Agriculture is Vital to our Food Nexus


The State of Hawai’i has over 1.4 million residents. Our County of Hawai’i has 200,000 of those people. Using the national average that each resident consumes, on average, 5 pounds of food a day, our state uses 7,000,000 pounds of food per day! Our island/county uses 1,000,000 pounds of food a day! (This does not include any tourists on Island). To put that in context for our County, 1,000 farmers each produce 1,000 pounds of food every day. I know some farmers that produce that much daily, but I do not know 1,000 of them.

Looking at our state production, if we truly want to strive towards County and then State food self-reliance, we must first understand where we are. Looking at our production of some essential vegetables, we produce 14.7 million pounds of tomatoes or 80% of what we consume. We provide 5.6 million pounds of cucumbers, again about 80% of what we consume. Looking at taro or “Kalo” production, we only have approximately 500 Acres statewide in cultivation; wet and dry land. The Big Island only has 70 acres or so. We consume 230,000 pounds of taro each year but only produce a third of that.


If we look at our proteins, we produce only 3.2 million pounds or 4% of the over 70 million pounds of pork we eat! Chicken? We deliver 3 million pounds or 2% percent of the almost 130 million pounds we consume. If we look at the beef industry, the Island produces twice what our consumption is as we have a vast cattle industry here. We only provide about 7% of the beef we consume, and the rest is exported to the mainland for finishing. (This is shifting as the demand for grass-finished beef increases and our ability on the Big Island increases to finish that product.) My point on these numbers is simple. We have a built-in market if we choose and can cost-effectively fill the demand.
If we look at agriculture as part of the fabric of our state, we have approximately 4,000,000 acres statewide with over 2 million acres located here on the Big Island. Many of our Big Island lands could be prime for agriculture. We have the area, we have a potential workforce, we have water resources potentially available for irrigation possibilities, and we have the demand. What we are missing is a synergistic plan for infrastructure and a vision for the future. For Agriculture to work, we will need a paradigm shift.

The first step to this change is understanding “Why”; why would we make this paradigm shift? There are many reasons. From my aspect, individuals in agriculture enjoy the lifestyle, their heritage and feel a level of responsibility for agriculture. Good agriculture is good for the land and good for the environment. It also benefits our economy directly as well as indirectly, contributing to managed open green spaces that attract tourism. From a philosophical standpoint, there is a deep satisfaction from people in agriculture when you help to feed your society. That ability leads to a higher level of self-reliance and food security.

First of all, agriculture must be “allowed.” The owners of the land must “allow” its presence and see the value of agriculture. That value may come in profit, or it may be, in part, landowners recognizing the inherent value of agriculture for the community. Concurrently, the neighbors and society must not just “allow” but really “accept” agriculture in society. Over time our towns have become removed from agriculture. The long days, noises, dust, and sometimes odors, are all part of a working agricultural community. Any society that aggressively regulates against the normal activities of agriculture jeopardizes its existence.

Government, on a local, state, and federal level, must also “allow” agriculture. The government is one of the landowners. It is incumbent upon the government to facilitate agriculture’s success. It’s my opinion that the “highest and best use” for government-owned land is not necessarily the highest net dollar return, but instead building industries to become vibrant and dynamic, creating economies that contribute to society and our tax base as a whole. Governments must also work hard not to obstruct good agriculture. We cannot legislate that agriculture will exist. We, as the society, must legislate good public policy that allows agriculture to flourish.

