Hawai’i’s Food Security Shaky Heading into Hurricane Season

Hawai’i’s hurricane season starts up again June first, and runs through the end of November. This year, the National Weather Service is predicting between two and six tropical cyclones in the Central Pacific. Experts on Hawai’i’s food systems say, we need to prepare for multiple simultaneous disasters. Here’s a look at some of their priorities.

Albie Miles studies food security, especially Hawai’i’s, as an associate professor of sustainable community food systems at University of Hawai‘i-West O’ahu.

“My principal concern at this point is, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, there are a lot of interruptions of our normal social behaviors and opportunities and our economy has contracted profoundly,” says Miles. “At the same time, we’re entering our hurricane season.”

Miles points out most of the food the entire state of Hawai’i consumes comes through the Port of Honolulu–and there is currently no redundancy, no back up, for that port in the event of an emergency like a hurricane.

Food storage is also lacking, and what commercial food storage there is, he says, is situated near the docks in an inundation zone.

After the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Miles says an agricultural recovery working group formed linking the Department of Agriculture, the Hawai’i Farmers Union, the Hawaii Farm Bureau, higher education, and other players across the ag spectrum.

“We’ve come together to develop a set of policy recommendations to guide decision making around the federal stimulus funds,” Miles said.

According to Miles, initial objectives would be to stabilize farmers’ finances and provide emergency food.

Daniela Spoto Kittinger is director of anti-hunger initiatives for Hawai’i Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice. She says currently, hunger is greatest in the very agricultural areas where Hawai’i’s food is grown.

“Rural communities are the ones bearing the brunt of this pandemic in this economic downturn,” says Kittinger. “I think there’s a correlation here between rural communities being the ones that grow our food, raise our livestock, and the fact that we are not tapping into that as a source for our food system. [It] is a symptom that we’re extracting wealth from these communities.”

Kittinger says aiding these communities would support both families and farmers.

“And we can do that through existing federal nutrition programs, things like Farm to School are great for that. Things like that are happening.”

Miles contends Hawai’i can leverage the moment by working across economic sectors.

“We will always be dependent upon external sources of food and there’s resilience in being coupled to global commodity chains,” says Miles. “So a combination of local agriculture production, buttressing our import infrastructure, and finding an appropriate balance between local production and imports is, I think, a key strategy to employ.”

For the moment, Miles says, the idea is to link up government food programs with local ag producers. Already, on Hawai’i Island, in a program set up by Councilman Tim Richards, State Farm Bureau dollars go directly to Big Island farmers and ranchers, who provide the majority of the meat and vegetables for the Hawai’i Food Basket’s Ohana Drops, its food distribution program.

Find out more in Hawai’i Appleseed’s Kupuna Hunger Report.

Albie Miles on community food sovereignty during COVID-19 conditions here.

Guide to soup kitchens and food pantries on Hawai’i Island from Hawai’i Food Basket