Growing food top priority

SUBHEAD: The economic multiplier effects of increasing food self-sufficiency. SOURCE: Brad Parsons ( By Andrea Brower 7 June 2009 in The Garden Island News Image above: Detail from illustration by Eugene Savage (1883-1978) Among other artwork, Savage did dinner menu covers for for Hawaii's Mastson Cruise Line. For more see Increasing food production on Kaua‘i has recently been a main focus of community discussion and action, from Mayor Carvalho’s report card to a multitude of local blog sites to ongoing workshops in seed saving, gardening and composting. There is a long list of reasons that supporting local agriculture makes sense — including economic diversification and resilience, health and nutrition, environmental stewardship, and community security. It has been said that agriculture is presently not economically viable — that Hawai‘i farmers cannot compete on a global scale due to high production costs. However, if we concentrate first and foremost on feeding ourselves, and if we enact policies that assist our local growers, then our community at large will reap great economic benefits. A recent publication by the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources and Hawai‘i State Department of Agriculture evaluated the economic multiplier effects of increasing food self-sufficiency in Hawai‘i: Assuming that 85 percent of the food we consumed is imported, this translates into $3.1 billion leaving our state to support agribusinesses elsewhere. If we could replace just 10 percent of these imported foods, by residents alone, and assuming we have the available and appropriate resources and infrastructures for such an expansion — it would amount to some $313 million, or $94 million at the farm-gate, assuming a 30 percent farm share. Taking into account the multiplier effects, this $94 million would generate an estimated economy-wide impact of $188 million in sales, $47 million in earnings, $6 million in state tax revenues and more than 2,300 jobs. This is not a trivial amount. One obvious question is whether the $6 million of tax revenues generated from a 10 percent food import replacement strategy would be sufficient to design and run a government program to support further expansion of local production. The authors also pointed out that value should be assigned to other non-monetary benefits, including job creation, better environmental stewardship (for example, keeping open space and a green island landscape, and recharging the aquifer system), increased levels of food self-reliance, reduced risk of invasive species, and land preservation, as well as any associated costs when compared to other public programs and projects. The downward trend of tourism and rise in unemployment are clear reasons to make increased food self-sufficiency a top priority of both government and the private sector. At the individual and community level, there is much that can be done and is being done. Simply buying local is perhaps the most important thing that each of us can do. Kaua‘i has multiple Community Supported Agriculture programs and daily Farmers Markets, some of which can be found online at, along with a partial list of agricultural initiatives for those looking to get involved. The entire publication can be downloaded at Authors of the publication are PingSun Leung, Ph.D., professor at University of Hawai‘i at Manoa and Matthew Loke, Ph.D., Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture. • Andrea Brower is project manager of Malama Kaua‘i, an organization dedicated to the ‘aina, community, and culture of Kaua‘i. She can be reached at

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