Quantifying the Environmental Impact of Doubling Hawaii’s Local Food Supply

Project Overview

GW18-187
Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2018: $21,119.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2020
Grant Recipient: University of Hawaii at Manoa
Region: Western
State: Hawaii
Graduate Student:
Major Professor:
Dr. Kimberly Carlson
University of Hawaii

Information Products

Commodities

  • Fruits: bananas
  • Vegetables: carrots, greens (lettuces)
  • Animals: bovine
  • Animal Products: meat

Practices

  • Education and Training: decision support system, on-farm/ranch research, youth education
  • Farm Business Management: community-supported agriculture
  • Natural Resources/Environment: habitat enhancement, carbon emissions, runoff
  • Sustainable Communities: community planning, local and regional food systems, public policy, social networks, sustainability measures, values-based supply chains

    Abstract:

    Hawaii currently imports almost 90% of its food, meaning that this isolated Pacific island archipelago has low food self-sufficiency. To address this vulnerability, support the local economy, and generate jobs, Hawaii’s government has committed to doubling local food production by 2030. While such expansion or intensification of local agriculture coupled with a reduction of imports may have socio-economic benefits, it will also affect local and global environmental services. Producing more local food is likely to increase certain environmental burdens in Hawaii (e.g., fertilizer runoff from farms) and reduce these impacts in other producing regions. Because Hawaii residents depend on the local environment for both sustenance and tourism, such negative impacts associated with additional local agriculture are important to consider in initiatives designed to boost local food production. Additional local food production is also expected to alter environmental effects associated with agricultural imports. Although food that has traveled long distances is often perceived as more energy intensive and greenhouse gas-emitting than local food due to the resources required for transportation, “food miles” ignore differences 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 to assess the local as well as net global outcomes from boosting local food production.
    The objective of this research was to assess the local, distant, and global environmental impacts of increasing food production in Hawai‘i by answering the following questions: 1) How do Hawaii-produced foods compare to imported foods with respect to highly local versus global environmental impacts? 2) How do these environmental impacts differ across food types? and 3) How might doubling production of these food types in Hawaii affect local versus global environments?
    To answer these questions, we used a life cycle analysis (LCA) approach to quantify the environmental impacts of several foods grown locally and imported to Hawaii, including banana, lettuce, carrot, and beef. Specifically, we compared environmental burdens incurred globally (climate change) and locally (freshwater eutrophication, marine eutrophication, land use, and water use) from farm to plate for local and imported foods. We elicited Hawaii-specific inputs to the LCA by surveying farmers and ranchers across the state.
    Results suggest wide variation in global to local impacts across locally-produced and imported foods and emphasize the dominant role of production rather than transport in driving these impacts. Doubling Hawaii-produced food production would generate a small absolute change in most environmental impact categories because local production currently comprises a very small fraction of total food supply. The single exception may be bananas, for which local production serves and important role in Hawaii’s food system.
    These findings can be used to inform farmers of the importance of their management practices for environmental outcomes, and policymakers of the tradeoffs between importing food and producing it within Hawai‘i. 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.

    Project objectives:

    The objective of this research was to assess the local, distant, and global environmental impacts of increasing food production in Hawai‘i by answering the following questions: 1) How do Hawaii-produced foods compare to imported foods with respect to highly local versus global environmental impacts? 2) How do these environmental impacts differ across food types? and 3) How might doubling production of these food types in Hawaii affect local versus global environments?

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.