Category Archives: Food Security

Shale Oil & Gas: The Overhype

Richard Ha writes:

Art Berman says we don’t have as much shale oil and gas as we think we do. He feels that the shale oil and gas sector is largely uneconomic.

The first time I heard Art Berman speak was on a panel discussion at a 2009 Association for the Study of Peak Oil conference. He studied four thousand Barnett shale wells in Texas and found that the average well gave up 72 percent of its production in the first year.

He definitely had a different perspective than an oil company executive panel member, who said that according to his hyperbolic curve calculations, the average well would produce for 22 years.

I knew someone was wrong. I thought that the oil company executive was just blowing smoke, to sell stocks. I imagined that by the end of the 22nd year, the amount of gas production from his gas well would fill a balloon an hour.

Many thousand of wells later, several credible studies from other sources, such as by this Post Carbon Institutes study by David Hughes, support Art Berman’s initial observations.

We need to pay attention to this because we rely on oil for seventy percent of our energy, and this makes Hawai‘i especially vulnerable. It’s much better to be safe than sorry.

The Big Island is lucky to have an alternative to oil and natural gas to make our base power electricity: Geothermal.

As time goes on, and as oil and natural gas prices rise, future generations will have a competitive advantage over the rest of the world. We will be over our geothermal “hot spot” for 500,000 to a million years.

It takes energy to do work. No energy, no work done. But it is the net energy left over from getting the energy that society uses to grow the economy. And since two-thirds of our economy is made up of consumer spending, it boils down to how much extra money the rubbah slippah folks have that will determine the health of our economy.

So Kumu Lehua was right. He asked me: “What about the rest?” 

That is the key question. What about our kupuna on fixed income? The single moms? The working homeless? If they had extra money, they could spend it and everyone would benefit. Farmers are price takers, not price makers, and they would benefit. If the farmers made money, the farmers would farm.

Asking what about the rest will help us with food security. It all boils down to cost. That is to say, what are the combination of things that gives us the best net energy profile? This is more about common sense than rocket science. If we take our time to look for two solutions for every problem and one more just in case, we will find the solutions that make us competitive with the rest of the world.

This, in the final analysis, is about survival and adaptation. And it is about all of us; not just a few of us.

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Maku’u Stories, Part 5: What Uncle Sonny Kamahele Taught Me About Business

Let me tell you something really interesting I learned from my Uncle Sonny Kamahele. He had 20 acres in Maku‘u, in Puna on the Big Island. There was a rare kipuka there with soil that was 10 feet deep, no rocks or anything. There was a spring in one corner of his property.

I was just out of college with an accounting degree and lots of ideas about business. So I looked at his land and wondered if he would lease me 10 acres to grow bananas. I scratched my chin and thought about how I could grow 35,000 pounds per acre on those 10 acres. Maybe 300,000 pounds a year if I took into account turn around space.

And yet on the other 10 acres, Uncle Sonny was making his living with just 10 or 20 hills of watermelons, with maybe four plants on each hill. People would come from miles around to buy his watermelons. It provided him with enough income to support himself and to send money to his wife and son in the Philippines.

Here’s the lesson I learned from him: It’s not about how big your farm is. Your business is successful if it supports your situation. I learned a lot from Uncle Sonny, but I think that’s the most important thing I learned from him.

That’s what I always look at when I visit a farm. Not how big it is, or how much money it makes, but how it operates, and whether it solves the problem it is trying to solve.

Here’s why I’m telling you this right now. We have a real energy problem looming. I think the situation with oil is very serious, and there are definitely going to be winners and losers in the world. We need to position ourselves to be winners, and it’s going to take all of us, big and small.

How are we going to feed Hawai‘i?

Every one of us is going to play a role in it – from the largest farmers to the small folks growing food in their backyard. Do you remember in the plantation camps, especially the Filipino camps, how the yards were always planted with food? Beans, eggplants, the whole thing. I don’t see it so much anymore, but we can do it again.

We are lucky on the Big Island. We’re not crowded and everybody has room to grow food. You know how you can tell we have plenty space? Everybody’s yard is too big to mow! We have the ability to do this.

