Cabinet Kala: Who Gets Campaign Cash From Top State Officials

Civil Beat
By Blaze Lovell

Gov. David Ige has received $103,000 from his current and former cabinet members, who have also donated more than $86,000 to state and county lawmakers.

High-ranking state officials in Gov. David Ige’s cabinet have donated generously to their boss’s campaign and to the campaigns of local officials and state legislators.

Since 2015, the year Ige took office, current and former members of the governor’s cabinet have donated more than $189,000 to candidates running for state or county offices, according to data compiled from the state Campaign Spending Commission.

Ige is the top recipient of those funds, having gotten $103,000 from his appointees. The lion’s share of the rest, about $86,000, went to members of the Legislature, which has had a testy relationship with the administration in recent years.

Neal Milner, a former political science professor at the University of Hawaii, said that donations from cabinet members to both the governor and lawmakers is not out of the ordinary.

“If there’s an opportunity to give money and the rules allow it, people give money to those in important positions,” Milner said.

Civil Beat analyzed the political donations of more than 50 current and former state department heads and their deputies. All donated some money to campaigns with the exception of about a dozen sitting government officials.

Six of those cabinet members were appointed in the last year. They include Hawaiian Home Lands Deputy Director Tyler Gomes, Health Director Libby Char, First Deputy Attorney General Holly Shikida, Labor Director Anne Perreira-Eustaquio, Public Safety Director Max Otani and DPS Deputy Director Jordan Lowe.

Government officials flocking to fundraisers to give up kala for their candidates is nothing new.

In 2011, half of former Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s cabinet donated money to his campaign. Abercrombie also accrued a significant chunk of campaign money from his cabinet while in office.

In his last year in office, former Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell also reported raising campaign funds from more than a dozen city officials.

Besides Ige, top recipients of those cabinet donations were Sen. Jill Tokuda and Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz.

Dela Cruz is the chair of the powerful Senate Ways and Means Committee, which has control of the state budget and dozens of bills affecting state agencies that move through the Legislature every year. Tokuda is the immediate past chairwoman of the same committee.

The $9,300 Dela Cruz got from officials over the years is a small fraction of his total donations.

In just the first six months of this year, Dela Cruz reported raising $65,000 for his campaign. Political action committees for local labor unions, lobbyists and business owners are among his major donors. His campaign has $871,000 on hand.

Eight state officials also made donations to Dela Cruz’s campaign this year including state Comptroller Curt Otaguro ($500), state Budget Director Craig Hirai ($250), Deputy Comptroller Audrey Hidano ($200), Agribusiness Development Corporation Executive Director James Nakatani ($500), University of Hawaii President David Lassner ($250), Agriculture Director Phyllis Shimabukuro-Geiser ($200), Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board of Trustees Chair Carmen Hulu Lindsey ($300) and UH Board of Regents Chair Ben Kudo ($200).

Ige’s administration and the Legislature have often been at odds, particularly over the last several years. In 2018, many high-ranking legislators donated to Ige’s opponent in the governor’s race, Colleen Hanabusa.

The pandemic further strained that relationship, with lawmakers and Ige often appearing at odds over handling the outbreak of cases in 2020.

And last month, the Legislature took the extraordinary step of overriding six of the governor’s vetoes.

Strained relations or not, cabinet officials have still doled out some campaign cash to lawmakers.

Craig Hirai, the state budget chief, topped the list of cabinet donors, having given $20,000 to lawmakers since 2015, according to state data.

Hirai maxed out his contribution to Ige in the run-up to the 2018 election and has also contributed to the campaigns of 21 other legislators.

But the donations don’t necessarily get the administration officials any favors.

Hirai faced a tough set of confirmation hearings in the Senate last year before being approved by a majority of its members.

Ways and Means Committee visits Kaua‘i

The Garden Island
BY Dennis Fujimoto

Earlier this month, the state Senate’s Ways and Means Committee visited several sites on Kaua‘i, identifying issues, resource needs and potential solutions to address regional and statewide economic development, develop curriculum and career technical education pathways for a local workforce, analyze efficient space utilization of State facilities, and leverage critical private partnerships to decrease State resource dependence and liability.

