Diary

Food security in Hawai‘i

Talkin’ Hawaii agriculture blues

Food security in Hawaii / Neil Abercrombie’s gubernatorial campaign hosted an animated discussion at its Ward Warehouse headquarters on Monday night, one that put some of the most contentious questions in Hawaii agriculture on the table.

The event was billed as non-partisan exploration of “food security in Hawaii,” and Abercrombie stayed mostly true to his opening pledge to leave the campaigning aside and keep the focus on the question of achieving food security for the Islands.

Yet despite moderator Andrew Aoki’s early assurance that “we all share the same goal” when it comes to food security, it was evident that panelists did not.

Both Gary Maunakea-Forth of organic food and community-development organization MAO Farms and Andrew Hashimoto, who heads the University of Hawaii’s Department of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, talked about food security from the point of view of agricultural independence for the Hawaiian Islands.

“I’m originally from Aotearoa, from New Zealand,” Maunakea-Forth said, “and if they can grow their own food there, we can do it here.”

He said that can happen only if Hawaii embraces an organic model.

“Ultimately, it means we’d have to de-industrialize.”

Hashimoto agreed that food independence was possible, but did not sound optimistic.

“It would require an enormous commitment from the state, and from consumers,” he said. “People have forgotten the farmer, and as [noted Big Island farmer] Richard Ha always says, ‘The farmer no make money, the farmer no farm.’”

Alicia Maluafiti, executive director of the biotech-supported Hawaii Crop Improvement Association, argued that not enough emphasis was being placed on a more traditional definition of “food security”–the ability of residents to get enough food at affordable prices. She said organic and tech-supported agriculture would have to co-exist, and laid out three priorities for the next governor.

“Number one, fix the irrigation systems … Second, restore funding to the Department of Agriculture for inspectors … And we have to get the large landowners to identify the Important Agricultural Lands [as provided for in 2008 legislation] to keep that land in food-production.”

Audience members, both in person and via streaming video online, seemed heavily pro-organic and suspicious of the GMO/seed industry, but mostly they seemed uncertain of where all these conversations–several said they had been to similar discussions of late–would lead.

“I’d like to hear more about next steps,” one woman told the panel. “This conversation has to continue beyond this room.”