Hawaii imports almost 90% of its food, resulting in an extremely low degree of food
self-sufficiency. This import-dependence has been identified as a major economic,
environmental, and social problem by residents, civil society organizations, and government
officials in Hawaii. With goals of increasing Hawaii’s food security, reducing its carbon
footprint, and establishing more sustainable agriculture, Governor Ige pledged to double local
food supply by the year 2020.
The agricultural sector is known to cause numerous negative environmental impacts such
as biodiversity loss and fertilizer runoff. With the proposed movement of doubling local food
production, bringing those burdens to Hawaii might cause more harm than good to our fragile
ecosystems, but the extent of potential environmental impact is unknown. The origin of a food
product directly affects the degree of environmental impact that a product encompasses due to
varying factors such as climate, soil health, and the types of management practices in that area.
Long food supply chains common in the modern food system have sparked recent interest
in the notion of “food miles” which measure the distance food travels from producer to
consumer. Food that has travelled long distances is often perceived as more energy intensive and
more greenhouse gas-emitting due to the resources required for transportation. However, several
studies suggest that the “food miles” approach is a rudimentary indicator of environmental
damage as it ignores differences in emissions between different forms of transport and energy
use intensity in other stages of the supply chain. Therefore an assessment that evaluates the
on-farm conditions where food is produced as well as the various modes of transport to and
within Hawaii, is needed.
This project seeks to quantify the embodied environmental impact of Hawaii produced
and imported food using a combination of farmer surveys and life cycle assessments to
understand the full environmental impacts of our current and future food systems. With the
innovative use of mobile phone app technology to engage producer involvement as well as
community outreach, this project aims to assist local farmers to better market their products,
guide corporate food sourcing decisions, and empower consumers to refine their purchase
choices. The results of this project have the potential to affect the future of Hawaii’s food supply
and support a more sustainable food system in Hawaii.
The overarching goal of this research is to evaluate the environmental impact of doubling
Hawaii’s local food supply. With a declining agricultural industry and recent ambitious policy
proposals to increase local food production in the State of Hawaii, such research is needed to
fully understand the implications of agricultural policies for Hawaii’s environment. My specific
objectives are to:
1. Compare the environmental impacts of locally produced versus imported foods currently and
under a doubling of local food supply.
2. Develop a mobile app to help educate consumers about the sustainability of their food
During the beginning of the grant period, I wrote my MS thesis project proposal. In September of 2018, I successfully defended the proposal to my thesis committee. The following steps were to start collecting import data.
To develop a 2017 food supply dataset for Hawai‘i, I planned to adapt the methodology used by Loke and Leung (2013). This dataset decomposed Hawai‘i’s food supply into the weight of local production, imports, and exports in 2010, and includes the country of origin. Their analysis grouped foods into general categories including fresh vegetables, fresh fruits, protein (seafood), protein (others), grain, and milk. This is because tonnage entering Hawai‘i ports is recorded by category (i.e. “fruits”, “vegetables”), rather than specific commodity (i.e. “banana”, “lettuce”). My analysis, however, requires more detailed datasets to identify specific commodities. Another issue I ran into is that Hawai‘i only records the origin of foreign imports, which means specific regions within the U.S. are not included. This is an issue because roughly 85% of Hawai‘i’s imports are from the U.S. mainland rather than foreign countries. This will limit my ability to model embodied qualities of these imports, because the more specific the origin, the more accurate the model.
The publicly available information from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service and Foreign Agricultural Service, Army Corps of Engineers Waterborne Division, the Waterborne Commerce Statistics Center, U.S. Trade Data, and U.S. Dept. of Agriculture did not have the data I needed to compile tonnage per commodity arriving into the state of Hawai‘i for the year 2017. This led me to contact wholesalers and shipping carriers, but few responded to my queries. Amongst my hunt for import data, I have found out that the Hawai‘i Dept. of Agriculture has not collected tonnage per commodity arriving into the state since 2008 due to reduction in force.
Moving forward, we have decided to focus on the comparisons between imports and locally produced foods. The newest and most updated version of the SimaPro software was purchased for this project in order to conduct Life Cycle Analyses (LCA). The SimaPro software is equipped with multiple databases called libraries. Some of the libraries that SimaPro currently includes are Ecoinvent v3, Agri-footprint, French agricultural LCI database: AGRIBALYSE, LCA Food from Denmark, US Input Output library, and the U.S. Life Cycle Inventory Database (USLCI). These databases contain records with the inputs and outputs involved in creating certain products and processes. From these records, SimaPro produces a Life Cycle Inventory result (LCI) of all the inputs involved with the production of the product or process of study. Data on transport, extraction of raw materials, processing, production, and disposal can normally be found in an LCA database. Records for Hawai‘i’s imported foods will be searched for in the SimaPro libraries, but the transportation factors will be altered to best represent the exact travel distance to Hawai‘i. However, since these databases contain very standard and generalized records, they will not contain site specific information for Hawai‘i. Therefore, for locally produced products, records will be created using farm specific data taken from farm surveys conducted throughout the State of Hawai‘i.
