After a demonstration on Kalanianaole Highway and several articles and blogs locally, regarding the price increase proposed for the leases of the farmers in the upper Kamilonui Valley of Hawaii Kai, the Kamehameha Schools, formerly known as Bishop Estate, has agreed to turn the issue over to arbitration. Arbitration allows Kamehameha Schools and the farmers' group to each pick one appraiser, and the two appraisers mutually agree on a third. The process could take 3-4 months.
The charitable trust broke off negotiations with the 10 farmers, and said it will settle the issue of resetting rents for the last 15 years of the farmers' leases on their 87 acres by arbitration. The Trust also stated it is committed to keeping the land in agriculture for the next 15 years. One would have to wonder if that means development after that time, since even now the farmers cannot pay to keep the land in its present use.
Many of the farmers are in their 80s and have farmed the land for 40 years or more. They were relocated to the Kamilonui Valley when Henry Kaiser developed Hawaii Kai. While rents haven't changed since they were established in the early 1970's, the farmers cannot necessarily pay more just because it is time to renegotiate. The parcels run from 3 to 10 acres, and the farmers now pay an average of $185/acre/year. The Trust wants to raise that to $5,200 = 28-fold increase.
The Trust feels the farmers should have planned ahead for the adjustment to current market lease rates. The farmers say they are willing to pay more but not beyond what they reasonably make from farming. The small group commissioned a study from an agricultural economist, who negotiated successfully for about 200 Kona Coffee farmers on the Big Island, to assess what they could reasonably pay based on what they produce. It found a reasonable rent would be about $1,000/year/acre, about 5 times more than current lease rent, but nowhere near the price the Trust set. Kamehameha Schools rejected the report, and moved to arbitration.
Two tenants who opted not to be part of the small group have renewed their leases, according to the Trust. It also said it has negotiated similar rents with several farmers who lease land not far from Kamilo Nui Valley behind Kaiser High School.
The farmers fear that such a big rent hike will put them out of business. "What else are we going to do? That's all we know, farming," said farmer Richard Higa. Added Judy Nii, of R & S Nursery, "I don't think they realize how difficult farming is, and how small our profit margin is. Basically they're asking us to work and give them whatever we make."
If you want to help the farmers' efforts, contact Rep. Gene Ward (R-Hawaii Kai – Kalama Valley). He has said that he is keenly interested in keeping the Kamilonui Valley farmers on their agriculture lots, and that the Trust has not negotiated in good faith. He is calling upon the community to support the farmers.
Barbara Abe, Realtor