Hawai'i should invest in organic farming
The decline of Hawai'i's sugar industry doesn't mean agriculture in these fertile Islands is passé. On the contrary, with the right incentives, some of those gone-to-seed cane fields could one day soon sprout with organic crops to compete in the global marketplace.
A positive sign is the federal government's recent adoption of standards that could boost Hawai'i's organic farming industry. Those internationally recognized standards suggest that farms certified by the Hawai'i Organic Farmers Association could hit it big by selling their products to Japan, Europe and other developed countries where organic foods are in hot demand.
Organic farming is growing at a rate of about 20 percent a year, and there's no reason why Hawai'i can't benefit from the boom. Our climate makes for plenty of year-round crops, and there's no shortage of agricultural land.
Already, small farmers on O'ahu and the Neighbor Islands are growing organic macadamia nuts, honey, coffee, vegetables and fruit. The budding Hawaiian Vanilla Co. on the Big Island is busy developing top-class beans to compete with vanilla in Tahiti, Indonesia and Madagascar.
Ko Farms in Waimanalo, which grows 100 types of salad greens as well as other vegetables, fruits and herbs on nine acres of land, has its sights set on Japan, where organic products are hot but land is expensive.
Still, while federal certification opens doors to the world, it also comes with challenges. For example, how would modest organic farmers increase their production and ship their goods to meet the international demand? Presumably, big business will want to get in on the organic act if it's profitable.
But as Richard Bowen, coordinator for the University of Hawai'i's sustainable agriculture program suggests, the small farmers could be squeezed out if big business and industrial organic farms take over and wipe out the competition, lowering prices. Let's consider all the ramifications as we move in the direction of organic farming.