Hilo opens crop research center
HILO » The new federal Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center opened yesterday on 30 acres of the Science and Technology Park at the University of Hawaii at Hilo with promises of improving methods of protecting food supplies.
"As the world's population grows, our food supply will certainly shrink," state Rep. Clifton Tsuji of Hilo told a gathering of more than 100 invitees.
He noted that the director of the center, Dennis Gonsalves, before returning to Hawaii from New York, had developed genetically engineered papayas resistant to the destructive effects of fruit flies.
The center also will study ways to increase the economic return on nonfood crops such as anthuriums, Tsuji said. Efforts are under way to develop strains resistant to bacteria and nematodes, he said.
U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, who obtained $18.7 million for the first phase of the center, described how he got money for alternative agricultural ventures during the 1990s when Hamakua Sugar went out of business. All of the ventures succeeded, but their fruit couldn't be exported to the mainland because of plant pests here, Inouye said.
Center technician Robert Lower explained how research continues to look for ways to protect purple sweet potatoes, booming in mainland markets in the last three years but subject to insect pests.
The 34,500-square-foot first phase is to be followed by a 29,000-square-foot second phase costing $22 million, Gonsalves said. He has part of the federal funding, and Inouye promised the remaining $15 million will be coming.
The current phase provides lab space for 16 scientists and support personnel. With the second phase, scientists will total 35. Since the center consolidates research efforts statewide, some scientists will be transferring from Kauai, Oahu and Maui.