Topping the list of the most-geographically isolated populations in the world, Kaua‘i is over 2,000 miles away from California, the state supplying the Garden Island with the majority of its food.
In 2012, House Bill 2703 was passed by the state House of Representatives, painted the dire state of Hawai‘i’s food security and brought it to the nation’s attention.
Within the seven-page document, it was stated that “Hawai‘i’s reliance on out-of-state sources of food places residents directly at risk of food shortages in the event of natural disasters, economic disruption and other external factors beyond the state’s control.”
Though this conversation entered the public sphere nine years ago with the passing of this bill, it ended shortly thereafter.
In the decade that has followed, many of the sustainability and food-security goals that were set were abandoned, and a disproportionate amount of economic and political focus was sequestered toward tourism instead of food sovereignty. This has left the state with an overdependence on imported food.
It is so crippling, in fact, that over 90% of the food ending up on the state’s plates each day and over 70% of the energy powering Hawai‘i’s cars and homes is coming from the continental United States, statistics that would leave just seven to 11 days’ suppy in the face of a natural disaster or transs-Pacific transportation shutdown before residents would begin finding the gas stations running empty and grocery stores out of stock.
As threatening as the situation may sound, there is no need to hit the panic button just yet. Looking into traditional Hawaiian farming practices can offer all of the solutions the islands are now seeking when it comes to increasing local (and organic) food production, some say.
Prior to Captain Cook’s arrival, the Hawaiian Islands were completely sustainable and food secure. It was only with the introduction of Western land-use practices, including large-scale monoculture, and the idea of private property, that the islands began to outsource their energy and food needs. If Kaua‘i can commit to
understanding how the indigenous Hawaiians were farming the land and feeding themselves, modern-day residents can too find harmony with the island and stability for future needs, experts say.
If there’s anyone who understands the importance of food security, perhaps it’s Don Heacock, owner of Kaua‘i Organic AgroecoSystems Farms in Niumalu.
“We’re going back to the future now,” Heacock says of his sustainable, ecological and organically integrated-aquaculture (tilapia), agriculture-agroforestry (kalo) farming system. “A lot of people are becoming aware that modernization and current development on Kaua‘i is not sustainable and is causing ecological damage. At KOA, all I’m doing is trying to restore what Hawaiians invented over 550 years ago: an integrated fish-taro production system like the loko ia kalo (fish yard with taro), but also include fruit- and nut-tree orchards, avocados, ulu and dairy water buffalo.”
As simple as that may sound, it has been anything but.
When Heacock received the land in 1987, it was completely overgrown with impenetrable amounts of hau bush. He laughed as he recalled the year he spent clearing out just the first acre in order to restore the taro fields and begin growing food.
“The ahupua‘a system is a holistic, community-based, comprehensive watershed-resource management system that included the adjacent coral reefs. It is an incredible concept. It was far beyond anything Europeans or anybody else has come up with. In this case, necessity was the mother of invention, because the Hawaiians had nowhere else to go for food besides the Hawaiian Islands. They had to figure out how to produce more food for more people as easily and efficiently as possible and, on Kaua‘i, feed approximately 100,000 people.”
In modern-day Kaua‘i, the need to be food-secure is again being felt.
“We now have an urgency to produce food. We are facing the largest global food shortage that the earth’s ever seen,” Heacock warns. He goes on to explain how in contrast to modern-day industrial agriculture, the ahupua‘a system “was unique, it was holistic, it was highly integrative and run by the community.”
Buying locally grown, organic food products is one way to contribute to an increase of food security on the island.
By sourcing food locally, residents can begin to make massive steps forward towards food security for the state.
According to the Increased Food Security and Food Self-Sufficiency Strategy released by the state Office of Planning in the Department of Business Economic Development &Tourism in cooperation with the state Department of Agriculture, “replacing just 10% of the food Hawai‘i currently imports would amount to approximately $313 million which would remain in the state.”
However, the benefits extend far beyond increased local cash flow and job production.
“It’s important that in addition to economic profits, we’re also making environmental profits,” Heacock explains.
Through his work at KOA, he’s seen the return of endangered waterbird species, like the Koloa duck, alae ula and Hawaiian stilt, to his property. The soils, too, have become richer, and his food forest has flourished with a huge variety of fruits, vegetables and herbs.
“We also make cultural and social profits,” he adds. “That’s what we’re making right now in education — we have to teach the next generation how to farm.”
All in all, the solution to the rising threat of food-insecurity lays in the hands of local farmers in the islands.
Supporting integrative, holistic and organic operations will lead to economic growth, environmental stability, cultural preservation and, perhaps most dire, security in case of emergency, he said.
“O‘ahu will never be able to feed itself. There’s almost a million people living there, and that’s going to be dependent on Kaua‘i, Moloka‘i and the island of Hawai‘i to feed O‘ahu. But first we’ve got to feed ourselves,” Heacock said.
Source: The Garden Island