Ige wants to double local food production by 2030

Goal of Doubling Local Food Production
Published: Sep. 2, 2016 at 10:25 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 2, 2016 at 10:39 PM HST
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(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Before a crowd of thousands Thursday at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, Gov. David Ige pledged to double local food production by 2030.

Right now, only about 10 percent of what residents and visitors eat is grown here in the islands.

The governor pledge is being applauded by local conservationists, who say to bolster food sustainability Hawaii will need to better support local farmers and protect agricultural lands and water.

"We should be growing our own," said Murray Clay, managing partner for the Ulupono Initiative, a sustainable investment firm. "Not just because it's fresh and it tastes better. It's just a food security issue and do you want to count on the ships to always be on time to be here to be able to eat?"

Some 85 percent to 90 percent of everything bought in Hawaii grocery stores comes from somewhere else.

"Any number of things could cause a rapid increase in the price of food or energy," said Nate Hagens, director of the Bottleneck Project and professor at the University of Michigan. "Or, since you're at the end of the supply chain, things don't actually get here for a while, so you are especially vulnerable to food issues."

Environmentalists and others say there is demand for locally-grown products and there's also a lot of unused agricultural land. There's just not enough farmers.

The University of Hawaii at Manoa has two programs designed for outreach and education to help expand Hawaii's agricultural industry. Today, there are about 7,000 farmers in the state.

"It's very rare to find someone who wants to farm," said Steven Chiang, director of the Agribusiness Incubator Program. "Shouldn't we enable them to farm instead of having obstacles? And accessibility to appropriate land is a big one."

Experts say the two greatest opportunities for agricultural growth in Hawaii currently are with cattle and dairy.

Rising feed costs led to the decline of both in the last few decades, but organizations like the Ulupono Initiative are working on options that can help local products compete with import prices.

"Grass is a lot cheaper than imported feed. You can grow it right there," Murray said. "As long as you get the nutrition right, get the grass growing at the right length, feeding at the appropriate time. As much as it may seem like old technology to have cows eat grass, we really think that can revolutionize dairy production in Hawaii."

A recent state study found that a mere 10 percent increase in local food production could be worth over $300 million in revenue in economic activity.

To help make that happen, the governor is promising additional loan opportunities for farmers and leases for agricultural lands.

"We have talked a lot about 'buy local' and 'local matters' and a lot of those kinds of things for a number of years," Ige told gathered delegates and conservationists Thursday. "What we are doing is taking words into action."

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