Tag Archives: University of Hawaii

What the TMT Controversy is Really About

All the controversy about the Thirty Meter Telescope is not about the TMT. What it’s become is a convenient vehicle for focusing on the Hawaiian sovereignty movement, and on the University of Hawai‘i not doing a good job in the past of caring for the mountain.

When celebrities got involved and the TMT subject went viral, it galvanized the energy of the younger folk. These folks were only in middle school when the TMT project started, so there is a very steep learning curve.

Over the last seven years, the TMT has gone through all the legal requirements and the judge ruled that it is the telescope project can begin construction.

Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz says that in order for a project to be sustainable, it needs to be socially, environmentally and economically sustainable. The TMT fulfills all these requirements.

I think people have the erroneous view that the TMT is a big, investor-owned, money making corporation. It is not. It’s a non-profit organization and Henry Yang, its president, doesn’t even draw a salary. He does it because he knows it will bring benefits to our community.

I recognized this from early in the project and it’s the reason I’m such a supporter of the TMT. I’m also a big supporter of the TMT’s THINK education fund, which will allow our youth to dream big.

The problem with dreaming small is that your dreams might come true.

We want our keiki to feel proud of themselves. We want them to dream big!


‘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. 



Risk & How We Live Our Lives

Richard Ha writes:

The College of Tropical Agriculture & Human Resources at the University of Hawai‘i has a good article out right now about risks, and how we make decisions about them. They point out that we fly in airplanes, even though they could crash, because we consider the risk and know that it’s very low. We enjoy the sun, although we know it could cause melanoma, after considering the risk and take necessary precautions such as long sleeves and sunscreen. It's all about the risk and the benefit.

They point out that it’s the same with agricultural technologies, and it’s really all just common sense. Everything we do and every decision we make is about risk assessment.

From Biotech in Focus:

Risks and Decisions: How We Live and Farm

In our last bulletin, we discussed the regulatory framework that the United States uses to evaluate genetically engineered crops. Are these regulations too lax? Too restrictive? Appropriate for current circumstances? Before we examine issues of biotechnology and safety, we’ll consider the process by which people assess safety in their daily lives….

        Read the rest

It’s just common sense, and this article makes that point nicely.


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.



Big Island: Risk Management Programs in Ag

Richard Ha writes:

There are some interesting programs coming up on the Big Island from the UH College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, specifically from its Risk Management program.

These are the kind of programs that the CARET people were advocating for when we got together in Washington, D.C. recently to support federal funding for Agriculture: Research, Extension and Teaching.

  • Monday, March 17, 2014 – Spray Equipment Calibration and Spray Calculation Workshop and Field Day; 3:00 pm – 5:00 pm, KCES
  • Wednesday, March 19, 2014 – CBB IPM with Focus on Field Sanitation, Sampling, Monitoring and Early Season Spraying; 5:00 pm – 6:30 pm, KCES
  • Thursday, March 20 & Tuesday, March 25, 2014; Tea 101 workshops; 8:30 am – 3:30 pm, Mealani Research Station; (Note: Registration for both sessions are CLOSED. Please contact Didi at 887-6183 or email mddiaz@hawaii.edu for more information and to get on the waiting list)
  • Thursday, March 27, 2014; Alien Invaders of the Worst Kind – A Systems Approach to Pest Management; 6:00 pm – 7:00 pm; Waimea Civic Center conference room
  • Friday, March 28, 2014; Lychee Pest Management: Fruit Bagging and Fruit Fly Control Field Day; 10:00 am – 11:30 am; Kawika Tropical Fruit Orchards – Hakalau; Limited to 25 persons. An RSVP is required; please call Gina at 322-4892 to RSVP or by email at ginab@hawaii.edu by Mar. 27, 2014.

Plant Breeding Goes High Tech

Richard Ha writes:

Have a look at this very clear, responsible and easy-to-digest overview of biotech. It was created by the UH’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR) and its very dedicated, competent and locally-focused professionals who are friends to all of us.

The first of its two pages (clickable):


Right on, Dr. Ania, for making the subject of biotech so clear and understandable.

The Big Island seems to have taken a machine-gun approach to this subject, such as with the recent anti-GMO bill. The bullets hit all of our farmer friends, the ones here on the ground, instead of their intended target (the large seed companies).

