ipi‘ia. We examine the phenology, growth, production, disease/pests, and other parameters of the trees to see how they react to climate and soil type.

Nitrogen fixation in mixed-litter decomposition. We have found that sugarcane mulch promotes nitrogen-fixation in decomposition. By mixing sugarcane mulch with other simple litters we seek to enhance nitrogen fixation even further, and eventually provide low-cost, low-input sources of nitrogen to farmers.

Soil biota and co-cropping. Some crops do better next to each other, while others do worse. We hypothesize that at least some of these effects are do to the associated microbiological communities in the soil. We conduct controlled and field experiments to examine how two crops do next to each other, and how their microbiological communities interact.

Effects of propagule cleaning. Vegetative propagated plants pass on an entire ecosystem of biota – bacteria, fungus, and viruses. While these communities provide many positive functions, it also can accumulate negative functions as well. By cleaning propagules done through tissue culture we can eliminate these endophytic communities and compare their growth and characteristics to untreated plants to see the effect of these accumulated internal communities.

Ethnography of Hawaii sugarcanes. Long before Europeans and the sugar plantations, Hawaiians had an extensive collection of sugarcane varieties. We have been collecting stories, descriptions, and other observation of heirloom Hawaiian cane varieties. We will be soon releasing a book and website for the identification and ethnobotany of these traditional cultivars.

Establishment of long-term agroforestry plots. We are currently establishing six 1-acre traditional agroforestry plots as comparative research sites. Agro-forestry was prevalent throughout the state, but no intact systems remain. Long-term assessments of soil fertility, yield, and resilience is being conducted. Once established, specific projects focused on crop interactions and community ecology are proposed.