Saturday, March 28, 2015

Musings: Realities of Bt Cotton

We left high-tech Hyderabad and traveled 144 km from to the farming city of Warangal, a 90-mile drive that took three hours along roads choked with buses, motorcycles, scooters, taxis and cars. We passed monkeys, cows wandering on dusty streets, water buffalo being driven to the fields, small herds of goats, the occasional bristly-haired black pig rooting in a garbage pile and the ever-present dogs of India.
But though agricultural is predominant here, and many of the villagers lack running water and indoor plumbing, high-tech has arrived in rural India. Cell phones and smart phones are ubiquitous and 100 percent of the farmers in this district have adopted Bt cotton — the only genetically modified crop currently registered for commercial use in India. It was engineered by Monsanto to resist bollworm, a major cotton pest that reduces both yield and quality.

We stopped and spoke with a number of farmers, most of them barefoot, who were growing cotton, maize (corn), turmeric and paddy (rice) on five-to-10-acre parcels. We wanted to understand the challenges they're facing, and whether Bt has worked for them.
Like other small farmers in India, they apply pesticides using a backpack sprayer, with no protective clothing or gloves. In the days before Bt cotton, they sometimes sprayed pesticides weekly for the duration of the six-to-eight-month crop, and reported burning eyes, respiratory problems and hospital visits seeking treatment for pesticide exposure.

Since adopting Bt cotton, their spraying has been dramatically reduced, with subsequent improvements in health. Their incomes also have been boosted, due to lower expenditures for pesticides, bigger yields and better quality cotton that fetches a higher price.

A man who has been farming for 30 years said the per-acre value of his production has increased from 2 lakhs (about $3,000) to 30 lakhs (about $48,000) since shifting to Bt cotton, and his health has similarly improved.
Prior to Bt cotton, he was investing $10,000 annually in his cotton crop, for a return of just $7,000. Faced with such ongoing losses, he says he would have shifted out of agriculture and sold his land if Bt cotton had not been introduced.

A father-son farming team, with 55 years of experience between them, asked for more research to develop a strain that will resist other pests, along with bollworm. Their revenues have increased because Bt cotton is a shorter crop than conventional cotton, so they are able to take a second crop of watermelon, which helps to offset increasing labor costs.

As rural folks move to the cities in search of opportunities, more money and easier work, farms are left with a shrinking labor pool to pick cotton and control weeds that grow quickly in the semi-arid tropical climate. The father recalled that in his time, laborers used to beg him for work. Now, he says, he must beg them to work. Though the corn harvest has been mechanized, the cotton is plucked by hand.

One farmer said he was a frequent visitor to the hospital, due to pesticide exposure, and lived on credit, constantly in debt. But since he began growing Bt cotton on his 10 acres of land, he no longer has health problems and has been able to save enough money to invest in land in the city. 

A couple who grow cotton, maize, paddy and sorghum said the profits earned from cotton have allowed them to send their children to school, cover the earthen floors of their home with stone, plaster the walls and eat better rice. Their economic situation used to be very uncertain, even critical, they said, but now they can manage with the proceeds of Bt cotton.
They are also able to afford liquid propane for cooking, which has been a major boon to their lives. Previously, they had to gather firewood, which is hard to find, or use cow dung.

Cooking outside over an open fire was horrible, the wife told me, grimacing and shaking her head. The food often burned and they had many problems from breathing the smoke. She smiled as she lit the two-burner gas stove to prepare us masala chai, a fragrant tea common in India.

As I sipped the tea, sweetened with hand-ground sugar cane and whitened with buffalo milk, I surveyed her neat, humble home, the hand-dug well in the courtyard where they still draw water. I couldn't help but contrast the simple existence of these villagers to the comfortable lives enjoyed by anti-GMO activists in Europe and the United States.
And that got me wondering why the activists want to deprive the rural poor of a technology that has greatly reduced their pesticide exposure, improved their quality of life, given them enough money to purchase school uniforms and tuition for their children.
Do they just not know how their anti-GMO activities are playing out in the world's poorest regions? Have they so romanticized subsistence farming that they wish to doom others to endure it forever, while they enjoy every modern convenience and luxury? Are they simply ignorant about the realities of Bt cotton in the field?

Has their demonization of "Monsatan" blinded them to any possible scenario other than the one of pure evil and mass destruction they've envisioned?

Surely, it can't be that their ideology has trumped their decency — or worse, that they just don't care.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Musings: India's Urban Farmers

People are leaving their villages throughout India and going to the cities, seeking new opportunities. Some of them continue to farm on the outskirts of urban areas, like this settlement at Yamuna Pushta, just outside the hustle and bustle of New Delhi.
This family traveled to Delhi because there were no jobs in their home village, about 200 kilometers from the city. 
They and the other laborers who live here know how to farm, so they struck up arrangements with landowners to grow vegetables along the Yamuna River, one of the two most polluted waterways in India. 
Power plants and other industry dump effluent into the river, and much of the land is contaminated with heavy metals.
Families share tractors to till the soil. Goats and cows are tethered near their little shanties, providing milk.
Though some romantic Westerners (and Vandana Shiva) say farmers should be practicing traditional organic agriculture, they don't realize that the dung that could be used for fertilizer is also needed for cooking fuel.
This family washes vegetables in preparation for market.