“I want to thank Chair Dela Cruz and members of the Ways and Means Committee for coming to Kaua‘i to visit with the various government agencies and community partners that are doing great work here on the Garden Isle,” Senate President Ronald Kouchi (District 8) said.

While on Kaua‘i, the committee convened briefings at the following sites:

  • Kaua‘i Adolescent Treatment Center for Healing
  • Kaua‘i Complex Area Alternative Learning Program is preparing to relocate after waiting for many months to move into the Kaua‘i Adolescent Treatment Center for Healing, as the County of Kaua‘i prepares to release the facility to Grove Farm Company.

Kaua‘i State Office Building & Annex

Department of Labor and Industrial Relations has agreed to abide to a 2019 agreement to clear out unoccupied office spaces, creating access for the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands to move into the office spaces.

Department of Accounting and General Services is working with the University of Hawai’i Community Design Center to develop a regional site plan and construction for a new facility to completely rid Kaua‘i of the 16,000 square footage of leased spaces, with potential savings of $540,000.

Alternative Learning Centers at Kaua‘i High School, Kapa’a High School and Waimea High School

Kaua‘i Department of Education High Schools have reported tremendous student success with its new Alternative Learning Centers. Data provided by the schools indicated that the students who were enrolled at the ALC’s in school year 20-21, 63% of whom are Native Hawaiian, have experienced academic gains and the average attendance rates increased by 11%.

Dramatic improvements in behavior are being realized. At Kapa’a High School, ALC students decreasing from 307 Chapter 19 (student misconduct) offenses to zero, Kaua‘i High School ALC students decreasing from 391 offenses to zero and Waimea High School ALC students decreasing from 292 offenses to 3.

Beck’s Hybrid

With the closure of Beck’s Hybrid, a corn seed research and development company in Kekaha, the DOE shared a plan to assume Beck’s lease with the Agribusiness Development Corporation to launch agriculture and value-added product production pathways into select Kaua‘i public schools.

Coupled with the agriculture and entrepreneurship courses, the vacated Beck’s Hybrid site will help to fast track the re-opening of the facility for students to engage in agricultural and value-add production, processing, and distribution and activating surrounding lands for farming.

Green Energy Team LLC and the Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative

As Hawai’i strives to generate 100% clean energy by 2045, Kaua‘i energy producers Green Energy Team LLC, and the Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative provided an impressive overview of their clean energy regional work.

The two clean energy producers shared with WAM members and stakeholders from HECO, HEI, State Energy Office, PUC and IBEW 1260, DOE and Kaua‘i Community College how Green Energy Team’s Biomass facility contributes 11% of the island of Kaua‘i’s entire energy portfolio and over 16% of the county’s renewable energy portfolio.

KIUC reported that it had grown its renewable energy production from just 9% of its overall consumption in 2009 to 67% as of 2020. The KIUC projects will be able to achieve 90% renewable energy by 2025, with a portfolio that consists of solar, hydro, and biomass.

The WAM committee assembled the Kaua‘i energy companies and statewide energy stakeholders to discuss a statewide plan and timeline to meeting Hawai’i’s 2045 goal. WAM members called for a comprehensive statewide energy plan that will evaluate regional energy assets and needs, integrate existing and emerging technologies, collaboration with K-12 and post-high institutions to develop a green workforce, coordinated retraining efforts with the union to ensure continuity of employment as energy workforce requirements shift and lastly, align legislation and resources to the agreed-upon strategies and timeline.

Pacific Missile Range Facility

The Hawai’i Air National Guard and Koa Lani, a PMRF civilian contracting company, expressed its desire and willingness to work with the local Kaua‘i middle and high schools and Kaua‘i Community College to develop a pipeline of qualified workers. Between the two, the companies employ over 700 workers on the military base.

The groups shared the difficulty in hiring local residents due to most applicant’s lack of specialized skills required for Department of Defense work. High demand and hard-to-fill job vacancies remain and include electrical engineering, cybersecurity and radio antenna repair and maintenance positions. With the continuous need for skilled IT-related workers on island, we have an incredible opportunity to fill them with homegrown talent from Kaua‘i.

