From Syngenta to Hartung Brothers: Better stewardship expected?

It appears that the takeover of Syngenta’s Kekaha operations by the Hartung Brothers reported in The Garden Island some weeks ago was smooth and employees are looking to the future in anticipation of good things to come. Site General Manager Josh Uyehara was quoted as saying, “People want to have that lifestyle of working in agriculture, and you have to make a living doing that.” He speaks of possibly growing food crops like soybean and sunflower seeds. Dan Hartung, president of Hartung Brothers Inc. is quoted as saying “A good business model is at play for Syngenta, but the company will be looking for areas of improvement.” Between the hopes and expectations of the community and the company’s goal of making money lie several unanswered questions.

w What does their claim that they believe in “supporting the local communities” mean to the Hartung Brothers? Will it mean being ready to abide by local laws that call for an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement on the lands they cultivate? Syngenta and the (state) Department of Land and Natural Resources are facing a lawsuit from a hui of Kauai-based plaintiffs who object to the exemptions to the EA/EIS requirement granted by the state agency in conjunction with the leasing of particular parcels of land to Syngenta.

w Why did the DLNR allow these exemptions?

We know —and they know— the very real risk to endangered species and to the community from the heavy use of pesticides. To date, Syngenta refuses to disclose details of their application of restricted use pesticides.

It is one thing to dream of jobs and the agricultural lifestyle of growing soybeans and sunflower seeds. It’s another to engage in industrial farming not knowing if your life and the lives of your families and neighbors are at risk because the air you breathe is dangerously tainted with chlorpyrifos. Together, the five major agricultural companies on Kauai sprayed over 3,000 pounds of this highly toxic pesticide over the space of an 18-month period. Physicians practicing on Kauai have raised the alarm about the dangerous impact of chlorpyrifos on fetuses, infants, children and pregnant women. Everything the (federal) Environmental Protection Agency knows about chlorpyrifos had led them to the verge of banning this restricted use pesticide.

But that changed when Scott Pruitt took over as head of the EPA, the very agency he has tried repeatedly to cripple with lawsuits. Pruitt stayed the ban.

w Will the Hartung Brothers protect the health of the community?

Given the change in management at Syngenta’s Kekaha plant, the people of Kauai deserve to know what the Hartung Brothers will do to “support the communities” in whose midst they want to make money. Will they FULLY disclose what pesticides they are using? Will they voluntarily stop the use of chlorpyrifos? Will they do the EA or EIS?

The need for jobs is real. But no community should be held to ransom and be expected to trade the health of their families for the security of a paycheck. We hope the transition of the Kekaha operations from Syngenta to the Hartung Brothers signals a new era in transparency and a genuine interest in supporting local communities in ways that serve the triple bottom line: people, planet and profits.

As Dr. Kawika Winter, the director of Limahuli Garden and Preserve (National Tropical Botanical Garden) pointed out in a recent commentary, there is a need to restore to agriculture “the motivational driver of ancient times: the honor of the place and the well-being of its people.” The Hartung Brothers would do well to begin schooling themselves in the wisdom of the ahupuaa system of resource management that yielded aina momona – or perpetual abundance. They can demonstrate that they are committed to supporting the health and well being of the community by genuinely respecting both the letter and the spirit of Hawaii’s environmental laws.

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Fern Anuenue (Rosenstiel) Holland is a resident of Kapaa.

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