Then loads the cart.
Everyone helps, even the youngest.
The farmer, who was very proud of his harvest of green onions, cauliflower and cilantro, waters down his load to keep the veggies fresh as transports them via a bicycle cart along the busy roads to buyers in New Delhi.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Musings: Into India

New Delhi is a cacophony of sounds — especially horns — and color.

The horns honk continuously and seemingly without any effect, as cars, bicyclists, trucks, scooters and motorcycles jockey for position in a rapidly-moving stream of traffic that regularly oozes out of its allotted lanes.

But no diesel smoke or exhaust fumes hang heavy in the air, because much of the motor vehicle fleet has converted to compressed natural gas that the country produces itself.

The color is found in the bright clothing that women seem to favor, and in the flowers that are still blooming riotously, thanks to a cool, wet winter, in parks, college campuses, open spaces and countless trees. It's one of the world's few major metropolitan areas that has seen an increase in green space even as the city has grown.

In contrast to its lush greenery, New Delhi takes security seriously. The hotel has a round-the-clock guard and metal detector, and all bags and purses must be screened before they can be carried in. We also passed through a detector when we entered a side street biza
bizaar, though from its rough design, I wasn't sure it was too effective.

Other observations: there are far more men than women on the streets, though women and men can be found in roughly equal proportions at institutions of higher learning. And men and women alike dress modestly. Though the weather was as warm as a summer day in Hawaii, no one was wearing shorts or tank tops or mini skirts or skimpy little camisoles. I saw no bare shoulders or legs (save for the calves of a man sleeping on a sidewalk), no yoga pants, no bra straps, no hip huggers, no skin tight jeans.

But I did see a waxing crescent moon sidle up to Venus in the orange glow of the western sunset sky.

I also saw genetically engineered dahlias that were bigger and bolder than any I'd seen before, though they were already a few days past their prime, and rice plants that were being engineered to withstand drought and salinity, while also increasing yield and removing heavy metals from the soil.
The rice plants were growing in green houses at research facilities. The most promising strains were about to be field-tested in neighboring Bangladesh because India currently does not allow its scientists to conduct the crucial step that allows plants to move from a science experiment to a viable commercial crop.

That policy is purely political, and word is that it's about to be reversed. But in the meantime, scientists are pursing field trials in biotech-friendly Bangladesh, where farmers are already growing Bt cotton and brinjal (eggplant). Brinjal, a traditional Indian food staple, is typically sprayed with insecticides every other day to stave off the destructive effects of various burrowing bugs. Bt brinjal, on the other hand, doesn't require such spraying because a gene of Bacillus thurengiensis, a soil bacterium used in organic farm pest control, has been engineered into the plants to ward off insects.

I asked Ashwani Pareek, a plant scientist at Jawaharlal Nehru University, if he thought genetically engineered plants represented any danger. "No," he replied. "I work with them all the time, so I understand the science and know they are not harmful." 

"So why is there resistance to their cultivation?" I queried.

“I think it's just ignorance,” he replied. “People don't understand what we're doing, or how the process works.”

As he showed me some of his research in isolating an enzyme that a plant uses to kill an insect, similar to a venus fly trap, in order to obtain the nitrogen that it needs, it struck me that this is another method for understanding nature a little bit better, and that doesn't seem to me a bad thing.

And I couldn't help but recall Michael Pollan's book, "Botany of Desire," and wonder whether this was another way that plants were getting us to do their bidding and spread their genes.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Musings: From a Hotel in Frankfurt

The trip begins with a delay — a one-day Lufthansa pilots' strike that cancels my connecting flight to New Delhi and grounds me in Frankfurt, Germany.

Given the thousands of travelers who had to be booked onto other flights or put up in nearby hotels, I'm sure the strike met the pilots' objective of costing the airline a lot of money.

Still, it didn't do much to generate sympathy among those of us who were caught in the crossfire, including the beleaguered folks at the Lufthansa service desk who had to tend to all of us stranded travelers.

But isn't that always the way of war, affecting innocents? And how frequently our actions affect others, knowingly and unknowingly.

I made the most of the delay by getting a good night's sleep. But first I had an interesting dinner companion in a woman who is an FBI agent focusing on international white collar crime. It's her job to try and return the millions plundered from treasuries by despots to the people it was stolen from — without getting it siphoned off to bogus agencies, and thus effectively re-stolen, in the process.

We agreed that so much of the world's woes are caused by insatiable greed and the lust for power, and how those two unbecoming traits so often result in a complete callousness toward the suffering of our fellow human beings.

And I went to sleep wondering once again why it is that some of us are motivated to do good and some of us are driven to commit unspeakable evils.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Musings: Aspirations and Off to India

By now, everyone knows that Gov. Ige has withdrawn his nomination of Carleton Ching as director of the state Department of Natural Resources.

Not so well known, but confirmed by a well-placed source, is that Kauai Councilman Gary Hooser had sought the job. Yes, the guy who was booted from his position as director of the Office of Environmental Quality Control was again seeking a cabinet level position. Talk about delusions of grandeur.

And what do those aspirations say about his commitment to the people of Kauai? Not that we don't already know, given his frequent trips to the state Legislature, and even missing a Council meeting to attend.

But when Ige bypassed him for Ching, Gary helped mount a vigorous attack on Ching.

