Important Strides Being Made to Boost Hawaiian Food Security

Hawaii agriculture is ripe for change. The large majority of our farmers are well into their 60s and since the 1980s we have reduced our number of farmers by 2/3rds. We currently import nearly 90% of our food which compromises our food security and degrades the nutritional integrity of what we eat. It’s time to show our youth that farming can be a viable option and build demand for locally grown products. Both the Hawaii Farmers Union United (HFUU) and the Hawaii Farm to School Garden Hui are leading the way.

The HFUU held a legislative briefing last week that covered a number of bills to increase Hawaii’s food security. Included were recommendations to: Create a low-cost Good Agriculture Practices (GAP) Certification Program in the Hawaii Department of Agriculture (HDOA) by July 2016; HB573. A GAP Certification Program through HDOA would keep the products safe for us, help to make farming affordable, and reduce the regulatory burden in the food production industries.

Create a new class designation for taro lands in the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) to protect existing and historic wetland taro lands and structures within public conservation districts for the purpose of our future food security and well-being; SB774/HB509. Although we produce ~70% of the taro we eat, we continue to import 6 million pounds of taro a year. Historic, long-fallowed lo‘i kalo lands can be found on public conservation lands on each island and point to an opportunity for young farmers to access affordable taro lands and a chance to address the looming issue of food security in the face of sea-level rise.

Create an industrial hemp permitting and monitoring program in the Department of Agriculture; SB375. Prospects for Hawaiian Hemp are promising. Apart from being used for food, fiber, and fuel, it can even be used as a sustainable building material, e.g. hempcrete. The hemp permitting and monitoring program would allow for more hemp field trials to take place on different islands and speed up the development of hemp varieties suited to Hawaii.

The Hawaii Farm to School Garden Hui is working on both increasing the demand of locally grown foods in school cafeterias and educating students on growing, preparing, and eating food with hopes to connect students to where food comes from and inspire future farmers. The National Farm to School network has found that farm to school programs increase fruit & vegetable consumption, physical activity, academic achievement, and improve student behavior. Additional benefits include strengthening of the local economy, local food systems, and food security. The top priority is establishing a state-level Farm to School Program and coordinator positions in the Hawaii Departments of Agriculture and Education;SB376/HB627.

If we replaced just 10% of the food we currently import it would generate ~$313 million, which breaks down to $6 million in state tax revenues and an increase of more than 2,300 jobs. It is inspiring to see all of the hard work our farmers, community members, educators, federal and local governmental employees and legislators have done to boost our food self-sufficiency and agricultural industry. Watch for farming bills to move and pass this legislative session.