“The Pacific Missile Range Center can serve as a community resource for students on Kaua‘i who are looking to explore pathways in STEM and other related fields,” noted Senate Vice President Michelle Kidani (District 18), and chair of the Senate Committee on Education. “By working together with the DOE and Kaua‘i Community College, these potential partnerships will allow students to attain the necessary certifications and educational degrees needed to become job ready and have the opportunity to live, learn, work and thrive in their home communities.”

House Panel Subpoenas Land Fund, Agriculture Agency

Civil Beat
By Blaze Lovell

Both agencies were the targets of recent critical examinations by State Auditor Les Kondo.

A Hawaii House of Representatives investigation of the Agribusiness Development Corp. and a state land and development fund is starting to ramp up on the heels of audits critical of the two state agencies.

On Tuesday, a House investigative committee issued subpoenas to the ADC, the Department of Land and Natural Resources and the Department of Agriculture. The committee plans to start hearings with witnesses in September and a final report with recommendations is due in December, one month ahead of the 2022 legislative session.

The committee is seeking “any and all records, documents, materials, things and other evidence” from those agencies submitted to the state auditor as part of inquiries that led to the two audits, according to Rep. Della Au Belatti, the chair of the committee.

The committee is seeking two batches of documents from each agency. The first batch is due Aug. 9 and should include all the documents provided to the state auditor, which conducted the audits. A second batch of documents is due Aug. 23 and should include materials indicating how the agencies are responding to recommendations made in the audits.

Belatti, the House majority leader, said the agencies have already tentatively agreed to turn over those records.

State Auditor Les Kondo found that the Special Land and Development Fund is hindered by a lack of transparency and accountability. Kondo also found that the ADC has not done enough to reinvigorate former sugar and pineapple land.

As part of the audit of the land fund, Kondo’s office “examined contracts, leases, permits, financial records, annual reports, public meeting minutes, and other relevant documents.”

Kondo attempted to get financial records from the ADC but found that “ADC’s record-keeping was inconsistent, incomplete, and in many cases, non-existent.” The record keeping was so bad that a financial audit had to be suspended, according to the report.

The office requested documents related to land management policies, land acquisition guidelines, an inventory of landholdings and files on tenants. Instead, it got a four-page memo offering only general guidance on land management.

Rep. Amy Perruso, a critic of the ADC, asked that the subpoenas be expanded to include all documents that Kondo asked for, instead of only what was provided to the auditor.

Belatti said she is not inclined to expand the scope for the first batch of documents because the committee wants a quick turnaround.

Rep. Dale Kobayashi questioned why the committee needed the first batch of documents since the auditor already used those documents to develop the two reports.

“I don’t really see the point of what we’re doing here asking for this,” Kobayashi said. “And it is quite an ask.”

The documents are intended to get the committee ready before witnesses are called, according to Belatti.

Those hearings are expected to be held during the weeks of Sept. 13 and Sept. 20.

Following critical audit, lawmakers to begin investigation of agribusiness agency

Hawaii News Now
By Jolanie Martinez

State lawmakers investigating the Agribusiness Development Corporation will have their first meeting Wednesday to establish the rules of its probe.

Members hope to follow up on the auditor’s report by requesting documents and even subpoenaing witnesses.

An audit found the Agribusiness Development Corporation has done little to diversify Hawaii’s agriculture industry. This led the state to form a rare investigative committee.

While there was bill to dissolve the ADC and transfer lands and staff to the Department of Agriculture, investigate committee chair state Rep. Della Au Bellati said the legislature couldn’t agree with a plan to reform the organization.

Bellati said the committee will make recommendations in next year’s legislative session based on their findings.

“We want to understand how much progress they’ve made in inventory and identifying all their lands,” said Bellati. “What they’ve done to manage the leases that they have on all the islands, not just the ones that they have on Oahu.”

TJ Cuaresma, of Wahiawa, said the ADC is doing little with taxpayer dollars.

“We as a community, we work hard, our taxes are paying ADC, our monies are paying ADC, and yet they’re so blatantly irresponsible with their record keeping and things of that nature,” he said.

Cuaresma criticizes the ADC for not managing their properties properly ― like the brush land surrounding Whitmore Village.

“People dying on these lands, rubbish being dumped, homeless encampments, that’s poor management, so where does it stop?” asked Cuaresma. “So, I hope that this investigative committee that they’re able to see all of that.”