Though Gary repeatedly claimed he had nothing against Ching's character — and even wrote a blog post to that effect — his opposition was of course rooted in concerns about Ching's character. Namely, concerns that Ching would favor his developer friends and colleagues over the public interest.

Certainly the governor should seek a candidate who is more middle of the road, which rules out Gary, and not so closely affiliated with the development sector. It'll be interesting to see who he picks for the post now.

Federal Judge Susan Mollway, meanwhile, has extended the injunction on enforcing the Maui GMO moratorium until at least June, citing the possibility of legislative action that could affect the case. In other words, the moratorium, which was supposed to be lifted March 31, remains on hold, dashing the aspirations of SHAKA for a quick resolution of the case. The Kauai and Big Island pesticide/GMO regulatory ordinances were already struck down and are under appeal.

On another note, blogging will be intermittent, and offering a more worldly content, over the next couple weeks as I head for India on a freelance assignment.

So stay tuned, and be patient with comment moderation, which may be somewhat delayed.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Musings: Fantasy Island

Big changes are under way on Kauai, and curiously, some folks who profess to love the island just as it is are helping to hasten that transition.

Let's start with Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, who's worth about $32 billion. Last year he bought the 357-acre Kahuaina parcel at Waipake and the 393-acre piece on the coast at Pilaa, for well over $100 million.

Now Zuckerberg is buying up all the kuleana lots in Pilaa. Rick and Amy Marvin sold out for a reported $17 million, and Rick's brother did, too. Zuckerberg is now working on acquiring the Huddy piece, and word has it he's scouring other titles for weak links that will give him an in. The goal is to create his own private playground, though Gary Stewart of Melange International in Denver has a 10% interest in the Pilaa property.

Meanwhile, Barron's is talking about an overheated second-home market, and the appeal of the North Shore:

After the median price fell 4.2% on the north shore of Kauai, Hawaii, we have made Hanalei our top resort of the year.

Uh, except Hanalei was never supposed to be a resort — until the county let the vacation rental industry explode.

Barron's goes on to say:

HAENA IS LOCATED SIX MILES down a winding road past Hanalei Bay in Kauai, among the lushest islands of Hawaii. This north-shore outpost of 450 residents has one mediocre restaurant, a day spa run by angry hippies, a bare-bones motel without televisions in the rooms, and a “last chance” general store. And yet, you will be hard pressed to find anything to rival Haena for unadulterated natural beauty.

The immediate backdrop is the soaring rain-forest-covered mountains and waterfalls of the rugged Na Pali Coast. Tucked in a mountain fold is Limahuli Garden and Preserve, a national botanical garden that conserves tropical plants and trees, such as shampoo ginger and coral trees. Opposite sits the Haena State Park, and the Ke’e and Tunnels beaches with their maze of underwater lava tunnels and reef funnels -- considered to be one of the finest diving spots in all of Hawaii, but remarkably empty of tourists.

So it’s no surprise that behind Haena’s hedges, the seriously famous restore themselves with the area’s low-key privacy and solitude: Julia Roberts, Pierce Brosnan, Bette Midler, Craig T. Nelson, Charo, Glenn Frey of the Eagles, and Sandra Tillotson, the co-founder of Nu Skin Enterprises.

Kaonohi Point is found down one of Haena’s dirt roads. At one time, Sylvester Stallone wanted to build a celebrity camp on this spit of land. His plans fell through, but eventually a small clutch of houses were built. One of them, Kaonohi Point, offers a 150-foot entrance to a white sand beach and a snorkeling paradise around the bay’s reef.

The three-bed, three-bath bottle-green home offers a modest 2,355 square feet of living space, the interior crafted from fir and limestone and mounted on pillars so that a storm-thrashed sea can sweep underneath. A small media room and a gourmet’s compact kitchen are easy to maintain; a bathtub, seemingly floating in the treetops, offers breathtaking views of pristine beach, rolling waves, rugged coast.

We walked through the landscaped gardens and down to the beach, where rare monk seals regularly shuffle up and sun themselves. Pierce Brosnan lives directly opposite the scalloped bay; Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers is Kaonohi Point’s immediate neighbor. Michael R. Schmidt, of Coldwell Banker Bali Hai Realty, representing many desirable properties in the area, pointed at the turquoise water. “Lot of lobster in that bay,” he said. The only downside: Three or four bathers might sit on the public beach directly in front of the house, shaded by the property’s beach heliotrope trees.

Priced at $5.5 million, Kaonohi Point is good value for the money compared with the beachfront properties down the road in Hanalei. The rain-washed town was made famous by the film The Descendants, and many of the beach properties are still owned by a couple of old Kauai families and their trusts. The flip-flop-wearing landed gentry and hardcore surfers get hammered on beer and Mai Tais at the Tahiti Nui bar, or eat grilled Opakapaka, a crimson snapper, at the Dolphin Restaurant, where the sound system plays Santana and a shark’s bleached jaws hang from the wall.

Right on Hanalei Bay beach, in walking distance from town, sits 4914 Weke Rd. The three-bedroom, two-bath cottage -- with a two-bed, one-bath vacation rental at the gate -- looks promising at first blush, but a look inside reveals a dark, cramped, suburban 1998 interpretation of an Arts and Crafts cottage. The $11.4 million asking price seems inflated.