In December of 2018, I began to develop LCAs for the importation of the products using the information already sourced in the databases of the SimaPro software. In looking through the software, I found that there is no record in the databases for taro (one of the originally selected food products to be analyzed). This required us to switch the food product to potato which is imported, grown locally, and in the database. So far, I have successfully developed the framework to model the importation of lettuce to Hawai‘i, and I am currently in the process of developing LCAs for the rest of the selected products (banana, potato, beef, and milk). These LCAs that represent imports to Hawai‘i also outline the types of data that I need to collect from local farmers to put into the software. I plan to conduct interviews in the upcoming months with Hawai‘i farmers through a survey that will elicit at minimum, information on planted or grazed area held by the farmer (ha), annual production (tons/yr), fertilizer use (lbs/yr), pesticide use (gals/yr), irrigation (gal/yr), on-farm management and harvesting activities (e.g., fuel use in machinery), processing, and method of transport to market (CO2 emissions).
Because I will be surveying human subjects, in October of 2018, I drafted a survey and submitted it along with a protocol to the University of Hawai‘i’s IRB (Institutional Review Board) and was approved. I plan to finalize the survey and distribute by the end of February 2019.
I have run the LCA for the importation of lettuce from California and Arizona to Hawai‘i with import estimates from 2008 (HDOA Annual Summary, 2009). These preliminary results provide the environmental impact associated with the on farm production of lettuce a well as the road and ocean transportation to Hawai‘i. The total life cycle impact resulted in 180 kg CO2 equivalents (global warming), 0 kg of SO2 eq in air (aquatic acidification) and 0 kg PO4 eq into water (aquatic eutrophication). Lettuce production, including irrigation and fertilization, contributes more CO2 equivalent emissions than transportation to Hawai‘i. I look forward to refining these analyses over the coming months.
Educational & Outreach Activities
In September of 2017, Torres and Carlson consulted with Dr. PingSun Leung, co-author of “Hawai‘i’s food consumption and supply sources: benchmark estimates and measurement issues”, to obtain feedback on the goals and scope of the project and also about obtaining the LCA software, of which his lab was familiar with. Dr. Leung kindly supplied Torres a laptop with the LCA software called SimaPro installed. He expressed enthusiasm for the project and offered his assistance whenever needed.
In February of 2018, Torres consulted with Dr. Matthew Loke, also co-author of “Hawai‘i’s food consumption and supply sources: benchmark estimates and measurement issues”. Dr. Loke further explained the methods taken to achieve the benchmark estimates of this paper and provided Torres with insight on the first steps of how to obtain the desired import data.
Also in February of 2018, Torres met with Dr. Monique Mironesco to discuss her work in the Sustainable Community Food Systems program at UH West Oahu. Dr. Mironesco has experience in communicating with local farmers in Hawai‘i. Her strategies and methods of conducting surveys were discussed.
In April of 2018, Torres consulted with Dr. Albie Miles, assistant professor of Sustainable Community Food Systems at UH West Oahu. He is very interested in the project especially to see differences in organic vs conventional farming techniques, which is where his passion and research lies. Dr. Miles also agreed to be a member of Torres’ thesis committee at this meeting.
Torres met with Dr. Michael Cooney three times from September through December of 2018. Dr. Cooney is a professor in the Engineering department who teaches a Life Cycle Analysis course using the SimaPro software. Torres took this course in Spring of 2018. Dr. Cooney has been coaching and guiding the modelling process of this project.
In October of 2018, Torres consulted with the Interim Associate Dean for Extension, Kelvin Sewake, for help with contacting farmers across the state. Sewake was able to give Torres the contact numbers for all agricultural extension agents in the state. We expect that these extension agents will play an important role in identifying farmers to take the survey.
In November of 2018, Torres consulted with fellow graduate student, Hunter Heavilin, on his efforts of achieving agricultural import data from the state. As Torres learned, acquiring this data turned out to be a very difficult task. Heavilin had very little luck but was able to pass on contact information to the Hawai‘i Dept. of Agriculture.
In December 2018, Torres briefly consulted with the Kokua Hawai‘i Foundation ʻĀINA In Schools Program Manager Kelly Perry. Perry is very interested and excited to incorporate the data and findings of this project into the educational curriculum of her program. We will be in contact with Perry over the coming months as we develop curriculum about food imports versus locally produced food for this program.
