Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Musings: Warring Factions

Yet another article has been published that reinforces Kauai's role as the western front in the world war being waged between pro- and anti-GMO folks.

Published by Earth Island Journal, “Trouble in Paradise” is part of the two-year Media Consortium project I previously discussed, where 10 media outlets are sending reporters here to do supposedly “fair” coverage of “issues regarding pesticide-based pollution, GE food, corporate influence and other important topics.” It notes:

The local measures in Hawaii marked a major victory for sustainable agriculture advocates opposed to genetically engineered foods, especially coming after setbacks in California and Washington, where voters defeated GMO-labeling ballot initiatives. Suddenly, the state of Hawaii, and Kauai especially, has become the most heated battleground in the long-running war over GM agriculture.

Like the larger, international battle over GM crops, the political fight in the Hawaiian Islands can be distilled down to a debate over whether “modern farming and ranching” – that is, highly concentrated and industrialized farming – is a social good.

The article ends with the dreamy scenario that some have for ag on Kauai:

Many local food activists believe Hawaii’s path back to food sovereignty lies in rediscovering its traditional concept of “Aloha ‘Aina” (“love for the land”) and in relearning and building upon Indigenous natural resource management practices such as the ahpua’a [sic] system, which shared resources by dividing the islands into self-sustaining land sections that ran from the mountains to the sea. “Over here we have year-round warm weather, we have land, we have water.… We just need more farms that produce food,” says Chris Kobayashi, an organic taro farmer in Hanalei, on Kauai’s north side.

Actually, what we need are more farmers. A quarter century ago, when I was a newbie asking fellow journalist Jan TenBruggencate why Kauai couldn't feed itself, this island had 50,000 acres in sugar cultivation. It now has less than 20,000 acres in ag, including the seed crops.

And it's no closer to feeding itself, even though there's even more available land and no shortage of water. What's missing are farmers. Though many love the rhetoric associated with farming, fewer are willing to embrace it as a livelihood. Extensive taro lands on the westside currently lie fallow, despite a solid market for taro, because folks don't want to do the hard labor involved. Only three applicants submitted letters of interest to lease state ag lands in Kalepa.

The problem is not lack of land, but lack of skill, desire and financial wherewithal to get started. Most prospective farmers do not enjoy the benefits of family land and supplemental income from a vacation rental on Hanalei Bay, as Chris does, so it's harder to make the economics pencil out or juggle a fulltime job in addition to farming.

Meanwhile, I read an interesting article about how biotech is evolving from inserting genes to silencing genes. As a case study, it discussed how Monsanto is using Beeologics, the start-up company "dedicated to restoring bee health and protecting the future of honeybee pollination" that it purchased in 2011:

Ironically, Beeologics is a biotech company itself — and one that is developing a portfolio of next-generation gene editing products utilizing RNA interference, or RNAi.

Beeologics and Monsanto are developing the technology to silence two parasites that commonly affect agricultural pollinators: Israeli acute paralysis virus and parasitic mites belonging to the Varroa genus. Both can be targeted at the same time with the same product. Better yet, the first product created by Beeologics is delivered in feed, won't result in viral resistance, is extremely specific, is non-toxic, and does not leave residues on honeybees or honey. Future RNAi products currently being developed by Monsanto, called BioDirectwill be topical agents sprayed onto crops.

The article also referenced neonicotinoids, a class of pesticides and plants genetically engineered to produce such compounds. [Correction: The article was incorrect. There are no plants engineered to produce neonicotinoids.] They've been blamed for contributing to colony collapse disorder, prompting calls for a ban. Interestingly, they're made by Syngenta and the ag subsidiary of Dow — both competitors of Monsanto.

And it got me wondering whether Monsanto might be helping to fan the flames about neonics  so it can then step forward to fill the gap with its BioDirect product line. Sort of like how environmental groups were fighting "big oil" by supporting ethanol produced by growing the GMO corn and soy that benefit "big chem."

Of course, we won't have to worry about any of this if smart meter/WIFI foe Diane Ostermann is right. She's been taking to the KKCR airwaves to, ironically, issue her dire predictions that humanity will die out within five generations due to radio frequencies melting our DNA. 

Which could be really great news for an overburdened planet trying to shake off the fleas that are sucking it dry.  Except Ostermann apparently didn't realize a quarter of the world's population doesn't have access to electricity, much less WIFI. 

 Hey, maybe the meek, or at least the unplugged, will inherit the earth after all.


Anonymous said...

you're even hotter after you squared off against Moniz

Anonymous said...

“Trouble in Paradise”

I guess they didn't get the memo to stop calling Hawaii paradise…..


Anonymous said...

The interest is there, its making it happen. KCC kicked off its Go Farm Hawaii program which I signed up for. A full room of potential applicants turned out but they only had14 spaces for the program. Six weeks visiting 6 different farms across the island, another 16 weeks of classroom sessions 2x a week learning all aspects of running a farming business from financing, marketing, a business plan, IPM, soil fertility, harvest, post harvest, etc. The desire to grow a sustainable food system is there, its putting into practice that will take time. This is an ongoing program as long as the demand is there.

Joan Conrow said...

Congratulations for signing up and good luck with the program.

Anonymous said...

By the time a regular person realizes that the start up cabbage for attorney review, water agreements, electrical costs, land leases etc plus insurance and that dealing with niele neighbors would be enough to choke a herd of Bok Choy or WomBok, the farmer will just go to Costco and buy his veggies.
This is before the vagaries/realities of taxes, sun, soil, sweat and market suck the rest of his lifeblood.
But first someone has to tell the people what Ag is. It seems that every project gets turned inside out before it starts.

Anonymous said...

If the politicians were farmers they would have a better understanding about what we are talking about.

Sustainability ......is just a word, a concept made up in their minds, learned from hearsay, and naysay....and no body knows nothing!

If the politicians and bureaucrats running the show here.... put their hands in the soil, and grew some food of their own.....and live on it......they would understand the depth of the word..."sustainability"

Dr Shibai

Anonymous said...

I think that politicians and bureaucrats may not know what the soil feels like but they know what sustainability and food security means. They are lofty goals that resonate with a population who think that it is wrong to use dangerous chemicals in food production,that cell phones and smart meters will cause cancer, that big houses are obscene, that developers have a responsibility to pay for affordable housing and provide cheap land for farming. It is also a population who blames the high cost of energy and housing on greed and government manipulation.

I don't think we give our politicians and bureaucrats enough credit. I think they understand the situation very well.

Anonymous said...

The article you link contains an error. There are no plants engineered to produce neonicotinoids. The author of that article is mistaken. Genetic engineering has produced some crop plants that express Bt proteins, which are very targeted against specific pest insects, but not neonicotinoids, which are a category of pesticide product. This can be verified by checking out the USDA and EPA websites on approved genetically engineered crops. Several commenters have pointed out the error, so it's possible that it might be corrected soon. It would be unfortunate if the error were to proliferate across the internet in the meantime.

Joan Conrow said...

Thanks for pointing that out. I've changed the post to reflect the correction.

Anonymous said...

More accurately, they are lofty goals that resonate with a population who think that it is wrong to use dangerous chemicals in food production,that cell phones and smart meters will cause cancer, that own big houses and are developers.

Anonymous said...

BTW, the seed crops won't help Kauai feed itself.

Anonymous said...

just because we exist as a species doesn't prevent us from extinction in the near or far future. So figure out how best to spend your limited time on the planet. Or sign up for one of the many religions promising unlimited existence, all you need is love. LoL