At 5514 Weke Rd. stands a handsome 3,125-square-foot contemporary home, all in yellow, with a 1,051-square-foot guest cottage. The master bedroom -- behind glass walls that open for plein-air living -- faces the town’s state park and beach. A public picnic table is just feet from the master bed and means there’s little privacy for the $11 million asking price.

A few months ago, it was widely reported Mark Zuckerberg spent over $100 million purchasing 700 acres farther down the coast. At the same time, anonymous limited liability companies were spending $35 million buying up unassuming shacks on five lots sitting on a peninsula jutting into Hanalei Bay, along the Waoli River. When we drove into the property, a small army of workmen were busy clearing dead trees and brush. Insiders were convinced that it was Zuckerberg’s handiwork, and that he was going to turn the peninsula into his beachfront hangout, but the broker involved has lately dampened speculation that Zuckerberg was also behind these purchases.

FOR $1 MILLION TO $3 MILLION, says Elite Pacific Properties broker Sean Ahearn, you can get a decent second home in Princeville, the 9,000-acre centrally planned community on the bluffs overlooking Hanalei Bay.

Seacliff Plantation is just down the coast. Surrounded by a national park and bird sanctuary, with unrestricted views of the lava-ragged coast, its 48 lots max out at 10 acres apiece. A garish Las Vegas castle, complete with bridge over the pool and koi fish swimming through the house’s interior floors, is offered at $10.9 million; actor Will Smith and his family rented the place over the holidays.

We preferred Kahakai, a three-bedroom home in a secluded valley that created an elegant modernist sanctuary of 3,000 square feet from glass walls, Italian furniture, and Balinese wood. The asking price is $3.5 million; taxes run $1,000 a month. We thought the view of the coast -- which can’t be tampered with due to the surrounding park -- was alone worth well over $1 million.

Meanwhile, as Barron's and Hollywood continue to extol the virtues of fantasy island, folks like Christine Queen of Kapaa are advocating for an idealized, unrealistic approach to farming that is destined to further hasten the collapse of ag on this island.

In her letter to the editor today she writes:

I don’t think many of us are against having a dairy farm or two on the island. It would certainly help in our efforts toward sustainability, but the proposed dairy at Mahaulepu is a factory farm. I drove by a small version of such a farm back in Michigan on a regular basis. It stank, and I’d estimate it only housed 200 cows. We should encourage and support smaller, locally owned dairies in suitable locations around the island.

So if even 200 cows is too many, what is a suitably-sized diary that won't incur the wrath and litigation of neighbors who have bought on or near ag land? And has Christine or any of her allies stopped to think about whether 10 or 15 or 50 cows could be economically viable, considering the many health and environmental regulations a dairy must meet?

Currently, the only dairy I know of is the Wooten's goat farm, and they're just selling very expensive goat cheese. Why? Because that's the only way to make money. Though some would love the pastoral ideal of Bossie and her calf grazing in a meadow, that is not an economically viable model, and it's not going to feed folks — especially those who can't afford pricey artisanal food.

There's so much fantasy and make-believe going on about agriculture on Kauai right now, including the Poipu folks who are primarily worried about their property values but professing their devotion to malama aina. Among them are Bridget Hammersmith, who is leading the fight against the Mahaulepu dairy. Though she claims to be motivated solely by her deep love for the aina, she threw a fundraiser for Republican gubernatorial candidate Duke Aiona — not a greenie by any stretch — at her ritzy southside house last year.

As a farmer friend wrote in an email today after flying on Hawaiian Airlines and reading its inflight magazine:

It illustrates perfectly your comment about the "brand used to promote the ever escalating tourism industry." If I see one more article about farming in Hawaii featuring a malo clad, tattooed actor harvesting a pathetic ten feet by ten foot lo'i kalo, I'll have to use the barf bag in the seat pocket...if they still have them. I know what I'm saying is politically incorrect and there's nothing wrong with doing reenactments, just don't confuse it with production agriculture.

But “production agriculture” — farming that actually makes money — is now a dirty word, reframed as “industrial agriculture.” So instead of actually helping farmers survive, folks like Christine Queen are raising money to fight the "industrial" dairy.

In the end, the reality is this: If ag dies, high-end development is going to take its place. And soon the farming foes will be crying over “paradise lost” — never dreaming they helped in its demise.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Musings: Down on the Farm

Today is National Agriculture Day, and Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. has shown his commitment to farming by totally eliminating the agriculture specialist position in the Office of Economic Development.

It would've been hard to replace Bill Spitz, who retired after many years of superb service. But to completely eliminate the position? 

The mayor certainly can't claim financial cutbacks, considering how he gave defeated Councilman Jay Furfaro a $110,254-per-year job — correction: it's $96,000 — director of Boards and Commissions — a post any secretary could fill — so that he can retire at that pay, rather than the $63,879 he'd earned as council chair before he was rejected by the voters.

Who loves ya, baby?

America's love affair with chicken, especially white meat, is “already pushing the bounds of what's biologically possible—and perhaps what's humane," according to a piece in the Washington Post.

The average American eats about 80 pounds of chicken annually — more than four times what was consumed in the early 1900s, according to data from the USDA.

In response, birds are being bred bigger — the average weight is now nine pounds, compared to two — with massive breasts. In fact, America wants so much white meat that it must export all the leftover dark meat.

