A climate crisis is upon us. Play with the terms “global warming” or “climate change” all you want, but it is simply irresponsible to neglect the severe climate impacts increasing around us.

Islands are particularly vulnerable to certain climate change impacts, therefore, it makes sense that most people seem to believe sea level rise would be the most significant climate threat we face, but I don’t believe our greatest threat comes from our seas and shores. I believe Hawaii’s most significant climate threat comes from severe weather events and the impacts this has on our mountains and watersheds.

Therefore, we should be taking dramatic steps to protect critical sources that would be affected by severe weather, specifically infrastructure and farms.

After last year’s floods, Nalo Farms near Waimanolo closed after decades in business.

Katie Boon/Civil Beat

Impacts To Farms 

Farms are becoming scarce these days. Since 1980, according to a 2015 report prepared for the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, Hawaii has lost hundreds of thousands of acres in agricultural production. As flooding and other severe weather impacts continue to hit rural farms, this number will only increase.

If local food supplies truly matter to us in Hawaii, it’s time to provide substantial resources to making farming affordable and resilient.

First, we need to ensure water is affordable and available for bona fide agricultural uses. While there was little good news in the 2015 report, it did show a very promising trend around diversified crops. The amount of lands in diversified crops more than doubled in the last 25 years. Tax breaks and affordable water help to keep the expenses of running a farm low, which needs to be a priority.

Agricultural Land Use in Hawaii (2015)

Hawaii Department of Agriculture


Agricultural land use in Hawaii (1980)

Hawaii Department of Agriculture

Affordable water and water access is particularly important when farms face growing drought conditions. The U.S. Drought Monitor shows that Hawaii saw 388 weeks of continuous drought conditions from April 2008 to September 2015. Droughts are not only potentially devastating to farms, but increase the chances of wildfires.

Second, we need to make farms more resilient against flood events. Last year’s flooding devastated farms across the state. It was another hit to many farms that already face challenging environmental and economic conditions.

Sadly, the closure of long-time local farms like Nalo Farms has become too common. It seems every couple of weeks we hear about another multi-generational agricultural business deciding to close its doors.

The loss of local farms does not only impact our ability to be food secure here in Hawaii, it signals a critical loss of local culture and tradition.

Agriculture is part of our heritage. From the pre-contact era, when Native Hawaiians erected extraordinary and elaborate agricultural systems throughout our ahupua‘a, through the plantation era that brought a diverse array of immigrants from across the world to these islands, many multi-generational local families have long been bound by a shared lineage to those who worked hard to care for our ‘āina.

‘Āina is a beautiful word, as it is not simply a reference to land, but a reference to land which feeds us. (‘Āi being the Hawaiian word for food.) So there’s a very serious issue when we take ‘āina out of production. This is land, that from the beginning of time in Hawaii, which was meant to feed us.

So when we lose ‘āina (land which feeds us), we are literally losing the ability to feed ourselves here in these islands.

We need your help . . .

Our small newsroom believes wholeheartedly that news and information is a public service – not something to be hidden behind paywalls or diluted by ads. Your donations ensure that our reporting remains free and accessible to all communities, regardless of a person’s ability to pay. Support independent, fact-based, nonprofit news by making a tax-deductible gift. We rely on your support.

About the Author

  • Trisha Kehaulani Watson
    Trisha Kehaulani Watson is a Kaimuki resident, small business owner, and bibliophile. She holds a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Hawaii and J.D. from the William S. Richardson School of Law. She writes about environmental issues, cultural resource management, and the intersection between culture and politics. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can follow or contact her on Twitter at @hehawaiiau.