We'll thank biotechnology when ships don't come in
By Ania Wieczorek
While convincing my 7-year-old daughter to eat her breakfast this morning, I told her that she should not waste food — it takes a lot of effort to produce it, and it comes a long way on a ship to feed us in Hawai'i.
She was somewhat impressed. What if the ships don't come, she asked, concerned at this possibility.
So I explained that we import 90 percent of the things we need to continue with our lifestyle in Hawai'i. If there are no ships bringing food, we have enough here for seven to 10 days. Very little is actually grown here.
Why, she wondered, is agriculture so small in Hawai'i? We have the perfect climate to grow all kinds of crops here. Well, I explained, we have issues with labor costs and competing with places where food can be produced cheaply, land availability and of course, the endless onslaught of invasive insect pests, plant diseases and weeds that limit production of crops here.
The pests and diseases intrigued her: What do we do about them, she wondered. Well, we have ways to control them, including biological options, different ways of growing crops to avoid pests, pesticides, and even biotechnology.
Biotechnology — including genetic engineering of crops to be resistant to diseases that are essentially impossible to control otherwise, like banana bunchy-top virus. I explained to her that biotechnology is among the many approaches our College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources considers to improve agricultural production.
If used with great care and environmental consideration, health and ethics, biotechnology can be very powerful. I explained to her that some people actually wanted biotechnology banned from Hawai'i.
She was surprised. So I explained that they're well-meaning people, with the good of our Islands at heart, but maybe they don't know the full story about biotechnology, or have heard only the negative side. But biotechnology can offer some very safe and effective ways to produce crops.
Which, of course, is important to us — it can help us rely less on imported food, if we grow more locally. This definitely includes expanding and improving organic farming and conventional farming in Hawai'i, including applications of biotechnology, biological control of pests and careful crop choice.
We need ways to do this effectively and in harmony with each other and the environment. We should not depend on one approach only; there is no "silver bullet" that will solve the whole problem. We need to encourage the development of good ways to increase our self-sustainability in the Islands.
We need to all be well informed how they work, and what benefits they offer.
My 7-year old eventually ate her breakfast. She wanted to know more about how to make our state self-reliant. Maybe she'll even become an agricultural scientist one day and contribute to improving people's lives through increasing our understanding of how agro-ecosystems work, and how we can improve them.