Maui City Council recently met to hear the plea of over 300 local residents who are incensed at the possibility that Monsanto (Bayer) will be allowed to purchase thousands of acres of land for further GM crop testing after only recently fighting for a moratorium to ban pesticide spraying on the island.
Sadly, the vote on the council is still being swayed by biotech interests which support the furtherance of genetically modified crops and the devastation of land, air, and water with biotech pesticides. Maui News, in fact, just published an editorial calling non-biotech interests into question.
I urge everyone to submit letters to the address listed herein to answer the questions put forth by the editorial.
January 9, 2017
Maui City Council
Lanai City, HI 96763
Dear Members of the Maui City Council,
Your concerns regarding the 300-plus voices who aired their concerns with you recently regarding the future of Maui’s economy in agriculture are valid; however, should you simply discount their passion as a wave of uninformed rhetoric, which you, in your position of power, should and could easily ignore, I urge you to consider another possible set of actions.
Instead of discounting groups like SHAKA, and the Ohana Coalition, first consider that these groups represent a much larger demographic than you may have imagined. Maui, and the Hawaiian Islands in general stand as a shining example of what goes wrong when Monsanto, Bayer, Syngenta, Dow Chemical and other multinational interests are allowed to have their way with a pristine, 365-day-a-year growing season, 5,000 miles away from any other land body that might support a larger resistance against the poisoning of their food, water, soil, and ecosystems that support some of the most varied and beautiful life on this planet. Don’t be fooled, though. Maui residents, Hawaii residents, and people around the world are paying attention. To wit:
- Mexican farmers won a major battle fighting against these multinational corporate interests in order not to lose 5,000 years of indigenous corn.
- Venezuelan farmers have been fighting against Monsanto’s imperialism, and have won.
- India’s government recently took away patents on genetically altered terminator seeds after a single company (Monsanto) destroyed almost an entire cotton industry.
- Costa Rican bee keepers recently won a fight against these same companies for poisoning their bees, and causing massive damage to the friendly insects we rely on to pollinate our food.
Examples like these could fill pages; however, you may have noticed that Hawaii is not exclusively waking up to the damage that industrialized agriculture has caused. The 300-plus people who were standing in city hall were simply representative of a whole – a larger nexus of individuals around the planet that are ready to make radical changes to the status quo.
To define the status quo for the scope of this discussion, let’s look at what that really means:
Farmers practicing within the current paradigm are poisoned, and given slave wages that cause multiple generations harm. The cost of patented seeds continues to rise, and the need for ever-more nefarious chemicals to grow ‘food’ are pushed by the same companies that convinced farmers to digress from their ancient, indigenous farming practices in the first place.
In Hawaii, it causes knowledgeable, multi-generational farms to close so that farmers can find another means to make a living. Sadly, once they abandon this noble profession, they have left behind acres of depleted soil, contaminated ground water, and a legacy of disease and dysfunction – whether this is in the form of endocrine dysfunction, cancer, lung disease, lowered sperm counts, more incidence of miscarriage and birth defects, or any other health problem in a long list of possibilities, will depend on the length of time they farmed using the toxic chemicals presented to them as a viable financial option, and the type of chemicals they used.
Most of these farmers have been lied to – not only about the ‘reduced cost’ of chemically-based, GM farming, but also about the long-term effects to them personally and to their families. This is evidenced in the legacy of the sugar, banana and pineapple plantations throughout the Islands.
To date, Hawaii’s unique growing environment and rich volcanic soil has nourished more than 2,230 field trials of genetically modified (GM) crops, including corn, soybeans, cotton, potatoes, wheat, alfalfa, beets, rice, safflower, and sorghum—more than any other state. These companies have had ample time to ‘experiment’ with the land and people’s health, and surely to show a profit. I ask you – have you observed anyone consistently riding a financial headwind with this system in place?
Instead of ignoring the plea of people who represent groups from around the world, who want to see sustainable, even regenerative farming practices take root, you could help them realize their goal to change this systemic problem. This requires an holistic approach to managing acreage in Maui.
Now, a landscape is tailored to the needs of a multinational chemical business. This practice does not consider the needs of the land itself, nor the people who must work in and on it. The following pieces of the puzzle must also be addressed:
- Provide nutrients directly to plants with a healthy soil web. This reduces the need for chemical fertilizers, and pesticides, creating soil that grows more viable and financially prosperous over time. It may seem odd, but the tiny microbes in our soil could provide a literal pot of gold for Hawaii’s people and others around the world. Organic farmers are making in excess of $200,000-$1,000,000,000 annually by loving their soil – many of them on less than 2 acres.
- Support the practice no-till farming. Decompacted, looser soil results in fewer soil-borne illnesses, faster water infiltration, and less erosion. By not tilling the soil, it is allowed to build up, instead of stripping it away, or killing its delicate micro-biology. This practice alone could not only save farmers millions annually, but again, builds the ‘black gold’ which soil really is, increasing its vitality annually.
- Plant more local, non-invasive perennial trees. Wind reduction, temperature modification, and even the creation of more nutrient soil results.
- Support polyculuture. This is a proven method of organic farming which makes plants healthier and more resilient.
- Teach water protection and management. This is a precious resource which needs to be respected. Who cares if everyone has tons of GM food to eat, if their water has been poisoned beyond potability?
- Pay farmers what they are worth, and stop allowing chemical agribusiness to make false promises about the financial viability of chemical, GM-based farming. Farmers that create life-nourishing food deserve to be debt-free, and disease-free.
How do you accomplish these lofty goals?
First, think of Maui, and all of Hawaii like Israel. Just a few years ago, it was in the middle of the worst drought it had ever seen in 900 years. Wars were being fought over water, and civil unrest was the norm for the same reason. The country allowed innovation to rule, and now the same area provides potable water to more than 500,000 million people with a desalination plant – it now even has a surplus of the very thing it was in dire need of originally.
Maui is like a desert now. It has thousands of hectares of land that have been destroyed by agrichemical business practices. It could be returned to the paradise that it is meant to be, though, and provide healthy, economically resilient farming and food for the entire island, and even create a surplus to share with neighboring islands and the rest of the world.
Those 300-plus people standing in city hall are just the crest of the wave that is coming. Even Duke Kahanamoku wouldn’t have been able to surf the tide of change that is coming. I hope you work with it, instead of against it as you cast a vote to support the people of Hawaii.
Former Hawaii resident, journalist and activist