It’s going to take all of us. It’s not just about any one of us, it’s about all of us, from the biggest to the smallest.

I’m lucky to have had my Uncle Sonny Kamahele to learn from when I was younger. I spent a lot of time with him and I got a real feeling for how he made decisions, which was old style.

His lifestyle was a real connection to the past, too. His lawn and the whole area were always immaculate, practically manicured. He lived pretty close to the old ways with a lot of remnants from the past. His red and green house had stones from down the beach under the pillars, and lumber over the dirt floors. He built beds on those floors and then had five or six lauhala mats on the beds instead of mattresses; old style. There was a redwood water tank.

He listened to the County extension folks, and I learned from that, too – to pay attention to the people who know something.

But one of the most important things I learned was that your business, big or small, is a success if it supports your particular situation.

See also:
Maku‘u Stories, Part 1: My Kamahele Family in Maku’u
Maku‘u Stories, Part 2: Cousin Frank Kamahele
Maku‘u Stories, Part 3: Uncle Sonny
Maku‘u Stories, Part 4: Tutu Meleana & The Puhi

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Guest Post: First Hilo-Hamakua Meeting on Agr & Food Security

I asked Dr. Bruce Mathews, interim dean of the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management (CAFNRM) at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo (UHH), to write a guest post about speaking at the first of our community meetings on agriculture and food security.

Dr. Mathews writes:

Mahalo for inviting me to present an overview of Hawaii’s soil resource base for agriculture from the pre-European contact era to the present during the first part of HHCDC Symposia Series on Agriculture and Food Security.

I found that the speakers during the first session provided a solid overview of the current realities facing our local agriculture from all perspectives (resources, new precision technologies, economics, policies, etc.). I appreciated the candid discussions regarding the growth constraints faced by many crop sectors as long as there is strong import competition from continental-based operations (CBOs) and heavy dependence on imported energy and nutrient inputs for our farms.

At the end of my talk I shared a bit about my concerns regarding what I called sustainability madness and ecological imperialism. Many people are very concerned about local use of agricultural chemicals (mainly synthetic biocides such as pesticides, herbicides, etc.) and GMOs, yet the majority in Hawaii consume foods every day that are imported from CBOs where synthetic biocides and (or) GMOs were used in their production.

No doubt there is quite a bit of not in my back yard (NIMBY) ecological imperialism/ecological hypocrisy going on here and this has implications for local society as a whole.

On the other side of the coin, the best genetic manipulations in the world won’t work for long to support economic yields if we cultivate soils depleted of nutrients, organic matter, and beneficial microbial and faunal balance. The problems of climate change such as drought will only be magnified in such soils.

Yesterday I met with a group of current and former UH Hilo College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Natural Resource Management (CAFNRM) students who had leased some land with relatively good soil to farm but recently gave up the lease after raising several different truck crops. Some of the dilemmas that they mentioned facing were the lack of viable organic options to control certain pests, time and labor needed to control weeds when herbicides were not used, security challenges, etc. Obviously, they could not sell much of what did not grow well without effective pest and weed control.  There is some zealous Garden of Eden like idealism that permeates the thinking of many until they have faced the reality of actually trying to farm in Hawai‘i.

I hope that my talk also brought to light that with increasing population and cropping intensification Native Hawaiians in the pre-European contact era indeed faced challenges and threats to sustainability despite far fewer constraints posed by invasive species.

Finally, I trust human ingenuity and integrated approaches to solve the challenges we currently face. In contrast to the polarized, advocacy-based discussions seen at some recent agricultural meetings, the dialogue at the first session of this symposia was surprisingly well-received, cordial, deep, and meaningful.

The challenges that agriculture faces in Hawaii demand an open and understanding approach based on the best scientific and verifiable on-farm evidence available so that we can best self-correct as a society for a more sustainable future.

I look forward to attending the 2nd and 3rd sessions of the symposia series.

The three-part symposium is being hosted by the Hilo Hamakua Community Development Corporation, and, as Dr. Mathews mentioned, the first one went  well.

