Quantifying the Environmental Footprint of Doubling Hawaiʻi's Local Food Production

Torres, Tanya
Carlson, Kimberly
Natural Resources and Environmental Management
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Hawaiʻi imports about 90% of its food, resulting in low food self-sufficiency. To address this vulnerability, as well as support the local economy and generate jobs, Hawaiʻi’s government recently pledged to double local food production by the year 2030. Such expansion or intensification of local agriculture coupled with a reduction of imports is likely to affect local and global environmental services. Yet, because Hawaiʻi depends on the local environment for sustenance and economic growth through tourism, any negative impacts associated with additional local agriculture may affect the wellbeing of people in Hawaiʻi. The objective of my research is to assess the local (within Hawaiʻi), distant (in another locale), and global (affecting both Hawaiʻi and other locales) environmental impacts of increasing food production in Hawaiʻi by answering the following questions: 1) How do Hawaiʻi-produced foods compare to imported foods with respect to local, distant, and global environmental impacts? 2) How do these environmental impacts differ across food types? 3) How might increasing production of these food types in Hawaiʻi affect local versus global environments? To answer these questions, I used a life cycle analysis (LCA) approach to quantify the environmental impacts of several foods grown locally and imported to Hawai’i, including beef, bananas, lettuce, and carrots. Specifically, I compared environmental burdens incurred globally (global warming potential) and locally (resource use, and aquatic eutrophication) from farm to plate for local and imported foods. I elicited Hawaiʻi specific inputs to the LCA by surveying farmers across the state. Results suggest wide variation in global to local impacts across locally produced and imported foods and emphasize the dominant role of production rather than transport in driving these impacts. Doubling Hawaiʻi-produced food production would generate a small absolute change in most environmental impact categories because local production currently comprises a small fraction of total food supply. The single exception may be bananas, for which local production serves an important role in Hawaiʻi’s food system. My results also indicate that resource use impacts (i.e., land and water use) are more responsive to changes in production than other environmental impacts, which suggests that doubling of food production is most likely to affect these enviornmental categories. My findings can be used to inform farmers and policymakers of the tradeoffs between importing food to versus producing food within Hawaiʻi.
Agriculture, Natural resource management, Sustainability, banana, beef, carrot, imports versus local, lettuce, life cycle analysis
69 pages
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