Dr. Michael Lilburn, a professor at Ohio State University's Poultry Research Center, notes:

"What people don't realize is that it's consumer demand that's forcing the industry to adjust. It's a deceivingly small but vocal minority that are raising a lot of legitimate questions. The bulk of the U.S. population still doesn't care where their food comes from, as long as its cheap."

But that doesn't stop some folks from having very definite — and often unrealistic — attitudes about food and the folks who produce it. As Maui farmer Darrell Tanaka recently noted on Facebook:

Today I saw a post "Pet Peeve Vent.... You can't call yourself a 'Farmers Market' if you are buying your produce from the mainland, taking it out of its big cardboard box, and reselling it. Why can't we have real Farmers Markets where I might actually see and talk to a real farmer?"

I couldn't help myself but to leave this response.

Let me tell you why.....farming is usually handed down from one generation to another, eventually a generation either is lost or chooses not to farm, it is not instilled in us by schooling...high costs of land is a major obstacle to any new farmer, which is also why farming (land) is handed down to the next generation in the family....county taxes, one small nail in the coffin at a time, for instance, when the county taxed the area of land a farmers house sits on, citing that its not being farmed so it shouldn't get the same kind of exemption....anti-gmo sentiment, despite not all gmos being bad.....anti-pesticide driven by fears and not science..........the problem is very convoluted, hard to fathom unless you are a farmer...we take dings from everywhere, not just those problems listed above...even the idea that all farms should be organic carries an implication that non-organic should be done away with...small negative attributes like that all puts weight on the farming industry as a whole...until one day, its gets too heavy for a particular farm, then it closes, but no one notices because it goes down quietly, only thing the public notices next time they drive by, is a grass lawn and fancy house, where used to be a field of lettuce and cabbage....

because the public is naive when it comes to understanding the challenges of farming, because all they want to believe is that farming is all hunky dory, because all they see is the finished product at the market, they never get to see or experience crop failures, they don't get to experience what it's like for a farmer to have to rely on his own produce to put food on his plate because his crops failed and he cannot afford groceries.....

half of the public on maui only cares about their own agenda, their own selfish wants and needs, so they put unrealistic ideals upon farmers, when most of them have not experienced anything I've written here......shame

So although I agree that a farmer's market should be food that was grown in Hawaii, or in this case, by the actual farmer that is selling the veges....you all just remember one thing...somewhere, somehow, that food you bought, came from a farm, it didn't magically appear in the cardboard box you all are shunning right now.....and speaking of "real farmers"....they don't have time to be at farmers markets, because generally speaking, farming is A LOT of work, even to take a half day to attend the swap meet is a huge stretch in effort...this is why it is convenient for a farmer to sell wholesale to someone else who will peddle his produce, because he doesn't have the time to do it himself....

so go ahead.....make it so that anyone who sells produce at a market has to grow it themselves...yeah, do that....just remember, you will be adding yet another nail to the coffin of a farmer because of your own selfish ideals."

Now that's something to chew on...

And finally, the Senate Committee on Water and Land has issued a scathing — and justified — rejection of Carleton Ching, a development-friendly Castle and Cooke executive who was nominated by Gov. Ige to lead the Department of Land and Natural Resources. 

The panel noted that it “received testimony overwhelmingly in opposition to the nomination. Organizations and individuals submitting written testimony in opposition numbered approximately 1,120, and in addition there was a petition with over 7,596 signatures opposing the nominee. Those submitting written testimony in support of the nominee numbered approximately 272 organizations and individuals.”

But more importantly, the panel found:

[T]he nominee did not bring forward a clear understanding of the DLNRIs core values, or provide any vision for how he would approach the challenges of resource management. Neither was there any sign that he understood the administrative and regulatory processes the Chairperson is responsible for overseeing, which are the vehicles by which the DLNR ensures that the State meets its various public trust responsibilities.

Your Committee then presented specific hypotheticals to the nominee in order to determine what factors he would use to make policy, regulatory, and administrative decisions that the Chairperson is charged with. Most of the nominee's responses reflected the perspective of a career spent advocating on behalf of private developers of land, and not of a person who understands or fully appreciates the stewardship of public trust responsibilities.

Several times during the hearing, the nominee referred to land as “dirt” and the need to preserve Hawaii's “brand.” [I]t is revealing that the nominee repeatedly used them during his nomination hearing, when one would expect a nominee to this position to express the need to malama 'aina and affirm a commitment to the native Hawaiian culture.

As any farmer will tell you, land ain't dirt, it's soil. Still, in a state where agriculture is under full-fledged attack, and the Hawaiian culture has been relegated to a brand used to promote the ever-escalating tourism industry, is Ching's terminology any real surprise?

The full Senate is set to vote on the nomination today and those who oppose Ching have been directed to gather at the Capitol — and wear red, like all the good sheeple. What's up with that? In Hawaii, red is apparently the new green/blue.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Musings: On the Move

As the county works to balance its budget, it seemed reasonable to look at how much top elected officials are spending on travel. So I requested records for Prosecutor Justin Kollar, Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. and all the Councilmembers.

Let's start with Bernard. Since June 15, 2014, he has incurred costs of $8,637.21 for airfare, $382.20 on car rentals and $2,683.49 for per diem. Another $1,070 was spent on registration. Much of his travel has been inter-island, but he also has gone to Washington D.C. for a conference of mayors, the Philippines on a trade mission and London for a presentation on a waste to energy plan. Grand total for eight months: $12,772.90.

