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Changes to agricultural practices are needed for the system to work

COUNCIL'S 3 MINUTES

When I introduced the charter amendment creating the new county Department of Agriculture, it was to address the need to rebuild Maui County’s agricultural system.

A sustainable regional system will create job opportunities, provide food and economic security, promote better health for our residents and help protect our fragile island environment. I was surprised at the early opposition to the bill, but with time that has become strong support for this much-needed change on Maui.

When voters approved the new department, they recognized the need to be proactive and support local agriculture. Almost 90 percent of food in Hawaii is imported, yet the state allocates less than 1 percent of its annual budget to the agricultural sector. The pandemic has confirmed the urgency to invest into our own food sovereignty.

Voters affirmed that it was time for the county to step up and take responsibility. With inflation exceeding 7 percent and oil prices rising uncontrollably, food imports have become more expensive than ever. We are establishing this department just in time to protect our community and grow an industry that literally feeds our people.

Agriculture is in our blood. Our collective ancestors traveled great distances to bring the first canoe plants and later to work on the large sugar cane and pineapple plantations. They built a life here and built our economy on agriculture. Although we are not called to return to those days of the past in full, we are called to reimagine our agricultural future.

The department will promote diversified agrieconomy and agribusiness. Agriculture worldwide and on Maui has changed dramatically over the last decade.

Gone are the days of large plantations, monocrops and unsustainable farming practices that strip the soil of nutrients and have no regard for water as a limited resource. Agriculture practices must now fix and replenish the island’s soils with nitrous-fixing additives and carbon sequestration.

We must also acknowledge that small farms are the backbone of our agricultural industry. Over 90 percent of agriculture and local food production in Hawaii comes from small farming and ranching.

For a regional agricultural system to work, we must provide support to operations that lack the scale needed to access equipment, storage and production facilities, marketing and distribution systems. Coordination and food hubs are agriculture’s future and directly address food security, feeding our most vulnerable communities and island sustainability.

Our resilience depends on how we process our food for greater shelf life, redistribute our excess and reuse our waste with new and innovative practices.

The new department director and deputy director will soon be appointed by the mayor, then confirmed by the council. This is a great opportunity to make significant changes to Maui County’s future.

Farming is a labor of love, and these new positions require leadership with local agricultural experience and a vision for a sustainable industry. Creating a resilient agricultural system will ensure our children’s chances for survival and prosperity on the islands.

I am excited to hear that qualified farmers are applying for this prestigious position. As the department is developed, there will be other opportunities for civil service positions to help grow the department and further recognize our farmers’ skill sets.

I also want to take this opportunity to remind people of the new Ordinance 5084, banning the use of plastic disposable foodware, which became effective March 1, and to sincerely thank the many businesses who have made the transition to nonplastic products seamless. This new law is yet another tool for protecting our environment from plastic pollution.

When I first introduced this bill, there was widespread opposition from the plastic products industry, which claimed it couldn’t be done and that it would come at a high cost. As predicted by Council Member Mike Molina, who introduced Maui County’s earlier ban on plastic bags, the public and industry adjusted well, and new opportunities for sustainable products were created.

Proposing any kind of change is often met with resistance, but once the new idea sets in, people adapt and become supportive. If we are to create a successful future for our children, we need to have a vision and be willing to usher in the changes needed to make that vision a reality.

* Shane M. Sinenci is chair of the council’s Agricultural and Public Trust Committee. He holds the council seat for the East Maui residency area. “Council’s 3 Minutes” is a column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters. Go to mauicounty.us for more information.

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