A collaborative new initiative hopes to pave the way to a more sustainable and resilient food system for Hawaiʻi
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed Hawaiʻi’s food insecurity and highlighted the need to develop a more resilient and diversified economy.
Toward that end, a project to “system map” the islands’ local food system is slated to be completed in December, with many local entities participating in the project.
“Systems mapping is a way of showing complex relationships, networks, and causes and effects,” said Brandon Ledward of the Kamehameha Schools Strategy and Transformation division. “A food system is the whole value chain from growing, to processing, to distribution, to marketing, to purchasing, to preparing, to consuming and finally to disposing.”
The mapping project is a result of the “Transforming Hawaiʻi Food Systems Together” initiative, which is a collaborative effort to build statewide capacity and a more robust and sustainable food system, especially in times of crisis. This project harnesses the momentum from the COVID-19 pandemic, documents lessons learned, articulates policy and planning recommendations, and sets the stage for catalytic action.
Kamehameha Schools and Liliʻuokalani Trust have facilitated the workshops for the project, which began in May.
This work is being supported and organized by an advisory group with representatives from various sectors such as the Hawaiʻi Public Health Institute, Hawaiʻi Food Industry Association, Pili Group/Under My Umbrella, Chef Hui, the University of Hawaiʻi, various counties (Maui, Hawaiʻi, Oʻahu), various state agencies (Department of Agriculture, the Department of Education), Mālama Kauaʻi, Sustainable Molokaʻi, island-based food alliances, and other community organizations and food/ag businesses.
Hawaiʻi’s food system is complex. It’s made up of producers, processors, distributors, consumers and waste managers, to name a few. The actions and beliefs of diverse stakeholders such as farmers, chefs, parents, and policymakers create dynamics that result in the system we have today.
The term “food system” is used frequently in discussions about nutrition, food, health, community economic development and agriculture. A food system includes all processes and infrastructure involved in feeding a population: growing, harvesting, processing, packaging, transporting, marketing, consumption, and disposal of food and food-related items. It also includes the inputs needed and outputs generated at each of these steps.
A food system operates within and is influenced by social, political, economic, and environmental contexts. It also requires human resources that provide labor, research and education.
“The goal of the project is to catalyze collective action to transform our system. We want our food system to drive community well-being, economic vibrancy and ecological resiliency. To achieve this desired state, we want to make local food healthy, accessible and affordable to Hawaiʻi communities,” Ledward said.
“The first step in this process is creating a systems map – a visual representation of how Hawaiʻi’s food system works. With this in hand, we can look for leverage points, or opportunities for collective action where small-scale investments can have outsized impacts.”
Investing in a more resilient community-based food system for Hawaiʻi is an opportunity to create new elements of the agricultural economy that integrate sustainable economic development, climate change resilience and biocultural restoration with community health and wellbeing.
The map is a collection of personal stories from diverse stakeholders across the food system. It provides an overview of key dynamics (cause and effect relationships) that can be improved or realigned to produce better overall results. But in the end, the map is only a tool. It requires people and organizations willing to change their behaviors and investments to produce better collective results.
“Given the widespread, and growing, interest in Hawaiʻi’s food system, we hope the map will bring together diverse stakeholders to invest in improving critical, high-leverage areas such as agribusiness viability. With these interventions we hope to see an increase in local food production, supportive infrastructure and policy, and a more resilient diversified economy for Hawaiʻi, one where agriculture is prominent,” Ledward said.
“This map is a foundation to build productive conversations. You cannot make meaningful change if you do not understand the complexities of the food system.”
This collective work will be consolidated and shared out to all meeting participants, as well as located in a publicly accessible site for anyone to use as they desire.
“Food system transformation is not easy, but it’s long overdue,” Ledward said. “COVID-19 exacerbated food insecurity and highlighted our need for a more resilient and diversified economy.
“Now more than ever, there is a groundswell of support to redesign and elevate our food and agricultural system. Created from the individual stories of diverse stakeholders in our food system, the map helps us to see where change is needed most and how to address issues through a combination of direct and indirect efforts.
“Again, the map is simply a tool. The rich conversations that accompany it and that lead to personal and institutional commitments will be the catalyst and fuel for change.”