My request for Council travel dated only from Dec. 1, 2014, when they were sworn in. The expenditures are as follows:

Mason Chock – Airfare, $207; car rental/parking, $59. He attended a leadership forum and met with Rep. Derek Kawakami. Grand total for three months: $266.

Gary Hooser – Airfare, $352.40; car rental/parking, $105. He met with state legislators, and then met with the chairs of various Senate committees. Grand total three months: $457.40.

Ross Kagawa – Airfare, $1,933; per diem, $1359.86; car rental/parking, $217.01. He went to London for a meeting with British Airways; the National Assn. of Counties Board of Directors meeting and a symposium on transportation and infrastructure; a meeting with the consulate general of Japan; the Honolulu City Council inauguration; a Hawaii State Assn. of Counties executive meeting and legislative briefing; opening day at the Legislature; a meeting with legislators and Office of Information Practices; a meeting with legislators and the press; and a National Assn. of Counties legislative conference. Grand total for three months: $3,509.87

Arryl Kaneshiro – Airfare, $961.11; per diem, $541.25; registration, $490. He went to the National Assn. of Counties conference. Grand total for three months: $1,992.36.

KipuKai Kualii – Airfare, $1165.20; per diem, $726.25; registration, $490. He went to the National Assn. of Counties conference and opening day at the Legislature. Grand total for three months: $2,381.45.

Mel Rapozo – Airfare, $749.10; per diem, $2575.92; car rental/parking, $301.94. He went to the National Assn. of Counties Board of Directors meeting and a symposium on transportation and infrastructure; a meeting with the consulate general of Japan; the Honolulu City Council inauguration; a Hawaii State Assn. of Counties executive meeting and legislative briefing; opening day at the Legislature; a meeting with legislators and Office of Information Practices; a meeting with legislators and the press; and a National Assn. of Counties legislative conference. Grand total for three months: $3,626.96.

JoAnn Yukimura – Airfare, $1,043.29; per diem, $461.44; car rental/parking, $329. She went to opening day of the Lege, the governor's state of the state address and met with Legislators about bills dealing with housing credits on Hawaiian Homelands. Grand total for three months: $1,833.73.

Regarding that trip to London, I asked Ross what it was about:

I went on the trip with Mayor Carvalho to meet with representatives from British Airways and Pelatron to meet and discuss a proposal to solve our landfill problem regarding MRF and waste to energy. British Airways will be producing jet fuel from the waste in London, which currently sends their waste to Switzerland. Jet fuel is very similar to diesel, is my understanding. It is a very new technology that uses plasma arc to a higher level with practically no emissions and a much smaller end product called slag, unlike the large amount of emissions and ash that is the result of older technology like H-power.

They also have newer science that cleans the gasses to a higher level that produces more energy than current waste to energy plants produce.  We have approximately 6.5 years left at Kekaha landfill. This project proposes to extend the life of Kekaha another 30 plus years. There are 7 other proposals that I will be spending time on, we don't have much of that left. The council, I'm certain will have full blown presentations before making this very important decision. The county did pay for the trip.

Former county spokeswoman Beth Tokioka provided this statement about the mayor's participation:

Mayor left for London from Washington DC (after the close of his annual US Conference of Mayor's meeting) on Thursday, January 22, and returned to Kaua'i on Sunday, January 25.

Earlier in January, the county concluded a request for information (RFI) process, where we solicited information from companies who could offer new technologies for solid waste disposal that would increase diversion from the landfill and create more sustainable solutions for waste management. Last year the County Engineer visited a waste conversion facility in Tennessee as part of our efforts to research alternative means of managing waste. Pelatron is one of the companies that responded to the RFI, along with the Tennessee company and six other respondents. We anticipate that other site visits will be made as part of our due diligence in evaluating the information received via the RFI.  

Over the years we have learned - through our own experiences and from those recently on Maui and the Big Island - that innovative waste conversion technologies are very complex and must be thoroughly researched before any public funds are committed or contracts entered into.

The County is currently reviewing the RFI submittals and then will be evaluating what next steps are to be taken.

As for Justin's travel, he spent $1,725.40 on airfare in the first six months of 2014, and $2,493.78 on air travel for second half of 2014 and first two months of 2015, for a total of $4,219.18. Car rental for that same 14-month period totaled $413, and per diem of $797.38.

His travel was all inter-island, attending an access to justice conference, trainings on elderly abuse and impaired driving, the opening of the Legislature, testifying on a domestic violence bill, a law forum hearing, meetings with the Hawaii Prosecuting Attorneys Association and a session at the Hawaii Supreme Court. Grand total for 14 months: $5,429.56

Friday, March 13, 2015

Musings: Paradise vs Utopia

Is anyone else weary of the “Kauai as paradise” myth?

Especially when it's being used to advance such non-paradisiacal ventures tourism, at the cost of agriculture or any other sustainable endeavor.

Case in point: Today's letter to the editor from a “common-sense visitor” who knows all about what's best for Kauai because he loves it, and has visited often enough to convince himself that it was created to be a “paradise on earth.” Which means it's unfit for dairies or anything but accommodating the adoring hordes.