It’s time now to clean up and undo the unintended consequences. Mayor Kenoi is right: We need to get on with the business of growing food!

Click to see the whole February 2014 issue of Biotech In Focus. Back issues are available on CTAHR's website, too.

And if you’d like to be on the mailing list so you’re notified of future issues, drop a note to Dr. Ania Wieczorek.


What They Actually Do At The College of Tropical Ag & Human Resources

Richard Ha writes:

Our own College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR) benefits us in so many ways, and we don’t always realize or appreciate what we have.

They’ve just produced a really nice overview about what they do. It’s called, “CTAHR IN FOCUS – HIGHLIGHTS OF RECENT IMPACTS IN TEACHING, RESEARCH, AND EXTENSION,” and it’s interesting.

It opens with an amazing fact: “The number of individuals who had contact with CTAHR in 2012 would fill Aloha Stadium 19 times.” Wow!

From the report (it’s a pdf):

“It’s all about People, Place, and Promise. As the founding college of the University of Hawai‘i, CTAHR was established to meet the needs of the Islands’ citizens. This report describes some of the important ways we are doing that. From preserving the environment to nourishing people to promoting asustainable economy, our land-grant mission of education, research, and outreach in service to the land and its people remains as relevant today as it was 107 years ago. New to the discussion is the heightened and critical focus on food safety, security, and self-sufficiency. Here too, CTAHR is prepared to serve….”

I found it very interesting. Click here to have a look.


Day In The Life Of Real Farmers

Richard Ha writes:

There’s a farming emergency in Costa Rica. Scale insects and mealybugs there are threatening more than 100,000 acres of export bananas. This is brand new information that’s just hit the news.

It’s the stuff farmers deal with, day in and day out. Could this hit us here? Could this take out the Big Island’s banana industry? Are we in danger?

The Big Island Banana Growers has sprung into action. We’ve already sent word about this to the University of Hawai‘i plant experts, as well as the state Department of Agriculture. We already have reports back, and everyone is watching this closely. All the right wheels are turning.

Note that it’s not our Hawai‘i County Council that we alerted for help. They have no idea things like this happen in farming, and wouldn’t know what to do about it if they did know.

From ThinkProgress.org:

Banana Emergency Strikes Costa Rica

by Joanna M. Foster on December 12, 2013

In 2012, Costa Rica exported more than 1.2 million tons of fresh bananas worth $815 million according to the Foreign Trade Promotion office.

This year’s crop could be substantially less thanks to an outbreak of scale insects and mealybugs. Currently the pests have spread across 24,000 hectares of plantations in the country’s Atlantic region.

…Costa Rica’s immediate response to the outbreak has been to import more plastic bags impregnated with the pesticides buprofezin and bifenthrin. The bags are wrapped around individual banana bunches to protect the fruit from the destructive pests…. Read the rest

Note, too, that unlike Costa Rica banana farmers, we don’t use any chemicals in the bags we wrap around the banana bunches while they are on the plant. Farmers in Costa Rica use heavy chemicals in their bags in order to keep their bananas blemish-free.

We have always kept our bags completely chemical-free and are willing to accept the blemishes that result. We do this in the interest of worker safety.

I’ve seen what’s happening in Costa Rica several times before. Chemicals kill off the good insects as well as the bad, they become immune and you get a spike in their population. We don’t allow any of that to happen. Our philosophy with bugs is: Don’t hurt the good guys, and give the bad guys a hard time.


Bill 113: What’s Next

Richard Ha writes:

Someone suggested that my change of plans re: putting 264 acres into preservation land smells of sour grapes – that I made a knee-jerk decision because I was upset that the anti-GMO Bill 113 passed.

But that’s not the way I make decisions. I am always looking five, 10 and 20 years ahead and planning what we need to do now to get where we need to be. Suddenly the future of farming on this island looked different, and I needed to be sure we have some flexibility at the farm.

Since I last wrote about this, though, I spoke with the USDA and found an option I didn’t previously know about. We can do a conservation easement that is less than the entire parcel. This will allow us to have a few small parcels that future generations could use for safety valve purposes, and still put land into the conservation easement. We will probably do this.

On Tuesday, the Hawai‘i County Council will decide whether to form an ad hoc committee of council members to analyze GMO issues and give the council recommendations for action. Otherwise, the mayor will do the analysis in-house.

