Message from UH Hilo Chancellor Donald O. Straney
Chamber Connection Newsletter
Hawai‘i Island Chamber of Commerce
Strengthening local food production through islandwide collaboration
Early in August, I had the pleasure of hosting an Agricultural Summit at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo. The summit, the first in a series of strategic discussions, evolved out of some initial discussions between myself, the dean of UH Hilo’s College of Agriculture, the County of Hawai‘i Department of Research and Development, and the deputy director of the Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture. The four of us discussed ways to focus the collective efforts of publicly-funded educational institutions and agricultural support services to enhance food self-reliance on the island of Hawai‘i.
Our goal for the first summit meeting was to start a larger discussion by bringing together a cross section of stakeholders, including local farmers, ranchers, and food distributors, and representatives from several key county, state and federal agencies charged with providing programs in support of local food production.
From the county, we invited R&D and workforce development. From the state university system, we invited faculty, deans and directors from Hawai‘i Community College, UH Hilo College of Agriculture, and UH Mānoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, along with researchers, the director of CTAHR’s agribusiness incubator, and several extension agents. U.S. agencies represented included the Department of Agriculture, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Farm Service Agency, Rural Development, and the Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center.
Also invited was the director of the Small Business Development Center of Hawai‘i and the executive director of the Hawai‘i Island Economic Development Board. Several Hawai‘i island lawmakers attended.
Representatives from private agencies with local farm interests also joined us, including a co-op specialist and farm manager from the non-profit Kohala Center, and farming/food production experts from the Ulupono Initiative, Kamehameha Schools Land Assets Division, the Hamakua Agricultural Group, the Ku I Mana New Farmer Program, and KTA Superstores.
First, we heard from each of the groups and agencies, who shared information about their services along with the challenges and trends that lie ahead for their programs. This helped lay a foundation for understanding the terrain of programs, issues, and opportunities.
Then, in an energetic discussion session, we heard directly from a large cross section of local farmers—Hawai‘i island food producers—who shared their thoughts on services they believe are most useful to their businesses or that they think could do the most to advance new food farming systems on our island. I, along with everyone in the room, gained much insight from the questions, answers, and ideas shared between local cattle ranchers, fruit and vegetable growers, distributors, flower producers, mac nut growers, and county, state and federal representatives. A “suggestion box” format garnished even more information about what farmers and ranchers need.
This exchange of program descriptions and farmer mana‘o provides very useful food for thought. Some topics discussed were the need for collaboration, partnerships, cooperatives, food hubs, collective purchasing, crop aggregation, farmer training programs, a vision for the future of agriculture on our island, and strategic planning. The topics of fertilizer and feed were brought up often, along with energy issues and the high cost of doing agriculture on Hawai‘i island.
These topics and others discussed at this summit will be the starting point for further discussions about how the UH System and other agencies can renew our focus on strengthening local food production on the island of Hawai‘i.
“It will take a major commitment at all levels and by all players—from lawmakers to consumers—to make this work,” one participant said. Another noted, “There are a thousand reasons why no can; we need to find the one reason why can.”
Stay tuned for future reports on the progress of this initiative. If you’d like to see photos, read the notes from this series of meetings, or view some of the presentations, visit my blog at http://hilo.hawaii.edu/blog/chancellor/.
Don StraneyComments closed