Tag Archives: Food Security

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



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.


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.



Non-GMO Cheerios a Non-Seller

Richard Ha writes:

Non-GMO Cheerios were recently unveiled with great expectation and anticipation, but the result? People did not flock to the stores. There was no increase in sales!

This does not surprise me. It is entirely consistent with the survey done by the Hawaii Rural Development Council, which found that Food Security is the most important sustainability issue in Hawaii. GMO didn’t even make the top three concerns, but came in at number five.

Read more here



‘Food Prices Soar as Incomes Stand Still’

Richard Ha writes:

Look at this article about what's going on with food producers in California, where they are having a devastating drought.

It is a good reminder that food security is our number one job. We need the help of all our Hawai‘i food producers to keep us food secure here, and we need to work together and support each other in the spirit of aloha. 

We need to recognize that ag and energy, without a shadow of a doubt, are inextricably tied together. 

In its simplest form, sustainability is about cost. We need to choose the lowest cost solution for our energy, which will keep our ag industry going, which will keep the food available and affordable. We need to choose the lowest cost solution because it will take care of all of us.

From Peakoil.com:

15 Reasons Why Your Food Prices Are About To Start Soaring

Did you know that the U.S. state that produces the most vegetables is going through the worst drought it has ever experienced and that the size of the total U.S. cattle herd is now the smallest that it has been since 1951?  Just the other day, a CBS News article boldly declared that “food prices soar as incomes stand still“, but the truth is that this is only just the beginning.  If the drought that has been devastating farmers and ranchers out west continues, we are going to see prices for meat, fruits and vegetables soar into the stratosphere.  Already, the federal government has declared portions of 11 states to be “disaster areas”, and California farmers are going to leave half a million acres sitting idle this year because of the extremely dry conditions.

Sadly, experts are telling us that things are probably going to get worse before they get better (if they ever do).  As you will read about below, one expert recently told National Geographic that throughout history it has been quite common for that region of North America to experience severe droughts that last for decades.  In fact, one drought actually lasted for about 200 years.  So there is the possibility that the drought that has begun in the state of California may not end during your entire lifetime….

Read the rest


Big Island Cuts Off Nose, Spites Face

Richard Ha writes:

According to Hawai‘i Rural Development Council surveys, food security is Hawai‘i’s number one priority. “Difficulties faced by local farmers” is number 3, and “GMO agriculture” is number 5.

Banning GMOs (a much lower priority issue) threatens our food security (our most important concern).

I say this all the time because it’s so important to remember: If the farmers make money, the farmers will farm. We need our farmers farming in order to have food security here in Hawai‘i. We need to work toward that end.

One way to do that is to remember that agriculture and energy are inextricably tied together. Working toward having low-cost energy here on the Big Island will strongly benefit both our farmers and the rest of our people—it lowers food cooling costs for both farmers and their customers. It will help the farmers to farm, which will increase our food security.

We are lucky to have the option here of generating electricity with geothermal. Geothermal-generated electricity is similar to oil in its characteristics. It is steady. And very importantly, it costs only half as much as oil and will not run out anytime soon.

It’s all related. Geothermal energy means lower electric bills, for both farmers and consumers. Lower electric bills means farmers keep farming, and consumers have more food security out here in the Pacific where we important 80 percent of our food or more. Lower electric costs also mean consumers have more discretionary income, and that helps our local economy.

Banning GMOs (a.k.a., biotech solutions to farming problems, which all our competitors will be able to use) moves us in exactly the wrong direction.


Our Right To Farm

Richard Ha writes:

Thirty members of the Hawai‘i State House of Representatives just introduced the Right-To-Farm bill, which the Big Island Farmers and Ranchers United support. Farmers just want to go back to farming already.

From Civil Beat:

New Bill Would Strengthen Hawaii’s Right-To-Farm Act

Hawaii Rep. Richard Onishi from the Big Island has introduced a bill that would give Hawaii’s 2001 Right to Farm Act more teeth. 

The law currently protects farmers from nuisance lawsuits, stating: “No court, official, public servant, or public employee shall declare any farming operation a nuisance for any reason if the farming operation has been conducted in a manner consistent with generally accepted agricultural and management practices.”