In January of 2019, Torres will meet with Sharon Hurd from the Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture (HDOA) to discuss the project as well as inquire about more recent import data. Goals of the meeting will be to understand the methods of current data collection as well as discuss the current needs of the HDOA.
Workshop / field days:
In May 2018, Carlson travelled to Palo Alto California to participate in the 2018 National Food System Resilience and Equity Workshop, a two-day event that brought together participants from across the United States to draft food resilience plans for their regions. As part of this group, Carlson contributed to planning activities around food resilience for the State of Hawai‘i, including informally presenting the research planned under this Western SARE grant.
Curricula, factsheets or educational tools:
From May 2018 – July 2018, Torres was hired as an Early College Instructor within the Early College Summer Program held for underprivileged high school students out of UH West Oahu Campus. Torres taught a summer course titled BIOLOGY 198 Climate Change and Sustainability: Solutions in Agroecosystems. She designed and carried out bi-weekly lessons in an accelerated course covering topics on climate change adaptation and mitigation, sustainable agriculture and the food system.
Webinars, talks and presentations:
In April of 2018, Torres presented a poster at the Spring 2018 CTAHR Student Research Symposium. She presented on this project proposal to get feedback from peers and the public.
In September of 2018, Torres presented her thesis proposal defense and passed.
In November of 2018, Torres presented a poster about this research at NOAA’s Symposium on Science in Support of Archipelagic Management.
In April of 2019, Torres will be presenting her findings at the American Association of Geographers Annual Meeting in Washington DC.
Because the research is ongoing, we do not yet have specific outcomes. Results are expected to elicit data on the climate change potential (measured in kg CO2 eq.), as well as the local aquatic eutrophication and acidification potential (measured in kg SO2 eq. and kg PO4 respectively) attributed to the local Hawai‘i-based production and importation of 1 kg of banana, lettuce, potato, and beef, and milk. This project promises to enhance our understanding of Hawai‘i’s agricultural food supply chain. The dataset generated by this analysis will provide an initial assessment of the environmental impacts of increased local food production. These novel data are needed to inform pathways for Hawai‘i to reach its 2030 sustainability goals (SB2666, 2018).
Such information is critical for supporting sustainable agricultural production – which includes economic, equity, and environmental dimensions – in Hawai‘i and in other Pacific Island ecosystems. In the past 35 years, Hawai‘i’s crop area has plummeted by about 85%, driven by the collapse of sugarcane and pineapple commodities. In revitalizing its food system, Hawai‘i will be focusing on expanding foods that are produced locally and consumed locally. Supporting a local food system is thought to strengthen rural communities, promote healthy eating, and protect our natural resources (USDA, 2015). From an economic perspective, research suggests that an increase in the production and sale of Hawai‘i-grown agricultural commodities would contribute to significant job creation and an expanded market for local food. Yet, the environmental impacts of agriculture must be considered alongside these direct social and economic benefits of local food production.
Understanding the relative impacts of using Hawai‘i’s lands for agriculture versus relying on imports will aid the State of Hawai‘i in identifying and adopting policies likely to encourage more sustainable agriculture. While it is apparent that an increase in local food production will have food self-sufficiency benefits, research on the environmental impacts of increased production is needed to develop a tangible strategy to manage the tradeoffs between food security and environmental degradation. By offering a better understanding of the environmental impacts of doubling local food production, and how these impacts differ across commodities, my research will inform policies that support an environmentally friendly expansion of local agricultural production. For instance, replacement of leafy green imports with locally produced greens may generate much larger environmental benefits than replacing imported animal products with locally produced animal products.
The additional knowledge arising from such an assessment could further alleviate many of the concerns expressed by Hawai‘i residents. This project could empower consumers with information about the impacts embodied in their food and enable them to choose foods that embody fewer emissions and less environmental degradation. Information about the climate footprint of major imported and locally produced products produced through this research may help local producers market their products as more “environment friendly”. In doing so, the results of this project have the potential to enhance farmer incomes by allowing them to market their products to consumers with preferences for not just local, but also environmentally friendly products. It is pertinent to assess the various food groups that have the greatest potential to achieve more food localization in Hawai‘i. The data generated from the present study will guide policy decisions that will contribute to the profitability of farmers in Hawai‘i, improve the environmental quality of agriculture, and enhance the quality of life for Hawai‘i residents.
During the time of this grant I have learned how to write a project proposal and present a project proposal. I have also learned how difficult it can be to obtain data and information, especially if it involves communicating with multiple people and multiple sectors. Being persistent and diligent is a required skill to have. I am not that far into the research that my experience has changed my stance on sustainable agriculture but I am very excited to see what the results show.