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Editorial | Island Voices

Impose inspection fee on imported produce


We look forward to Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s promised changes in Hawaii agricultural policy and the end of "business as usual" plantation agriculture, while looking forward to production agriculture to feed our population.

To help level the playing field, increase local agricultural production and eliminate the budget deficit, we need to levy an inspection fee of 10 cents a pound on all imported produce that competes with what Hawaiian farmers grow and sell. We have to protect what we have now both from pests like the coffee borer and from pricing structures below our cost of production.

Using data from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, we can raise $7.6 million from 10 cents a pound on imports of avocados, bananas, grapefruit, lemons, limes, oranges, tangerines, watermelon, other fruit and green coffee.

We can add an additional $15.9 million for vegetables, many of which are imported from China, including ginger and taro. Other fruit from temperate climates, like apples, pears, peaches and plums—which could grow at higher elevations in Hawaii—account for another $3 million.

The total is $26.5 million.

What can $26.5 million do?

» Provide jobs for inspectors to check incoming produce that might prevent additional insects, viruses and bacteria: $5 million.

» Fund "100 percent Hawaiian grown" and "Buy Local, It Matters" marketing programs within the state. The state Department of Agriculture has had limited success because of lack of funding: $2 million.

» Put funds into the hands of growers teamed with University of Hawaii agriculture specialists to help increase our self-sustainability: $1 million.

» Build agriculture sustainability into elementary educational programs. Let’s spend $1 million for school gardens and curriculum development.

» Open state land to grow more temperate crops: $1 million.

» Protect our good name. We should not tolerate imports with labels like "Hawaiian ginger" from China or Kona coffee with questionable beans in the package: $1 million for legal expenses.

» Fund more research to better our approach to agriculture and self-sustainability in Hawaii: $2 million.

I’ve spent only half of the $26.5 million we’ve raised, which would give the governor $13 million and some change.

Sure, the importers would bellyache about the inspection fees and how they might affect consumers. But these are the same companies importing Chinese taro and ginger, avocados from Chile and bananas from Ecuador. They bring in 4 million pounds of lemons each year, 4 million pounds of avocados and almost 15 million pounds of oranges. Much emphasis has been placed on supporting these companies and their distribution systems. This has to change. The focus should be on supporting farmers and our own food agriculture.

None of what I’ve said above has touched on animal production. How much meat and fish do we import? And I’ve not taken into account the huge amount of frozen fruit (mango, guava and lilikoi) puree we import. Puree can be produced locally with a little assistance.

Hawaii farmers will be looking to the new state leadership for this assistance and a refocus on making agriculture profitable for farmers. We must make agriculture desirable for the next generation.


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