Given the menace to the provision chain, officers say Hawaii’s meals producers need assistance

The executive director of the Hawaii Farm Bureau told lawmakers Monday that both COVID-19 and the upcoming hurricane season pose a dual threat to the islands’ food supplies.

Brian Miyamoto noted that 85% of the state’s food is shipped from elsewhere and told the House Select Committee on COVID-19 that food chain disruptions “emphasize the need to support local food production and distribution” .

Meat packers on the mainland have been particularly vulnerable to outbreaks with workers on the production lines in close proximity.

Facilities in Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Georgia, and Missouri have been temporarily closed due to COVID-19 clusters among their workers.

In addition, workers who tested positive for COVID-19 have caused at least four Canadian packaging plants to close.

“The mainland food supply chain continues to be affected by the coronavirus. Those import stocks have decreased by more than 10%, ”said Miyamoto. “Potential outbreaks on farms or in the food distribution chain could result in less food entering Hawaii.”

Miyamoto said the hotel and restaurant closings, which has resulted in widespread unemployment in Hawaii’s tourism-dependent economy, means Hawaii’s farmers are now suffering too.

“Additionally, promising markets like the Department of Education’s farm-to-school program have all but disappeared as schools across the state remain closed,” he said. “Some farmers’ markets, which offer local food producers a location from farm to customer, also remain closed, which affects many local producers. Many local farmers have lost their customers and cash flow and have had to lay off workers. Some are in danger of shutting down – shutting down forever.

“Meanwhile, food shelves across the state are seeing decreased product availability as demand increases. Some particularly vulnerable residents are unable or unwilling to go to grocery stores because of fears of contracting coronavirus. “

Miyamoto welcomed the announcement by US Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Friday that $ 19 billion would be diverted to the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program “to provide direct assistance to farmers and ranchers based on actual losses.”

However, he added a caveat to this “good news” assessment.

“It seems we may not have access to these funds until late May,” said Miyamoto. “… when it is May it may be too late for some of these farmers and ranchers.”

During the media conference from Gov. Ige on Monday told Alan Oshima, the retired president and CEO of Hawaiian Electric, who leads the state’s recovery efforts, that in addition to funds from the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, a $ 9.5 billion Federal Coronavirus Aid fund is available stands for Aid and Economic Security Act (CARES).

“As the guidelines for many of these funds become public, more help will be on the way,” Oshima said.

Oshima added that Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, the state’s adjutant general and director of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, is receiving “undisclosed food programs” from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“Right now, part of the frustration is that the Bureau of Budget and Administration or federal agencies have not yet issued specific guidelines to start the flow of funds. But there is help, ”said Oshima.

According to Miyamoto, despite an uncertain future, Hawaii’s farmers and ranchers have found new ways to get food to those who need it most, including farm-to-car and home deliveries, community-supported agriculture, and “partnerships with local food banks and nonprofits organizations to help ensure local food is produced and delivered to local households and residents. “

Miyamoto urged lawmakers to help farmers by offering loans, credits and leases, ensuring that local farm produce is used in state food service establishments where possible, and reopening closed farmers’ markets.

“To address food security in the state today, the state must support local food producers in every possible way. All means must be used to ensure that farmers survive this pandemic. We have heard a lot about these aid packages … but our farmers need reassurances. You’re running out of money, ”he said. “… With a potential vaccine at least 12 to 18 months away and hurricane season approaching quickly, we need to make sure we support Hawaii’s Ag industry.

“People have to eat.”

Email John Burnett at [email protected]

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