What's so ironic is the writer — David Boruta — doesn't realize his attack on the dairy could just as easily be applied to the tourist industry:

It is beyond any reasoning to plan a dairy operation of the scale planned for Mahaulepu considering what will happen to our paradise. “Paradise lost” is something no one should take lightly. There isn’t a single reason to build the dairy here other than financial motivations for a few individuals. This will be at the expense of everyone else. More than the expense is the compromising of our most precious asset — Kauai’s paradise.

My favorite line:

The land does not belong to anyone, it belongs to everyone.

Well, except that land owned by folks like David Collison, who recently opined that the diary “will also certainly impact my property values and those of my neighbors as well as detrimentally affecting the tourist industry of the area which is, of course, one of the primary engines of Kauai’s economy.”

David Boruta ends his misinformed missive with this:

Congratulations to the Kauai planning board for taking a responsible stand on the new Coco Palms Resort project. This $135 million dollar project will celebrate paradise while employing thousands of locals.

Because paradise is all about perpetuating illusions like “Blue Hawaii” and all those smiling natives who just live to share the aloha spirit, and every blessed inch of their island, with ever-increasing numbers of wealthy white folks.

Meanwhile, Friends of Mahaulepu (FOM) is ramping up with the rhetoric with their "green ambulance" chaser, Oregon attorney Charlie Tebbutt, who is publicly posturing over plans to sue Hawaii Dairy Farms, Grove Farm and Mahaulepu Farm, LLC — the important ag lands — for alleged clean water violations.

The rhetoric, and intent to sue announcement, mimic the legal strategies employed by the other foes of Hawaii agriculture: Center for Food Safety and Earthjustice, which rely heavily on similar scare tactics.

Still, it's puzzling how Surfrider, FOM and other dairy opponents keep talking about how “pristine” Mahauelepu is, even while releasing data showing it has the island's most polluted stream.

Mmmm, how can you have it both ways? And if it's still pristine, even as the island's most continuously polluted water flows through the valley and into the ocean, is there a problem?

Meanwhile, those who love to talk about sustainable farming have a chance to put their money and muscles where their mouth is. The Agribusiness Development Corp. is looking for tenants to lease 740 acres of former sugar cane land, with water, on the Mana Plain in Kekaha.

That should come as welcome news to the KKCR crowd, which is talking about growing kenaf as an alternative to the seed companies. Perhaps this would be a good place for them to put their model to a test. I'm sure they'd have no problem competing economically with China, USSR, Thailand, South Africa, Egypt, Mexico and Cuba, which also grow it.

Except I'm not sure how they would justify growing kenaf, which is used for fiber, after they so roundly rebuked the seed companies for failing to grow anything they could actually eat.

Kenaf is also useful as a forage crop, but since they're dead-set against a dairy, it's unclear who might be able to use it for that purpose, especially on the scale that would be required to support tens of thousands of acres in cultivation.

And since no one wants anything “industrial” in paradise, they'd likely run into opposition from their friends if they tried to process the fiber into cardboard or newsprint on-island.

But no worries. If that doesn't pan out, they've still got a chance to create utopia at the Kilauea ag park. Though Keone Kealoha has never really accomplished anything of note, the ADC just gave $120,000 in public money to bring that 20-year-old pipe dream to fruition.

In other words, taxpayers are subsidizing the dreamers so they can compete against real farmers who made it all by themselves in the private sector.

Hmmm. Perhaps paradise still exists on Kauai after all.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Musings: Eyebrow-Raising

It was inevitable, given the amount of time Councilman Gary Hooser has been spending at the state Legislature, that he would eventually blow off his Council duties to be part of the action in Honolulu.

Yesterday was that day. Gary ditched a Council meeting – a meeting he is paid by the taxpayers to attend, a meeting where his own property tax freeze bill was up for a vote — to testify against Carleton Ching's appointment as Director of Land and Natural Resources.

Ching's appointment should be challenged, seeing as how he seems woefully ill-informed on such crucial matters as Hawaiian gathering rights, the PASH decision, cultural preservation and public trust resources, such as shoreline access.

But Gary didn't need to show face — especially at the cost of missing a Council meeting, a weekly duty that is one of his few responsibilities as Councilman.

Is it clear enough now that Gary doesn't really give a rip about Kauai, that his own political and personal agendas eclipse the minimal limelight afforded on the Kauai County Council, that his lobbying on behalf of his HAPA organization is more important to him than his responsibilities to the voters of Kauai?

Gary could have submitted his not-very-compelling testimony in writing. But he just can't pass up the chance to have his mug on TV, portraying himself as a champion for the resources and the people — except those who actually pay his salary.

Ching's affiliation with the Land Use Research Foundation, a pro-development group that is always on the wrong side of environmental protection, makes him a dubious choice to head DLNR, which oversees extensive public land and water resources.

“His career track is the polar opposite of the DLNR mission,” observed Randy Awo, a retired DLNR officer on Maui.

Ching should be rejected, and someone more balanced brought in. Unless, of course, it's Gov. David Ige's intent to plow full speed ahead on development, with the public resources be damned.

Still, it was a little eyebrow-raising to watch Sen. Laura Thielen grilling Ching, considering her own do-nothing reign as DLNR chief, where she followed Lingle's resource-unfriendly party line. Funny, how politicians suffer these convenient bouts of amnesia.

