Four months after machete-wielding vandals hacked down about 13,000 of his papaya trees, a Puna farmer’s devastating loss grows more painful.
Laureto Julian, 65, said his once-successful Kapoho farm, which had been producing $15,000 in papayas a month, is now only bringing in about a third of that. He had employed two full-time workers and one part-timer, but had to lay off one of his full-time helpers.
Julian said he believes up to five people caused the damage on June 29.
Police say they have no suspects and no new leads in what is believed to be the biggest case of agricultural vandalism on the Big Island.
"The leads we had haven’t amounted to much," said Acting Lt. Reed Mahuna of the Criminal Investigation Section. The investigation continues, he said.
"It’s still baffling as far as the motives," Mahuna said.
A similar incident in May at a Mililani papaya farm, in which about 400 of the 500 trees were chopped down, also remains unsolved as Honolulu police continue their investigation.
The two cases are believed to be unrelated.
Julian had harvested his first crop of genetically engineered papaya varieties called Rainbow and Sun Up on June 26, three days before the vandalism.
Production will continue to dwindle as the remaining trees on his 17-acre farm are growing too tall to harvest and will be thinned out.
"Old trees, every week, I tell them to chop them down," Julian said.
Once trees get too tall, about 3 to 3 1/2 years old, they are removed. Papaya trees take 18 months to cultivate to maturity.
After most of his trees were chopped down and the fruit left to rot, Julian, who has three children, 15, 13 and 9, said, "I cannot sleep and I cannot eat."