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Photos represent similar grass-fed grazing models in New Zealand

August 17, 2014

We must find path to steward lands and boost local food and farm efforts

Guest column by Kyle Datta, general partner of Ulupono Initiative, in The Honolulu Star-Advertiser:

Do we still make choices based on our values?  What do we as a society value more: securing a resilient future for our children or increasing our fortunes today? These questions are at the heart of the land use conflict between local food, energy and culture, and the ever-ravenous demands of development.  

We have enough land and water to meet many of our goals of energy and food self-sufficiency. Using these resources responsibly will keep billions of dollars circulating in our economy, create jobs and build the foundation to sustain our aina and our culture into the next century and beyond.  The health of our children depends on their dietary choices, which in turn depends on the availability of affordable local food.

Reasoned land use planning can strike the appropriate balance between our needs for housing, development, agriculture and energy, while protecting our precious environment and perpetuating our culture.  We had the wisdom to designate Important Agricultural Lands as forever dedicated to agriculture in order to promote diversified agriculture, ensure local food and protect our open spaces from development. 

Ranchers and farmers steward one out of every four acres in Hawaii. They care for the land that allows them the freedom to work for themselves, to work where they live, in communities they sustain and that sustain them.  Their way of life is under siege and all of us will be harmed.

Local food operations as diverse as our grass-fed dairy on Kauai to farmers on the Big Island are being sued by their neighbors, who themselves are on what was once agricultural land.

If we allow a resort on reclassified agricultural lands on Kauai to demand buffer zones miles away from its property – affecting even Important Agricultural Lands – there are serious implications to Oahu and Maui, where development and agriculture are in closer proximity. Most of the prime agricultural lands in these counties will vanish.  

This raises the question of under what conditions should we allow reclassification of agricultural lands for resorts or housing. If development cannot coexist with agriculture, then it will surely be the farmers – and Hawaii’s local food industry – and ultimately our community’s children – who become the victims of unfettered growth.  

People come to Hawaii to enjoy its natural beauty, culture and island way of life. Honoring our heritage and diversifying our economy can and must harmonize with all types of development to ensure we can be self-sufficient while maintaining the experience people come to enjoy. 

Agriculture, urban development and tourism all have impacts on the environment that cross their boundaries, yet they can coexist as neighbors. Sustainable agriculture regenerates the soils and enhances our precious environment. Ulupono means “prosperity through the righteous path,” and we believe renewable energy, sustainable food production, environmental stewardship, and tourism can mutually prosper, just as they do at Kualoa Ranch and Parker Ranch.

As population growth and climate change make water scarce and natural disasters more frequent, land and water use conflicts will become increasingly bitter. Our culture was once able to resolve conflicts through reason and respectful dialogue, hooponopono. Today, there are purveyors of fear who spread divisiveness rather than finding common ground.  We believe in working with our local institutions to make reasoned judgments based on facts.

This is not just about a dairy; this is about providing the people of Hawaii with the choice to continue to steward the land; the choice to consume affordable local food; and the choice to perpetuate a way of life that has lasted centuries. We must find the path to an enduring future that preserves our right to these choices.

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