Warming signs seen stressing state's growth
UH Ag dean says many faculty recruits feel Hawaii has exceeded its carrying capacity
Hawaii will be "the canary" that alerts the rest of the world to the damaging effects of climate changes, says Andrew Hashimoto, dean and director of the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.
"If not the canary, it will be one of the canaries," he said in a recent interview, referring to canaries used in the early days of mining to detect dangerous gases.
Hawaii is most susceptible to rising seas and other effects of global warming because it is a remote island state, Hashimoto said.
In recruiting faculty members and talking to others, he said, most feel Hawaii has exceeded its carrying capacity. They are concerned about energy, traffic congestion, food production and stressed families, he said.
"How do we sustain Hawaii?" asked Hashimoto, stressing that the economy, environment and communities must be in balance to be sustainable. "The real question for decision-makers is, what do we do about it?"
He said the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources is trying to address critical problems related to sustainability.
A 30 percent growth in the school's enrollment in six years, compared to 15 percent for UH overall, reflects wide interest in the programs. Enrollment totals about 800, including 200 in graduate studies.
Besides water and land issues, workforce development is essential, Hashimoto said, noting Monsanto Co.'s plans to acquire 2,300 acres of agriculture-zoned land in Kunia. The company, which specializes in biotech corn seed crops, will have to bring in researchers and workers because of Hawaii's labor shortage, he said.
The shift from big sugar and pineapple plantations to small, diversified farms also raises concerns, Hashimoto said.
"A lot of them don't have a business plan or a good accounting system," Hashimoto said. "It's a risky business, and we know three out of four businesses don't exist after five years."
The college has an incubator program with four business consultants available to help small agriculture businesses deal with complex regulations and other issues as they are starting. Most agribusinesses in the free program survive after five years, Hashimoto said.
The change from large sugar and pineapple plantations to small parcels presents other challenges, said Charles Kinoshita, associate dean of the college, who worked 10 years for the Hawaiian Sugar Planters Experiment Station.
The plantations were "a vertical industry," training employees and providing housing, irrigation and electrical systems for the community, which no longer is the case, he said.
With small scattered parcels now, he said, "We're going to have to find a way to make this work." In a way, it has started to work with farmers forming informal cooperatives to get their produce to market, he said.
The college is working on the issues with the state departments of Agriculture and Land and Natural Resources, he said.