Onishi’s bill would take the protections a step further and declare that the counties can’t pass laws that limit the rights of farmers and ranchers…. 

Read the rest

The anti-GMO bill that recently passed on the Big Island would prevent only Big Island farmers – and not their competition – from using biotech options and solutions to agriculture situations. It’s a disastrous bill that threatens our island’s food security, rather than strengthens it, which is where our focus should be.

Everybody is happy that this new bill came up, and really pleased so many legislators signed on. We feel that they recognize that we really just need to get back to our farming.

If the Right-To-Farm bill passes, then finally we can have the very important discussion about food security that we have not been able to. Agriculture and energy are inextricably tied together, and the question is:

How will our current and future energy situation affect our food security? And what can we do about it?


GMO Facts? Or Fiction?

Richard Ha writes: 

State Senator Russell Ruderman used his own company’s letterhead when he submitted anti-GMO testimony recently to the Hawai‘i County Council. He owns Island Naturals, the natural foods markets.

It certainly seems to be a conflict of interest for him to be supporting the Big Island’s anti-GMO movement, and he should recuse himself from all discussions and votes regarding GMOs. Submitting testimony on his company’s letterhead does not help lessen this impression of his having a serious conflict of interest.


He also wrote an article for Big Island Weekly recently, titled GMO Facts and Fictions, which he says is the first in a series of installments.

What’s most interesting are the comments that follow his article, like this one from Karl Haro von Mogel, Ph.D. Candidate in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics, UW-Madison, Chair, Biology Fortified, Inc. Von Mogel is highly educated on issues regarding GMOs, and he wrote this:

I applaud State Senator Ruderman's desire to clear up confusion about genetically engineered crops, but in this 
opinion piece, he has made a great number of outright falsehoods that 
further confuse the topic and muddy the waters. I am a plant
 geneticist who studies this topic very closely and is building a 
database of all peer-reviewed scientific studies on genetically 
engineered crops, so I am very familiar with this field. I will attempt 
to correct the most egregious of Ruderman's errors.

He goes on to correct many of what he calls Ruderman’s "outright falsehoods" in detail. It's a very long comment.

Ruderman responded with this:

As mentioned in my column, I will be addressing these studies in more detail in future columns. I look forward to discussing the Seralini study, which, in addition to showing serious effects from GMOs, illuminates the aggressive tactics of biotec companies in suppressing science it doesn't like. These studies point to the need for long-term follow-up studies, which have not been done. I will also clear up the confusion of how Bt affects humans by disrupting our essential gut bacteria, which is not understood by some of the previous commenters.

And then von Mogel, who is highly educated on the science of biotechnology, responded with this:                              

Mr. Ruderman, you have made a series of very outlandish and false claims about Bt that you did not support with any evidence. This comment of yours would have been the time to at least give us links to the studies that you say exist, or to correct the record. Saying that you are putting off supporting these claims with evidence until some future column suggests that you don't have such evidence. Indeed, I was very direct in saying that for some of the claims you made, there is not a single study that even remotely suggests anything like that – such as your claim that the genes have transferred to our gut bacteria.
By bringing up the Seralini study, you are changing the subject. Seralini's (now retracted) study did not involve Bt at all, so it does not support any of the arguments you have made. Indeed, there have been long-term feeding studies with Bt. There have been feeding studies that look at effects on gut bacteria and conclude that there are none. As I said, I am intimately familiar with the scientific literature on this topic, and I can help you find answers to your questions. 
As a State Senator, it is your duty to consult with scientific experts – especially those in Hawaii who work for the state that you represent – so that you can make decisions based on established scientific facts. Hawaii needs leaders who can represent both the concerns of the population and duly weigh the evidence to make informed decisions. Will you be that leader?

We need to hold Senator Ruderman to a higher standard than he's holding himself to, because he's our elected official and making decisions on behalf of all of us.

There are other interesting comments there, as well. They’re by far the most interesting thing about that article, in my opinion. Read them all here.

I have asked Senator Ruderman many times how his stance, which does not even seem to be supported by science, will help the Big Island and its food security status. How will it help the rubbah slippah folk in his district? I have never received an answer. 


How Things Work: A Disconnect

Richard Ha writes:

Take a look at this survey of “Hawai‘i’s Food and Ag Challenges Ranked in Order of Importance.”