The second “how” is that we must be creative. For agriculture to indeed be productive and successful, it must continue to evolve and be dynamic. We have to look at different types of markets and marketing. Specialty crops that command a higher return are part of the solution. Creating an industry that value-adds to our agriculture commodities are paramount. Most of the increased higher value returns in agriculture come from the value-added portion of the marketing. By developing and creating this within our own County, we have economic growth, job development, and increased food self-reliance, all while enhancing and solidifying the agriculture base. We also must work towards the layering of income from agricultural lands. As an example, we can increase revenue from cattle or farm crops underneath wind turbines. We should have agricultural enterprises with visitors and tourists coming to see bona fide agriculture at work. We can use grazing animals as management tools for reducing fire loads. The point is to have various income streams off of the same land, thus diversifying the economy. Employing more modern techniques can bring increased efficiency. Examples of this are high-density rotational grazing or greenhouse and hydroponics vegetable production. We can also look to the past and expand other ancient methodologies such as the Hawaiian taro propagation in auwai’s. Holistic, organic farming techniques should be utilized. All of this can occur and afford us the ability to teach the next generations. Our best success will be when we see the synergy between the different needs of our society.

And finally, the third “how” is that agriculture must be inclusive. Whether we are discussing plant or animal, food production, ornamental, small or large scale, conventional or organic production, or boutique or mainstream, all agriculture is essential. For indeed, a vibrant agricultural community to function well, we must be multifaceted and accepting of all production styles and techniques.

Focusing on Hawai’i and specifically our Island, what about agriculture? The demand for this market is self-evident. Hawai’i Island has over 2,000,000 acres, over half of the total state landmass. Our Island has excellent water resources. What we are missing in large part is infrastructure and secondary value-adding/processing capabilities. To change our collective thinking will require a paradigm shift. Through private-public partnerships, strong leadership, and a collective unified goal, we can start the change. The time is now!

For the County of Hawai’i, by setting our future direction embracing these changes, we can strive towards food self-reliance, energy self-reliance, and, ultimately, a more robust economy through economic growth.

Water, Agriculture, and Energy integration:
To start moving this forward, we must have a comprehensive water plan (both potable and irrigation), an extensive agricultural plan that includes local production and processing, and an all-embracing renewable energy plan that complements agriculture.

The intent here is to seek the synergy between initiatives, thereby becoming more efficient with our efforts. Case in point; Kohala Mountain has unique geography and is very conducive to the hydro-electric generation of electricity. This water can run downhill through a series of reservoirs from the mountains where high rainfall allows a re-charge of the system. If we were to add a complement to another renewable energy source, such as wind turbines, it adds more electricity generation. During the day this increases our usable electricity. During the evening, when the demand for electricity is lower, the energy from the wind turbines can take the water in the smaller reservoirs and pump it back uphill, preparing for the next day’s needs. Using the wind turbine energy during off-peak hours and pumping water up stores that power for the immediate future. This technique is referred to as Pump Storage Hydro-Electric Generation.

What about agriculture? We know we require production and that water will increase our production. We also know that an irrigation project by itself, though having the long-term benefits, is difficult to justify the upfront cost. If irrigation is part of the overall pumped storage hydro-electric plan, we start seeking that synergy. Due to our County’s high cost of electricity, the economics makes sense for the hydro-electric project and having irrigation possibilities enhances the value of the project all the more.

Through this blending of efforts and initiatives, we enhance our society and community through that synergy. This plan addresses renewable energy needs, water management, and stewardship that directly improve agriculture through irrigation. The increase and growth in these different industries increase the demand for technical skills, thus creating professional jobs. All of this contributes towards an enhanced food and energy self-reliance and economic growth that will serve our Island and our County well into the future.

“Water, Agriculture, and Energy; a Food Nexus for Hawai’i Island” is the blending of our societal needs to find the synergy and accordingly the efficiencies of combining these efforts. By bringing all stakeholders to the table that includes public and private entities, we can start solving some of our society’s needs, including food self-reliance, energy self-reliance, environmental management, job opportunities, economic growth, and ultimately a more resilient community.

I would like to leave you with some thoughts. The Egyptians, the Mayas, the Angkor, and, more recently, Venezuela; what do these cultures have in common? At one time, they were all great societies, had significant advancements in science and culture, but today are in severe decline or virtually gone. Why? In part, they forgot about agriculture and lost the ability to feed themselves. Hawai’i Island will be different.


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