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By Craig DeSilva

HONOLULU, Hawai‘i (July 20, 2000 – PIDP/CPIS)---Researchers from the University of Hawai‘i have begun a project to set up a hydroponic farm system for hotels in Yap in the Federated States of Micronesia.

In March, Dr. Bernard Kratky, a horticulturist at the University of Hawai‘i-Hilo, and Professor C.L. Cheshire, business development specialist at the College of Business Administration’s Pacific Business Center, conducted a weeklong workshop on hydroponic farming in Yap.

The workshop was attended by about two dozen people from hotels, grocery stores, private farms and the Department of Agriculture.

Kratky holds patents for two types of hydroponic systems, a method of small-scale farming that uses less water and soil than traditional farming.

Kratky said the Pacific Islands is an ideal region for hydroponic farming. "The tropics tend to have soil-born diseases and worms that affect roots," he said. "Hydroponics promotes efficient use of fertilizer and water."

He said his hydroponic system, which uses a specially-designed soil and fertilizer, would allow farmers to grow a head of lettuce with less than a gallon of water, several times less than what traditional farming requires.

The hotels in Yap, including the newly-opened Traders’ Ridge, are interested in growing fresh vegetables such as lettuce, tomatoes and cucumber on site using hydroponics. Yap’s hot and humid weather isn’t ideal for large-scale farming. And most farms focus mainly on starchy vegetables, such as yam, taro and cabbage. Restaurants are forced to rely on either canned vegetables or imported produce, which often times arrive in poor quality.

"The hotels have a clientele who expect to eat fresh vegetables with their meals," he said. "They shouldn’t rely on canned vegetables."

Professor Cheshire said Yap hotels contacted the Pacific Business Center with an interest in setting up hydroponic farms.

"The produce used by hotels is not part of the local diet and not typically grown on Yap," he said. "Commercial agriculture has taken a backseat to subsistence agriculture on the island. People grow things mostly for their families. The issue of commercialization is a hurdle."

Cheshire said hydroponic farming holds great potential for the Pacific.

"It’s a low-cost, low-maintenance system," he said. "Land (in Yap) is so hard to come by and soil composition is a crap shoot."

However, one of the challenges will be to keep the seed quality fresh since it deteriorates rapidly under Yap’s high humidity.

The Pacific Business Center is currently working with hotels to set up a hydroponic system by the end of the year, but Cheshire said additional funding is still needed for equipment and training.

Added Kratky: "There’s room for success in the Pacific."

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