Hawaii’s economy is feeling the impact from the restrictions on travel, quarantines and shutdown of nonessential businesses. In the back of our minds, we’ve all also known that Hawaii has long been much too dependent on just one industry, and now we are experiencing firsthand just how susceptible that has made us.
But even before the arrival of the coronavirus, the ALICE Report conducted by the Aloha United Way reported that 48% of Hawaii’s households were struggling to afford basic needs. This reality that nearly half of our families faced was during the time that we were bringing in record-breaking numbers of visitors to our islands. Even in the “best economic times,” hundreds and thousands of our friends and family left Hawaii to more diverse economies and better opportunities.
As we plan to rebuild our economy, an important question for us to consider is: Will we recreate a diverse, resilient and more regenerative Hawaii, or will we return to the status quo?
Hawaii continues to import more than 85% of its food and other necessities and billions of dollars leave the state each year as a result. Yet nearly 47% of Hawaii’s 4.1 million acres are zoned for agriculture. Much of these lands are now fallow, full of invasive species, and being converted to gentlemen estates and urban sprawl. What if we could revitalize Hawaii’s agricultural lands and create new and regenerative agriculture, food, fuel and fiber industries in Hawaii?
We’ve been endowed with incredible natural resources, rich fertile soils, year-round growing conditions, clean air, fresh water, and a strong tradition of agricultural abundance and excellence. It was not long ago that Hawaii was completely self-sufficient providing for all our own food and necessities.
A strong and regenerative agriculture industry providing food, fuel and fiber can provide a much more resilient, diversified and sustainable future for our families, communities and our islands. We have an opportunity to rebuild our economy by creating industries and regenerative business models that can make our islands more resilient for the next time we are faced with a crises and additional disruptions in the future.
There are currently a number of organizations, efforts and private enterprises working to diversify our economy and revitalize agriculture and the manufacturing of Hawaii grown and made products. Examples include the Hawaii Ulu Cooperative on Hawaii island and its work to create a fresh, healthy and gluten-free starch substitute using breadfruit; Kaunamano Farms working to create a sustainable and organic local pork industry; and Kalona Brand Co. developing a model of a regenerative and vertically integrated ag and food company for Hawaii.
However, our government and our local institutions can play a much greater and critical role as we rebuild our economy by providing support and incentives to these industries and businesses that are revitalizing our aina, building soil, sequestering carbon, growing food, and providing for our basic needs while preserving the unique quality of life that we all love and enjoy in these islands.
The time is now for us to envision and develop a more diverse and regenerative economy for our islands, for our families, and for future generations. Let’s align our economics with our island environment and the cultural values we collectively hold so dear.
Kawika K. Burgess is president/CEO of Kalona Brand Co.