Since 1994, the agency has been working to provide leases and tax breaks to small farmers with success stories on Oahu and Kauai.

The ADC has plans for a unique farming community in Whitmore with production facilities, housing and distribution hub that were featured in an international design journal.

Lilette Subedi, president of the board of directors for the Whitmore Economic Development Group, said they see ADC as an asset.

Subedi hopes the committee will conduct a fair investigation. She said she doesn’t see how folding the ADC into the Department of Agriculture would help.

“The state is really tight on funds anyway, ADC lacking funds so none of their positions are filled either, so we understand how difficult it is to make big strides,” said Subedi.

“Everybody wants to see a lot of progress, but it’s going to take time and I’m sure it’s frustrating to many people.”

“We know that agriculture and the disposition of public lands is very important to the people of Hawaii, we also know that it’s part of advancing our economy and ensuring that we have a public land base for the future,” said Bellati. “So, we’re taking this very seriously.”

Hawaii News Now left a message with the Agribusiness Development Corporation, but not get a response.

Copyright 2021 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.

The State Does A Lot To Help Farmers In Hawaii. But It’s Not Enough

By Jessica Terrell –

Farmers need better technology, data and transportation subsidies if Hawaii’s agricultural industry is going to grow substantially in the coming decades.

When Max Bowman graduated from college in 2008, he struggled to find a job that would let him move back home to the Big Island. It was the midst of the Great Recession, affordable housing was scarce, and there weren’t many openings that made use of his English degree.

So Bowman decided to do something unusual for his generation of workers in Hawaii: He partnered with his brother and started a farm.

Hawaii GrownBowman got a lot of help from the state in getting ‘Ano‘ano Farms up and running.

The brothers started planting leafy greens on a five-acre plot of state land leased through the Hamakua Ag Cooperative. They got a loan from the Hawaii Department of Agriculture to help with equipment and operating costs. The DOA came through with a second loan seven years later, when Bowman and his brother moved their operation to a much larger plot on the other side of the island.

“The story of our farm has a lot of connection to HDOA,” Bowman said.

Farmers and agriculture advocates say the state does a lot to keep farming alive in Hawaii — from battling pests to training farmers, researching new crops that can be brought to market, and providing loans when banks might not be willing to.

But there’s so much more that needs to be done.

Agriculture makes up less than 1% of the state’s economy. The real value of what Hawaii farms produce has plunged a whopping 72.9% since 1980, according to economists at the University of Hawaii.

It’s going to take a lot more farmers like Bowman — and big investments in new technology, infrastructure, cheaper interisland transportation, better data gathering and more — to reduce the amount of food Hawaii imports and make agriculture a significant contributor to the state economy once again.

And even though Bowman could be viewed as a success story for what young farmers can accomplish with a little help, the future of ‘Ano‘ano Farms is anything but certain. Rising shipping costs and restaurant closures during the pandemic have hit Bowman’s operation hard.

“There are just a number of challenges that are specific to agriculture in Hawaii that we face every day,” Bowman said.

How The State Helps

Hawaii is not an easy place to make a living farming.

Land is hard to come by. So is water. There’s a lot of fallow farmland from Hawaii’s defunct sugar and pineapple plantations, but much of it lacks critical infrastructure that farmers need to grow new crops. Housing for farm workers is in short supply. Transportation is expensive and there are a number of challenges with getting products to market.

And then there are pests. Hawaii’s climate makes it the perfect breeding ground for a number of insects that can decimate crops.

The state tries to lend a hand with many of these challenges.

The bulk of day-to-day state support for farmers in Hawaii comes through the Department of Agriculture and the University of Hawaii’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.

The agriculture department plays an important role in regulating food production in Hawaii, but it also does a lot of marketing for farmers and ranchers, says Brian Miyamoto, executive director of the Hawaii Farm Bureau.

A lot of the DOA’s energy, though, is spent battling threats to crops. The department budgeted nearly $16 million last year on mitigating pests like the coffee borer beetle.

The department also gave out about $4.6 million in loans to farmers in 2020. The DOA’s lending program can be a lifeline to farmers who have been rejected by at least two banks, says DOA Chair Phyllis Shimabukuro-Geiser.

The University of Hawaii’s CTAHR works closely with the DOA on research, which is often funded by state or federal agencies through the DOA.

