The pig farmers had no feed for their pigs. The papaya farmers had no market for their papayas. But CTAHR brought them together.
Both local industries have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some 75% of swine producers’ feed comes from food waste generated by schools, restaurants, and hotels. But this supply has dwindled radically since Hawai‘i residents began sheltering in place. Papaya growers have found their markets slashed since US Mainland distributors stopped buying papaya during the crisis, as consumers focus on canned and other long-keeping items they can stockpile.
Faced with the shortage, pig farmers quickly switched to purchasing Mainland grain. But this caused a shortage of pig pellets at local feed stores, leaving the Islands without feed until the next boat. It’s not a sustainable solution, either. Pig pellets are more costly and require more fossil fuel to transport, and local farmers have to rely on a supply chain that may break down at any stage. Transporting large amounts of feed might also strain a shipping industry struggling to keep Hawai‘i supplied with essentials for humans.
At the same time, papaya growers were in danger of going under. Approximately 50 families, independent growers and members of the non-profit Hawaii Papaya Industry Association (HIPA) are in desperate need of immediate assistance. They have no other income than selling papayas, and their market has crashed, yet they do not qualify for unemployment.
CTAHR Extension livestock agent Mike DuPonte, a member of the Hawaii Island Pork Association, began coordinating with HIPA president Eric Weinert of the large Hilo packing plant and exporter Calavo Growers.
Together, they’ve created a short-term means to protect both industries and Hawai‘i’s precious food supply. Pigs readily eat papaya, and there’s plenty to be had. Mike is coordinating with the animal farmers needing a food source by providing an estimate of need. Papaya farmers will pick and supply the papaya to be used as feed. Eric Weinert will open the packing plant as a marshalling yard to receive and distribute the papaya. HPIA will provide forklifts, scales, and recordkeeping.
It’s not a complete solution—papaya doesn’t provide all the nutrients that pigs need over the long term, and swine producers can’t afford to pay the prices that papaya farmers usually command from human consumers. So CTAHR agents are also helping members of both organizations get financial funding and other emergency aid from the federal government and large corporations like Land O’ Lakes, which runs a feed and shipping program and will work with farmers to subsidize them.
But for now, this locally grown partnership is keeping both industries afloat while they explore other solutions, ensuring that essential elements of our Islands’ food sufficiency can survive.