Screen Shot 2014-01-08 at 1.20.27 PM

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Between October 2012 and December 2013, while the Hawai‘i Rural Development Council screened the film “Seeds of Hope – Na Kupu Mana‘olana” around our state, it asked viewers to fill out this survey about the issues discussed in the movie.

Survey takers ranked “Food Security” as our number one food and agriculture challenge (note that “GMO Agriculture” came in as lowest priority of the five issues discussed).

Statewide, 94 percent of survey takers thought Food Security should be either “top priority” or “important” as a state policy issue, and on the Big Island, 97 percent of people thought so.

This is what I have been saying, over and over. Food security is a critical issue out here, in the middle of the ocean, where we import most of our food. We need to have important and rational discussions, now, about how we will ensure we are food secure as conditions continue to get more challenging.

It’s a real disconnect to realize that 97 percent of people on the Big Island consider food security “important” or even “top priority,” and then to think about recent community support of the Hawai‘i County Council’s banning GMO/biotech solutions on the Big Island.

All I can come up with is that there are a lot of people who don’t see the whole big picture and who don’t see that there are unintended consequences:

  • Because only Big Island farmers are banned from using biotech solutions to agricultural problems, their competition (farmers on other islands and the mainland) will end up having lower costs and more successful crops
  • This will undeniably lead to a decline in agriculture on the Big Island
  • This will undeniably lead to less food security

We need to take a hard look at what we are doing now so that we head down the right path. The decisions we make now will affect not only us, but also our grandchildren and their grandchildren. Let’s make sure they are able to thrive and live a good, affordable, food-secure life here on the Big Island when it’s their turn.


What Darwin Said

Richard Ha writes:

This was my testimony at yesterday’s Hawai‘i County Council hearing on the anti-GMO bill, Bill 113. I advocated for killing the bill and starting over with a study that brings forth good science.

I am Richard Ha. I have been a farmer for 35 years, farming
bananas and hydroponic tomatoes. During this time, we have grown more than a hundred million pounds of food.

And now we are a few weeks away from putting in a hydroelectric generator. It’s about adapting to change.

The most significant thing that has happened in my career is
that oil prices quadrupled in the last 10 years, causing farmers’ input costs to rise. Oil costs and farmers’ costs are inextricably tied together – as the oil price rises, farmers’ cost rise. Since farmers are price takers, rather than price makers, Big Island farmers have not been able to pass the cost on.

We do not grow GMOs, and I do not have any financial interest in any biotech company. I am just concerned about how we adapt to change. Darwin said it is not the strongest, nor smartest, that survive, but the one that can adapt to change.

Conventional farmers on the Big Island are getting hurt in
the GMO cross fire. This bill criminalizes our small farmers and will raise their cost of production. It will discourage farmers from farming and threaten our food security.

Bill 113 cites the precautionary principle. All the major scientific organizations in the world, though, say that GMO foods are safe.

Hawai‘i has the longest life expectancy for senior citizens in the whole country.

Yet we are willing to ignore the effect of rising food costs on the most defenseless among us. These are the kupuna on fixed incomes, single moms, the working homeless, the rubbah slippah folks.

Hector Valenzuela, at the last Council hearing, advised organic farmers to seek high-end niche markets. He knows organics cannot provide affordable food for most of us. I agree. More than 90 percent of the food calories produced on the Big Island is produced by conventional farmers. Bill 113 will make the conventional farmers less competitive and less able to adapt to change. And that will threaten our food security.

Bottom line is how are we going to feed all of us. We need
to provide affordable food for the most defenseless among us. It is not a solution to provide food that people cannot afford. Biotech solutions can be a part of the solution. They will benefit everyone.

We should not throw that option away.

The Big Island has the lowest median family income in the state. We must find a way to provide lower cost food for the most defenseless among us. This is where the precautionary principle should apply. There are real social consequences to low median family income.

There are more Hawaiians living outside of Hawai‘i than live
in Hawai‘i. If we do not figure out how to provide affordable food, even more Hawaiians will be living outside of Hawaii.

Kill this bill, and start over with a study group that includes the stakeholders, including conventional farmers. It is not a matter of who is right, so much a matter of what is right. Good luck; this is not easy.