By: Randy Cabral
Can you imagine Hawaii without its coffee, macadamia nuts, papayas, cattle and orchids? We all love our islands’ beautiful farmland and we’re proud of the many crops Hawaii produces. Please help us keep them.
Every day, Hawaii’s aging farmers struggle with uncontrollable weather, high costs, foreign competition, pests and labor shortages.
That’s reality and we’re not complaining about it, or about our small profit margins. Or the risk we take to produce your food. We know no one wants tourism to be the only economic driver for Hawaii.
We are asking for your aloha. Sadly, during recent legislative sessions, our communities were pitted against each other on farming issues, especially water availability. Some characterized this as a fight between taro farmers and corporations, and were gleeful when lawmakers failed to pass legislation allowing hundreds of Kauai, Maui and Hawaii island farmers and ranchers on many thousands of acres continued access to the water that is essential for farming.
To farmers, this isn’t a game. It’s our livelihood. This is about how people treat each other when opinions differ, when resources are limited, when we need to think clearly, make difficult decisions, and share. There is enough water for all.
House Bill 1326 would not have taken away any of the water that has been restored to nearly all of East Maui’s taro streams. But unfortunately, the issue became clouded by confusion.
The bill was necessary because a judge ruled that our permits were not meant to be renewed annually over many years. The state Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) is now developing a new system to issue long-term leases. It’s complicated and expensive to address concerns about watershed protection and fair use, but it will provide the stability we need to invest in our farms, confidence that we won’t lose our water on short notice.
The state attorney general has advised farmers and ranchers who rely on water permits that the state cannot legally re-issue them after Dec. 31.
Hawaii imports about 90% of its food, often paying the highest prices in the nation for basic needs. Hawaii wants self-sufficiency — to produce food and energy crops locally in case shipments to Hawaii are curtailed. And residents want fresher, healthier produce and proteins, a reduced carbon footprint, and a reduction in invasive species that arrive with imported goods.
Recognizing this, Gov. David Ige wants to double agricultural production by 2030. But how can farmers meet this goal without public understanding and support?
Hawaii’s farmers and ranchers are up for the challenge, but we need the basics — good farmland, long-term leases and water.
And that means we need to have serious, informed discussions about ensuring that land will remain in agriculture for the benefit of our communities and our keiki. These lands must be protected from development. They must have access to water. Hawaii agriculture is in decline; shrinking 68% since 1980. We have the exciting opportunity to fill our fields with the crops our communities want. But this can’t happen when we’re not paddling together.
Good public policy about resource use will steer us in the right direction to get us where we all want to be. All types of farming should be encouraged: large and small, traditional, conventional and organic. We can do this only if we work as a team, with aloha.
Hawaii’s farmers and ranchers are thankful for the support of the public and the Legislature, and are hopeful that our elected officials, our administrative agencies and our communities will rally behind us to resolve this legal uncertainty in a manner that is fair to all.
Randy Cabral is president of the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation.
COURTESTY OF THE STAR ADVERTISER: https://www.staradvertiser.com/2019/05/16/editorial/island-voices/column-each-of-us-will-decide-the-future-of-agriculture-in-hawaii/