In other eyebrow-raising political news, Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. is bringing in former Council Chair Jay Furfaro to serve as the county's director of Boards and Commissions. Paula Morikami, who currently holds that post, is moving into the mayor's office, though she isn't taking the spokeswoman position being vacated by Beth Tokioka, who has taken a job at Syngenta.

It's disconcerting to see Jay, who was rejected by the voters, rewarded by the mayor with a well-paying county post. Isn't there someone fresh and new who could benefit from a county job? 

Instead, in another disappointing display of crony politics, the mayor brings in an old pal at a higher salary than he received as Council chair, which will allow Jay to collect a heftier retirement based on his “high three” years of pay.

All on the taxpayer's dime.

Speaking of which, The Garden Island has refused to print Jay's letter explaining his side of the county's payout to auditor Ernie Pasion — a lawsuit that cost taxpayers $400,000 in legal fees and another $300,000 in a settlement, all for a guy who never did do his job. The paper's stance is troubling, considering how it ran an article letting Ernie say whatevah, and has published numerous letters from Ernie's misguided supporters talking about how great he is.

Just in case you missed Jay's statement when I previously ran it, here it is. Yet another reminder of your tax dollars not at work.

And finally, the full Senate — including Kauai Sen. Ron Kouchi — approved SB 1037, which targets only agriculture for pesticide disclosure while giving all other users a free pass.

It seems the "thank a farmer" bumper sticker should be changed in Hawaii to read, "screw a farmer and thank an anti-GMO activist." Because those are the folks spearheading this misguided attack on agriculture.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Musings: Gross Ignorance

It's not unusual for the state Legislature to be clueless, seeing as how it's susceptible to pressure —financial and otherwise — from special interest groups. But when the Civil Beat editorial board weighs in, I expect them to have at least some idea what they're talking about.

Unfortunately, the Civil Beat editorial board shows its gross ignorance in calling today for the Senate to pass SB 1037, which requires all farmers to disclose all their use of pesticides.

It's not that I have a problem with pesticide disclosure. It's just that I wonder why Civil Beat and some lawmakers think it's OK to target only farmers.

Especially when a pesticide study by the state Department of Healthfound that urban Oahu streams had the highest number of pesticides present.

But even then, “None of these levels present a risk to human health or the environment,” according to DOH toxicologist Fenix Grange.

So what is the problem, exactly?

And then there's the report from the Department of Ag confirming that in the past eight years, not a single episode of school evacuations was caused by agricultural pesticides. Instead, homeowners misapplying pesticides, and a turf company, were the culprits.

From their comfy perch in downtown Honolulu, it's easy for urban legislators and the Civil Beat editorial board to issue a dictate to farmers, to sanctimoniously term the bill a “modest proposal” and the “neighborly thing to do.”

They have no idea what the true cost of this legislation is to farmers. And I'm talking economically, in terms of complying with disclosure, and socially, in having to deal with the nuts who are gentrifying agricultural land and trying to shut down the farms in their midst.

Because the bill requires the land to be identified by address and tax map key, making every farmer the potential target of a nuisance lawsuit.

Meanwhile, Civil Beat and clueless lawmakers turn a blind eye to the pesticides used by termite treatment companies, pest control operators, government agencies and homeowners, who often apply these substances improperly.

Though that pesticide use occurs in densely populated urban areas, residential neighborhoods, roadsides, parks, schools, hospitals, golf courses and resorts frequented by large numbers of people, including keiki and kupuna, it's somehow OK, while the pesticides applied by farmers in rural areas are not.

Tell us, Civil Beat, why is it neighborly for a farmer to disclose pesticide use, but not a pest control company or your own parks and recreation department?

If the goal is to prevent exposure among sensitive persons, or reduce the overall use of pesticides, this bill does neither, because the disclosure is after-the-fact.

So what, then, is the purpose? I mean, other than to punish farmers — or more specifically, the seed companies. 

Because Civil Beat, like many lawmakers, including Rep. Cynthia Thielen, have been suckered by the Center for Food Safety and other groups that are using the pesticide issue to advance their anti-GMO cause.

It's sad that Civil Beat hasn't used its money and reporting team to educate homeowners on pesticide use, or even explore that issue at all, seeing as how nearly all pesticide problems occur in the home. And even then, very few people are actually being "poisoned in paradise," despite what Rep. Thielen wrongly believes.

According to the Hawaii Poison Center:

Of the 4,800 human pesticide exposure calls, approximately 90% of the exposures occurred in a residence, 4.4% in the workplace and 1% in a school. The remaining 4% consisted of miscellaneous locations (i.e., other/unknown, public areas, health care facilities, and food service.) 

At least 90 percent of the exposures caused no or minimal health effects. There were three deaths. None of the pesticide complaints were linked to atrazine exposures.

And according to the Department of Ag in its report to the Legislature:

As far as statewide pesticide complaints, there were a total of 293 between 2010 and 2013. Oahu had 127, Big Island 73, Maui 51 and Kauai 42. Less than half of the complaints are due to agricultural activities. For complaints involving potential atrazine exposure, atrazine was not detected in any environmental samples collected during this time period.

To spell it out, agriculture is not the problem. So why are legislators and Civil Beat going after farmers?

But then, as I said in the beginning, they don't have any idea what they're talking about.