The next two meetings are November 5th and November 13th; both are from 6-8 p.m., in the Laupahoehoe Community Public Charter School Bandroom.

The meetings are open to the public; please come if you’re interested. Read more here.

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You’re Invited to a Community Meeting re: Hamakua Agriculture

Richard Ha writes:

Save the dates:

  • Wednesday, October 29
  • Wednesday, November 5
  • Thursday, November 13
  • 6-8 p.m.
  • Laupahoehoe Community Public Charter School Bandroom

On these dates, the Hilo Hamakua Community Development Corporation will hold a series of community meetings to discuss agriculture on the Hamakua Coast. All are welcome (and refreshments are free).

We will take a 40,000 foot view of ag and its outside influences, and then look at the resources available to help us, such as the Daniel K. Inouye-Pacific Basin Ag Research Center (PBARC), the College of Tropical Ag and Human Resources (CTAHR), and the College of Ag, Forestry and Natural Resources Management (CAFNRM) at UH Hilo. 

There are many scientists researching various subjects. What do we want them to work on?

Farmers will be at the meeting to share their knowledge and experience.

Are you looking for land to farm? Kamehameha Schools/Bishop Estate with be there, and the Hamakua Ag Co-op has vacant land.

John Cross, former land manager for C. Brewer/Hilo Coast Processing, will attend. Did you know why all the sugar cane equipment had tracks, rather than rubber tires? Did you know that the plantations frequently planted banyan trees as significant landmarks? 

Jeff Melrose will be at the meetings. He recently did a study that's a snapshot of agriculture on the Big Island. He will talk about on what is grown on the Hamakua coast and why.

Come and talk story with the presenters, learn where you can get additional information, and speak up on what you would like to know more about in the future.

Ag & food security symposia

 

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‘Teaching People To Fish’ Through Biotechnology

Richard Ha writes:

Dennis Gonsalves and I had lunch at Zippys awhile back with Lawrence Kent of the Gates Foundation. Lawrence told us the Gates Foundation is sponsoring GM plant research to help the poorest of the poor. It’s a significant project, though just a small percent of the whole Gates Foundation effort.

I asked him about commercial banana research. He said they don’t do anything with commercial projects. Oh shucks, I thought.

But Dennis Gonsalves is working with Lawrence on a virus-resistant cassava project for Africa. Can you imagine: Local Kohala boy Dennis Gonsalves working with the Gates Foundation to help save lives of the poorest of the poor in sub-Saharan Africa? Wow.

I wrote about Hillary Clinton talking about the State Department moving from emergency feeding of the poor to GM plants that provide people with solutions they need to sustain themselves. Replacing emergency feeding programs with GM solutions gives farmers biotech tools to enhance their food production and vitamin content and more.

It’s kind of like the old saying: Give a man a fish and feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.

Golden rice is an example of this kind of humanitarian effort. Another is the vitamin A-enhanced banana developed in north Queensland, Australia that was recently announced.

From ABC.net.au:
By Louisa Rebgetz

Updated Sun 15 Jun 2014, 8:56am AEST
Genetically modified bananas grown in far north Queensland and bound for Africa are about to undergo human trials in the United States

Queensland University of Technology (QUT) researchers have engineered the fruit to increase the amount of beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A in the body.

The aim is to prevent thousands of children in East Africa from dying or going blind as a result of vitamin A deficiency.
Also, here’s an interesting 2011 New York Times article about Dennis Gonsalves:
By PAUL VOOSEN
Published: September 21, 2011 
PUNA, Hawaii — His shoes crunching through volcanic grit on the Big Island’s eastern shore, Dennis Gonsalves walks into a grove of juvenile papaya trees. The renowned plant pathologist eyes the bulbous green fruit stack up the trees’ trunks. In a few months, harvest will arrive, each tree shedding two or three papayas a week