It is no secret that I would have preferred for Mayor Kenoi to veto the anti-GMO Bill 113. But the reality is that the mayor did not have the votes to support a veto, and in this set of circumstances, I support the mayor over the council. He signed the bill, rather than wimping out and letting it pass without his signature. He was concerned about the rift in this community, and he assured the farmers that they would not get hurt.

And most of all, I know the Mayor is fact- and data-driven, something that is sorely missing from our current county council.

What I know about the county council is that its members have proven that they cannot separate fact from fiction, and therefore they are unqualified and unable to prepare us for the future.

In the recent Bill 113 debacle, our county council called Jeffrey Smith as its premier expert. This is an individual who has self-published two books about GMO foods but has zero scientific credentials and has been thoroughly debunked as any sort of credible GMO expert. He specializes in yogic flying (a kind of cross-legged hopping done in hopes of reducing crime and increasing “purity and harmony” in the “collective consciousness”). They allowed Smith to testify about GMOs for more than half an hour.

Three University of Hawai‘i experts on GMOs, on the other hand, were given a total of three minutes, between them, to testify. This averages out to one minute each.

If we are taking science into account, the Seralini study – which linked genetically modified maize and the herbicide RoundUp as having an increased cancer risk, and which was always widely pointed to as proving GMO foods were unsafe – was recently retracted by the scientific journal that published it, and rejected by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for having serious defects and failing to meet scientific standards.

County Councilwoman Margaret Wille made a very inflammatory remark in a comment following a Honolulu Civil Beat article written by University of Hawai‘i professor Michael Shintaku. In her comment, she accused Professor Shintaku, as well as Dr. Susan Miyasaka and Dean Maria Gallo (also of the UH College of Tropical Agriculture), of being “unmistakeably caught in the predicament of becoming the mouthpiece for the GMO biotech industry that provides much of the funding for their employer.”

Michael Shintaku responded with a polite comment that detailed how she was incorrect. Many scientists voiced outrage at the inaccurate and flippant comment that impugned their integrity.

It seems, unfortunately, to be par for the course for some who are anti-science and anti-GMO. Have they made up their mind without regard to truth? Have they dug in their heels, refusing to ever even consider new evidence?

I haven’t. If suddenly there was real science that showed harm from GMOs, I would cross that off my list and move on to the next best solution that would help our island. To date, though, there has never been any such science, not anywhere.

Our county council clearly does not understand farming. Councilwoman Wille likes to show how many letters she has in favor of banning GMOs, but the smaller stack from people opposing the ban was from the farmers who produce more than 90 percent of the calories grown here on the Big Island.

Why is she listening to the gardeners and not the farmers? There is such a difference between gardening and farming. I compare it to cooking turkeys. Cooking one turkey is easy – you just turn the dial for the right time and temperature, and then poof! It’s perfect. Crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. Cooking one turkey is similar to gardening.

Farming, on the other hand, is like cooking 20 turkeys an hour every hour. They cannot be burnt on the outside and raw on the inside. And they must be ready on time or your customers lose money. And every so often the power goes off or the house blows down and you have to start all over again. Farming is much more complicated than gardening.

Some anti-GMO people proclaim that we should all just eat organic. But have a look at Table 2 on page 19 of this Baseline Food Sustainability chart from the county.

Based on that table, we compared prices between a Kona supermarket and a Kona natural food store. The annual budget for a family of five at the Kona supermarket was approximately $20,000, while at the natural foods store it was slightly more than $42,000.

We did a similar comparison in Waimea, and the results were substantially the same. It is clear that most folks cannot afford organics.

Senator Ruderman, who owns a natural foods chain, claimed our price comparisons are wildly inaccurate, but they are not.

A few days ago, we learned that the Florida citrus industry, which has lost more than a million acres to citrus greening disease, may have found a GMO solution.

Although anti-GMO folks like to say they are on the side of farmers, if citrus greening disease makes it to the Big Island and we are not legally allowed to use the Florida GMO solution, it is only homeowners and small farmers who will be hurt.

Read this link for a sample of what some of the people who testified on the anti-GMO/County Council side of the argument were doing in the background. It is mean-spirited and it’s not who we in Hawai‘i are. There is no aloha in this.