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Planting Seeds Of Local Agricultural Resilience

Sen. Clarence Nishihara

Today, we as a state import 85-90 percent of our food. This high number should be interpreted as a call to action for all of us. As the most remote island chain on earth, this statistic reminds us of how dependent we are on others for basic survival.

Our heavy reliance on imported foods leaves us vulnerable to a wide spectrum of potential future food-chain problems, ranging from natural disasters to human disruptions. Increasing our percentage of locally sourced food will help mitigate our vulnerabilities, while at the same time provide greater access to fresh and healthy food and support growth in agriculture jobs here.

As chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, I have been working with all stakeholders to support and increase opportunities for small agricultural growers in our state.

During the 2013 session, we worked collaboratively with our House colleagues, the governor, department heads and local farmers to build a strong foundation to enhance food self-reliance and agricultural resiliency. To support Hawaii’s livestock production, Senate Bill (SB) 593 expands livestock feed subsidies to include goat milk, sheep, lamb, fish and crustaceans. Increasing livestock production is vitally necessary to meet the state’s goals of ensuring food security and self-sufficiency. Through the state budget, funds were allocated toward a biodigester, which produces a clean, healthy and economic alternative fuel and fertilizer that can be used in farming. Additionally, to protect Hawaii’s unique environment and crops, 10 positions were funded for plant, pest and bio-control personnel and programs.

The Legislature also worked to resolve limitations faced by current and future farmers. A major concern in Hawaii is a lack of agricultural entrepreneurs. The approximate age of Hawaii’s farmers today is 59, with young industry leaders like Shin and Neil Ho of Ho Farms and Kylie Matsuda of Kahuku Farms being few and far between. By expanding the eligibility for new farmer loans and adding innovation loan programs, SB993 will provide emerging farmers with the capital they need to start their farming operations and be innovative in testing new crops or techniques.

To further encourage agricultural diversification and self-sufficiency, SB586 eases the financial and administrative burdens on farmers and ranchers by providing certain exemptions from building code requirements and expanding existing building permit exemptions for nonresidential buildings or structures on commercial farms and ranches located outside the urban district.

Other vital agriculture-related measures passed this year include bills that invest in Hawaii’s irrigation systems, combat the coffee berry borer and encourage local beekeeping operations.

These measures are key to establishing a sustainable agriculture future for Hawaii. With good legislation and hard work, I believe that we can revive our agricultural landscape and bring food self-reliance and economic resiliency to our state.

Contact state Sen. Clarence Nishihara, D-District 17 (Waipahu-Pearl City) at 586-6970 or email sennishihara@capitol.hawaii.gov.

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