Working in the shadow of a volcano, farmers in Puna, the heart of Hawaii’s papaya industry, harvest a bounty of healthy fruit each year. It’s a far cry from 15 years ago, when a devastating virus swept through the groves. The trees withered. Their leaves grew to resemble craggy bird claws. The fruit was pockmarked with ring-shaped spots, hallmarks of infection. The island’s papaya tradition seemed at an end.
Today, the trees’ leaves are thick as a giant’s fingers as they dance in the trade winds. The yellow-fleshed papaya will be sold to Los Angeles or San Francisco or fed to Honolulu’s throngs. Stopping at one thriving specimen, Gonsalves cannot conceal his pride.
“This one here,” he said, “you come six months from now, it’ll be loaded with papaya.”
A bit of paternal glow can be allowed. After all, Gonsalves invented the tree….
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Farmers Support Colleen Hanabusa

Richard Ha writes:

Hillary Clinton says GM foods are okay, and the vast majority of our local farmers agree. I think Senator Inouye, too, would have agreed with Hillary Clinton on this issue.  Hanabusa

Our local county councilperson Margaret Wille says they are not okay, though, and, without scientific proof and going against the vast majority of UH scientists, initiated an ordinance to ban it. Hawai‘i State Senator Brian Shatz went with Margaret Wille on this issue.

This is why we farmers support Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa in the upcoming U.S. Senate election. It’s about courage, leadership, and common sense.

Hillary Clinton was the featured speaker at the recent BIO 2014 conference, which is the largest industry trade group representing all aspects of biotechnology (it has a thousand members).

Audio excerpt of Hillary Clinton's talk

Listen to the short audio above for an excerpt of her talk. She supports genetically modified products and says there is a large gap between fact and perception. She talks about the shift in foreign policy from emergency feeding to providing seeds that are drought-resistant, for example. And she advises the industry to be more thoughtful about how they describe genetically engineered products.

Everything she says makes a whole lot of sense to me.

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‘What if GMOs are the Only Option?’

Richard Ha writes:

Universities in the public sector are supposed to do things in the interest of the public. One example here is that the University of Hawai‘i developed the Rainbow papaya. How come Hawai‘i County passed a bill banning all new GMOs? In the larger view, are we going to be able to feed all the people in the world without new biotech crops?

In the following video, scientists from Cornell, the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times writer Amy Harmon, and local boy/father of Rainbow papayas Dennis Gonsalves discuss the anti-GMO phenomenon.

The title is "Modifying the Future of Food: What If GMOs Are the Only Option?, Cornell Reunion 2014."

I have looked at this issue from all angles. If I were not convinced that it was safe, I would not have participated in a lawsuit challenging the anti-GMO bill on the Big Island. An overwhelming majority of farmers and ranchers on the Big Island, like the people on the panel, are very concerned that the correct story is not being told. 

 

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How You Can Help Us Face a Food-Secure Future

Richard Ha writes:

I am getting a lot of really positive response when I talk to people about energy and how it relates to our food security for our future generations, as in this speech I just gave.

So many people ask me how they can help, and here’s how: Find me a group of people I can talk to. I’ll come and bring along a couple scientists and we will talk to your group.

It’s important. We’re not really addressing the future right now; we’re just pointing fingers and hammering each other. We need to stop with what my Pop used to talk about. He always said, “Get thousand reasons why no can. I’m just looking for one reason CAN.” It’s an attitude thing.

If you can find me a group of people to talk with, let me know. You can leave a comment here on the blog or at Facebook. Or email me at richard@hamakuasprings.com.

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Preparing for Climate Change, The Overview

Richard Ha writes:

I was asked to talk this morning at the Hawai‘i State Association of Counties 2014 Annual Conference, which was held in Waikiki. I spoke on the panel called Preparing for Climate Change. Here’s what I said.

***

Aloha everyone. Thanks for inviting me.

Food security has to do with farmers farming. If the farmers make money, the farmers will farm!

The Hawaiian side of our family is Kamahele, from lower Puna. All the Kamaheles are related. The Okinawa side of our family is Higa. The Korean side of our family is the Ha name. It’s about all of us in Hawaii. Not just a few of us!

I write an ag and energy blog Hahaha.hamakuasprings.com. It stands for three generations of us.

