Isle groups answering call to restore food sovereignty
Hawaii imports roughly 90 percent of the food it consumes and exports as much as 80 percent of what is grown here. Particularly, in view of climate change and the persistent El Nino, this leaves the health of island residents vulnerable to uncontrollable hiccups in container transport.
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Hawaii imports roughly 90 percent of the food it consumes and exports as much as 80 percent of what is grown here. Particularly, in view of climate change and the persistent El Nino, this leaves the health of island residents vulnerable to uncontrollable hiccups in container transport. Something is wrong with this picture. Part of this problem has roots in the assumptions of the current economic model. In contrast to today, pre-contact Hawaii had almost as many people as currently live on the islands and used to be able to feed itself. Restoring food sovereignty and ensuring food security are of paramount importance to the health and life of the people of Hawaii.
The ambient economic model is based on assumptions that include economies of scale and unremitting, albeit controlled, growth which depends upon unlimited resources. Today it is plain to see that neither the land nor the oceans nor the atmosphere are unlimited in their bounty or in their ability to absorb the waste spewed at them.
What might not be so obvious is that the nature of big, industrialized, commoditized agriculture is to curtail biodiversity without regard or relationship to local ecology. Historically, this has had disastrous consequences.
How did Hawaii feed itself before the age of the container ship? In Moanalua Bay, Kuapa o Moanalua was the largest fishpond in Polynesia. It once produced tens of tons of fish such as mullet each year. There were two more major fishponds, Wailupe and Niu, which were filled in to make exclusive living communities. In their day they too produced tons of fish for the larger community including mullet, aholehole and awa. When the land was altered by the Kaiser building developments, this bounty was lost, a major blow to the life of the land and Moanalua Bay.
In Kailua the Kawainui fishpond was also large. At 550 acres, each acre of fishpond could produce 1,000 pounds of fish per year including ahaole, amaama and awa. That is more than a quarter-ton of fish annually. Now it is all overgrown and producing no fish whatsoever. Fortunately, efforts are being made to bring it back to productivity through Hika‘alani, a local nonprofit.
Paepae o He‘eia is another organization that has worked to restore an ancient fishpond that was destroyed in a storm in 1964. It uses the fishpond to revive ancient methods of providing fish for the community. It also teaches sustainability and educates people about invasive species like certain limu and mangroves. This has been an ongoing effort for at least 40 years. On Dec. 11 there was an event called Pani Ka Puka that marked the completion of the wall where more than 2,000 people passed buckets of stones hand over hand.
There are countless community organizations throughout the state working to restore food sovereignty and food security in a culturally sensitive way. They have successfully restored not only fishponds, but also the cultivation of taro as well as traditional gardening. All are based on volunteers, and many received funding through nonprofit sources.
At the state level the Increased Food Security and Food Self-Sufficiency Strategy has endeavored to set forth objectives, policies and actions to increase the amount of locally grown food consumed by Hawaii’s residents. From an economic standpoint the impact of food import replacement is impressive. “Replacing just 10 percent of the food Hawaii currently imports would amount to approximately $313 million which would remain in the state,” according to the strategy. The report supports the “Buy Local, It Matters” effort as well as branding and labeling local food products. Importantly, the strategy involves better agricultural infrastructure including agricultural parks, irrigation and distribution systems, and workforce training.
Is there an alternative to the ambient economic model that better serves local, culturally sensitive food production, one that preserves biodiversity? Community-supported agriculture, or CSA, groups are associations of individuals who have pledged to support a local farm. Here, growers and consumers share the risks and benefits of food production. CSA members may contribute funds in advance of a growing season and then, in return, receive a share of the harvest or other agricultural products. CSAs are an expanding model throughout the U.S. and have also made their way to Hawaii. The main purpose behind the CSA is to support local food producers and increase the consumption of locally grown food in a manner that enables farmers to make a fair living.
The combined efforts of myriad communities dedicated to the health of the people and the life of the land have the potential to curtail the need for imported food and increase the consumption of food that is locally produced. It takes resources that include volunteerism,
nonprofit funding and government infrastructure combined with fresh economic models such as CSAs to keep local farmers solvent and to ensure healthy land and healthful food.
Ira Zunin, M.D., M.P.H., M.B.A., is a practicing physician. He is medical director of Manakai O Malama Integrative Healthcare Group and Rehabilitation Center and CEO of Global Advisory Services Inc. Please submit your questions to info@ manakaiomalama.com