Exciting developments continue in the island food systems arena. United Nations Secretary-General António Gutierres will convene a Food Systems Summit as part of the Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. In preparation for this summit, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations Secretariat conducted a briefing in Hawaiʻi in  November 2020, exploring the possibility of engagement in dialogues on food systems in island settings.  In response, HIPHI in collaboration with the City & County of Honolulu, Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency, Hawaiʻi Pacific University- College of Health and Society and the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, Office of Public Health Studies, Native Hawaiian and Indigenous Health, convened a series of discussions on island food systems with a specific focus on the intersections of food systems with public health. 

The Hawaiʻi group, led by HIPHI, convened a statewide meeting on March 31, 2021, entitled, “Our Health, Our Food Systems, Our Islands, Our People”.  This meeting helped the organizers frame relevant issues for  Hawai‘ specifically while at the same time preparing for two independent dialogues in April and May 2021.  More than 150 participants engaged in the independent dialogues from Alaska, Colorado, Guam, Fiji, Malaysia, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, the South Pacific Island Countries, Rome, and the Virgin Islands. The dialogues zeroed in on actions needed to address common challenges for more than 63 million people depending on island food systems for sustenance and facing premature death and disability from unhealthy diets. Island food systems are fragile: facing threats linked to geographic isolation, import-dependence, and vulnerability of the food supply chain to climate among others. 

The independent dialogues focused on two topics: 1) the important role of culture, diversity, and identity in food systems transformation toward better health outcomes – when local production and consumption of food is increased as a key public health strategy; and,  2)  “food as medicine”  as a public health strategy to prevent and control the epidemic of non-communicable diseases including diabetes, obesity, heart disease and chronic malnutrition affecting millions living on islands.

Key recommendations captured from these meetings for the United Nations Food Systems Summit/global actions to support island food systems include:

  • Recognize, support, and promote the preservation and transmission of indigenous and ancestral knowledge in food production to future generations.  Indigenous wisdom is grounded in food production that is equitable, sustainable, and protective of island environments (“the health of the land is the health of the people”). 
  • Support integration of food security in primary health care and acknowledge “the food system as a social determinant of health”.  Promote equity and support community and backyard food production for all households of islands. Universal food security should be a public health goal in all islands.
  • Create mechanisms to support, build capacity, and make financing available for local and indigenous farmers and fisherfolk who have lost their access to land and water from decades of colonization, urbanization, and militarization of islands. “We grow what we don’t eat and we eat what we don’t grow”  summarizes the dilemma of island food systems that have been pushed into a global food economy that does not meet the needs of island communities.
  • Create a global mechanism to address food needs in islands should there be a major disruption in the food supply chain (“food is a public good”).
  • Engage youth in food systems transformation by providing support for food production as a requirement for graduation. Establish food production opportunities that generate income for youth to go into food production as a viable career.
  • Support coastal resource management for food, including further exploration of the potential of seaweed as a solution for food, climate resilience, and environmental protection.
  • Support the development of a global multi-center research facility for island food systems to identify and fill knowledge gaps that inhibit policy and programs for food equity, including lack of information on pricing of local food and the exclusion of commonly consumed local food for nutrition assessment surveys.
  • Island economies rely heavily on tourism as a primary source of income.  At the global level, convene the tourism sector and the food sector to develop strategies for global tourism that supports food security, promotion of local food, employment of local food producers, and approaches (“create a “win-win” situation for tourism and food production”).
  • Develop a global “Food Charter” declaring a whole-of-society approach to food systems transformation and food sovereignty at the international level that is led by chefs and leaders in the culinary arts on promoting traditional and local food, respecting the seasonality of food (“not all food needs to be available in all places at all time”).
  • Promote approaches, tools, and methods for leveraging institutional purchasing of local produce as part of good governance.

HIPHI  serves as the backbone organization for the Transforming Hawaii’s Food System initiative which is a collaborative and multi-sectoral food system change initiative that seeks to convene key stakeholders, conduct applied research, articulate policy and planning recommendations, and build statewide capacity to achieve a more economically robust, sustainable, equitable and resilient food system for Hawaiʻi. One of the goals is to foster engagement and dialogue for lasting food systems change. HIPHI continues to strategize on how to continue these important discussions and help make lasting changes.