What is the difference between climate and weather? Neil DeGrasse Tyson, on Cosmos, describes it like the guy strolling down the beach with his dog. The dog running back and forth is the weather. The guy walking along the beach is climate.

Background: 35 years farming, more than 100 million pounds of fruits and vegetables. We farm 600 fee-simple acres which the family and 70 workers farm. Not having any money, we started out by trading chicken manure for banana keiki and went on to become the largest banana farm in the U.S. We were green farmers early. In 1992, we were first banana farm in the world certified Eco-OK by the Rainforest Alliance. In 2008, we were one of six national finalists for the Patrick Madden SARE award. We were one of the first farms in Hawai‘i to be food-safety certified.

When we needed to find a solution for a disease problem, we took a class in tissue culture and tried to culture the plants in our back bedroom. But there was too much contamination, from cat hair maybe. So we made our own tissue culture lab. We have our own hydroelectric plant, which provides all our electricity. Our trucks and tractors operate with fuel from Hawai‘i biodiesel.

My pop told me that, “Get a thousand reasons why no can.” I’m only looking for the one reason why CAN.

As we stroll along the climate change beach, there are two things that we notice.

The first is energy. Without energy, work stops. Petroleum products are finite and costs will rise. Farmers’ costs will rise and farmers’ customers’ costs will rise. How can we dodge the bullet?

I attended five Peak Oil conferences. The world has been using twice and three times as much oil as we have been finding. So the price is going to keep on going up. It will increase farmers’ costs and will increase the farmers’ customers’ costs. We need to do something that will help all of us, not just a few of us. Something that can help future generations cope.

That something is hydrogen. The geothermal plant can be curtailed at 70 MW per day. That’s throwing away 70 MW of electricity every night. The new eucalyptus chip plant Hu Honua can be curtailed by 10 MW for ten hours per night. The key to hydrogen is electricity cost. On the mainland it is made from natural gas. Here it can be made from running electricity through water. We are throwing away lots of electricity at night. We know that oil and gas prices will be steadily going up in the future. Hydrogen from our renewable resources will become more and more attractive as oil and gas prices rise. At some point we will have an advantage to the rest of the world. And as a bonus, hydrogen combined with nitrogen in the air will produce nitrogen fertilizer.

You may be interested to know the inside scoop about the lawsuit that Big Island farmers brought against the County.

Why? Clarity: Farmers are law-abiding citizens and we play by the rules. We thought that the Feds and the State had jurisdiction. We want clarity about the rules of the game.

Equal treatment: Only Big Island farmers are prohibited from using biotech solutions that all our competitors can use. How is that equal? It’s discriminatory against local farmers.

When the law was first proposed, they wanted to ban all GMOs. We asked what are papaya farmers supposed to do? They said, we can help them get new jobs, to transition. We were speechless. It was as if they were just another commodity. So farmers and ranchers got together and ran a convoy around the County building in protest. Then they said they would give the Rainbow papaya farmers a break. I was there when the papaya farmers had a vote to accept the grandfather clause for Rainbow papayas. There were a lot of young, second- and third-generation farmers there in the room.

In the end, the papaya farmers said, We are not going to abandon our friends who supported us when we needed help. That is not who we are. Then they voted unanimously to reject the offer. I was there and being a Vietnam vet, where the unspoken rule was we all come back or no one comes back, I could not have been prouder of the papaya farmers. That explains why the Big Island farmers are tight. Old-fashioned values. The rubbah slippah folks absolutely get all of this.

So who are these farmers? I am one. I don’t grow GMOs. It isn’t about me. I’ll make 70 this year and, like almost all the farmers, have never sued anyone. But there comes a time when you have to stand up for what is right.

The group we formed, Hawaii Farmers and Ranchers United, grows more than 90 percent of the farm value on the Big Island.

This is about food security. The GMO portion of food security is small. This is not about large corporations. It is about local farmers. It is not about organics; we need everybody. But organics only supply 4 percent of the national food supply and maybe 1 percent of Hawai‘i’s. Our organic farmers are not threatened by modern farming. Hawaii organic farmers are threatened by mainland, industrial-scale organic farms. That is why there are hardly any locally grown organics in the retail stores. It’s about cost of production. Also, on the mainland winter kills off the bad bugs and weeds and the organic farmers can outrun the bugs through the early part of summer. Hawai‘i farmers don’t have winter to help us.

