Growing food is kind of like a video game. The goal is to survive by harvesting a large crop, but first you must overcome some obstacles.

  • An invasion by fast-growing weeds
  • Insects that eat and destroy the plants before harvest
  • Diseases that take over the plants to reproduce and spread
  • Random weather that is too wet, too dry, too hot or too cold

Humans have overcome these problems in a variety of ways. Weeds have been pulled and sprayed. Plants have been selected for their resistance to insects and diseases. Irrigation is used to control the water supply. Unfortunately, weeds, insects and diseases quickly evolve to overcome our solutions. We must constantly be coming up with new strategies for changing conditions.

The need for food leads to scientific research and new technologies. Genetic engineering is one tool that is being used to fight insects, weeds, and diseases. The links below show where genetic engineering fits in the history of agriculture and technology.

Evaluating Benefits and Risks

New technologies are evaluated by comparing the benefits and risks. As you look at the timeline above, think about both the positive and negative impacts of changes in transportation. The invention of the car greatly increased personal freedom, but also brought increased use of fossil fuels and pollution. Newer automobiles will still have a negative impact on the environment, but less impact that what we are using now.

All forms of agriculture have some negative effects on the environment, but we get the benefit of having enough food to eat. For instance millions would have starved without the use of fertilizer, but fertilizers can also pollute the water supply. Some see genetic engineering like an advanced car that decreases the negative effects of how we currently grow food. Others question if other options have fewer risks.

Think about a technology that you use on a regular basis. What are the benefits and risks of this technology? If that technology didn't exist, what would people use instead? Would the alternative also have negative impacts? Who would do the labor if you choose to do a job with less technology?

History of Agriculture in Hawaii

Early Hawaiians were able to feed a large population using just the technology that was available 200 years ago. Cultural practices supported agriculture and fishing.We would not be able to feed as large a population now. A lot has changed. There are many more plant pests and diseases. Most people eat different foods. Tourism and exports give us cash to buy products from other places. Currently, we import about 85% of our food.

Learn more about the history of Hawaiian agriculture.

Evidence of Early Hawaiian agriculture (Nature Conservancy, 2009)

Hawaii's Agriculture History (Hawaii State Dept of Agriculture, 1999)