History of Rice in Hawaii

The demand for rice started with the Chinese, the first immigrant workers on the Islands. They demanded rice instead of poi. Rice at the time was imported. As the Hawaii population declined, the demand for taro also declined. Taro patches were vacant, and like rice paddies, taro patches are terraced and irrigated, thus ideal for rice. Rice production was established in the early 1860s. Rice paddies and water buffalo used to occupy the land in Waikiki where all of the hotels and skyscrapers now stand.

After the tariff-free treaty was signed in the United States, rice production took off. Hawaii had more than 10,000 acres in rice and more than 130 different experimental varieties. Sugar was the only other crop to surpass rice as a crop.

With the influx of Japanese immigrants, rice production declined. The Japanese preferred the short grain rice that was grown in California, not the long grain that the Chinese grew and ate. Rice was being imported from California even though Hawaii was growing more than enough rice. Furthermore, the techniques used in Hawaii by the Chinese and Japanese, hand labor, could not compete with the mechanized production technology in California.

The University of Hawaii attempted to revive the rice industry in 1906 and again in 1933 and 1934. However, today the rice fields in Hawaii have left no trace of their existence. The history of the rice industry and the people who created it will be remembered and the restored Haraguchi Rice Mill will be a reminder.