Most importantly, this is about pro-science and anti-science. That is why farmers are stepping up. We know that science is self-correcting. It gives us a solid frame of reference. You don’t end up fooling yourself. In all of Hawai‘i’s history, now is no time to be fooling ourselves.

My pop told me that there were a thousand reasons why No Can. He said, look for the one reason why Can! He said to look for two solutions to every problem and one more, just in case.

He would pound the dinner table and dishes would bounce in the air and he would point in the air and say, “Not no can. CAN!”

We can have a better world for future generations. It’s all common sense and attitude.

***

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My Op-Ed: ‘We Need Cheaper Electricity’

Did you see the op-ed in yesterday’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser? In case you didn’t, this is what I submitted to them:

***

We Need Cheaper Electricity

By Richard Ha

Here is the single most important need facing Hawai‘i today. Everything else radiates from it:

We need cheaper electricity.

It can be done. Recently the Big Island Community Coalition, along with others, helped stop some fairly significant electricity rate hikes from showing up on everybody’s HELCO bills.

And we are very lucky to have resources here, such as geothermal energy, that we can use to generate much cheaper electricity.

Here’s why this is so important:

• We need enough food to eat, and we need to grow it here, instead of relying on it coming to us from somewhere else.

Food security – having enough food to eat, right here where we live – is truly the bottom line. We live in the middle of an ocean, we import more than 80 percent of what we eat, and sometimes there are natural or other disasters and shipping disruptions. This makes a lot of us a little nervous.

• To grow our food here, we need for our farmers to make a decent living: “If the farmers make money, the farmers will farm.”

The price of oil, and of petroleum byproducts like fertilizers and many other farming products, keeps going up, which raises farmers’ costs. They cannot pass on all these higher costs, and they lose money.

We use oil for 70 percent of our electricity here in Hawai‘i, whereas on the mainland they use oil for only 2 percent of theirs—so when the cost of oil increases, anything here that requires electricity to produce is less competitive. And farmers in Hawai‘i also pay four times as much for electricity as do their mainland competition, which puts them at an even bigger competitive disadvantage. Fewer young people are going into farming and this will impact our food security even further.

HELCO needs to be a major driver in reducing the cost of electricity. We believe that HELCO is fully capable of providing us with reliable and less costly electrical power, and ask that the PUC reviews its directives to and agreements with HELCO. Its directives should now be that HELCO’s primary objective should be making significant reductions in the real cost of reliable electric power to Hawai‘i Island residents.

At the same time, we ask that HELCO be given the power to break out of its current planning mode in order to find the most practicable means of achieving this end. We will support a long-range plan that realistically drives down our prices to ensure the viability of our local businesses and the survivability of our families. All considerations should be on the table, including power sources (i.e., oil, natural gas, geothermal, solar, biomass, etc.), changes in transmission policy including standby charges, and retaining currently operating power plants.

This is not “us” vs. “them.” We are all responsible for creating the political will to get it done.

Rising electricity costs act like a giant regressive tax: the people on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder get hurt first, and hardest. If our energy costs are lower – and we can absolutely make that happen – our farmers can keep their prices down, food will be cheaper, and consumers will have more money left over at the end of the month. This is good for our people, and for our economy.

We have good resources here and we need to maximize them. Geothermal and other options for cheaper for energy. We also have the University of Hawai‘i, the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, the Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center and others that help our farmers.

To learn more about achieving cheaper electricity rates, consider joining the Big Island Community Coalition (bigislandcommunitycoalition.com; there’s no cost). We send out an occasional email with information on what we’re doing to get electricity costs down, and how people can help.

Remember the bottom line: every one of us needs to call for cheaper electricity, and this will directly and positively impact our food security.

Richard Ha is a farmer on the Big Island’s Hamakua coast, a member of the state’s Board of Agriculture, and chairman of the Big Island Community Coalition.

***

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