Some of that research is focused on short-term problems — new pests, helping farmers with struggling crops — but the university also plays an important role in providing long-term support for agricultural industries, says Nicholas Comerford, dean of CTAHR.

Take coffee — one of the state’s most successful agricultural industries. The university hasn’t been able to completely reverse the decline of coffee in Hawaii — production peaked in the 1950s — but it has helped keep the industry viable through decades of sustained research, Comerford says. It helped facilitate a statewide coffee growers association, assisted with mechanical planting and harvesting, conducted research into new coffee varieties and pest mitigation.

University employees known as extension agents act as a bridge between researchers and farmers. They can help farmers figure out new crops to grow, work to resolve challenges with soil or pests and figure out why some crops aren’t thriving.

But farmers say they see fewer extension agents out in the field these days. And CTAHR is facing steep budget cuts. The department lost 60 positions — 20% of its staff — this year.

“The pandemic has provided a difficult situation for us,” Comerford said.

But Comerford says the cuts are also an opportunity for CTAHR to figure out how to best allocate its resources and reexamine what it is doing to support agriculture.

Comerford and his staff are working with a consultant on a 10-year plan for the program. What do farmers need moving forward and how will CTAHR help with that?

“I think we’re at a stage where growth is really possible, where it hasn’t been possible before,” Comerford said.

Doing Better Moving Forward

The state needs to take a hard look at all its efforts to help farmers and bolster agriculture, says University of Hawaii economist Sumner La Croix.

And La Croix isn’t just talking about the Agribusiness Development Corp. — though he has few positive words for that state agency, which was created in 1994 to help the industry find a path forward during the collapse of Big Sugar.

The agricultural sector as a whole is becoming smaller, which doesn’t speak well for the efforts to grow it.

One big challenge, La Croix said, is that there isn’t much data about what crops are being grown in Hawaii. The agricultural department used to keep much more robust statistics, but much of that work was dismantled during the Great Recession.

“We might as well be dismantling the automatic pilot on a Tesla as we drive down the highway,” La Croix said. “I mean, we don’t really know where we’re going.”

The agriculture department isn’t going to be able to resume the level of market analysis and data gathering that it conducted a decade ago, says DOA Chair Shimabukuro-Geiser.

But the agency did make some new hires last year and has been collaborating with the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service to get more data.

Last year, it was able to analyze the production value of the coffee industry and some other specialty crops so those farmers could qualify for a federal coronavirus assistance program.

But farmers say they need more information. About what is being grown in Hawaii. About what people are charging for those crops.

“You know, we set these goals like double food production,” says Miyamoto of the Hawaii Farm Bureau, referencing Gov. David Ige’s call for the state to double local food production by 2030. “That’s great because it gives us something to reach for. But as for the double … double from what?”

There’s a lot of room for the state to provide more services to farmers, La Croix said.

But that needs to start with the state taking a hard look at where and how the agricultural industry can expand — and then helping in a more strategic manner.

The state could be useful in addressing challenges with water access and general agricultural infrastructure, La Croix said.

It could probably also do more to promote crops, identify new crops and provide assistance to small farmers, La Croix said.

And farmers need help getting access to better technology, Comerford said.

Hawaii’s farms can make better use of limited land with controlled environments like shade houses — a structure to help protect plants from excessive heat or light. They need support using nanotechnology to control diseases. And they could use better access to the kinds of equipment that farms in Japan use on smaller plots of land. Federal environmental regulations make it difficult to import Japanese equipment, something the state could help with by providing money to bring in sample equipment to be tested by regulators.

Lawmakers gave CTAHR $2 million last year for a pilot project to see what the university could do to increase production in agriculture, Comerford said. So CTAHR put out a call for proposals to farmers across the state. It got more than 40 responses from farmers with suggestions for farm-specific obstacles that, if addressed, could help increase production.

“What it tells you is that there are obstacles to agricultural production in this state that can be taken care of with a small investment,” Comerford said.

Before you go

University of Hawaii breaks ground on food entrepreneurship facility

Pacific Business News
By Janis L. Magin

The University of Hawaii Community Colleges broke ground this week and plans to start construction in July on the Wahiawa Product Development Center in Central Oahu.

The $12 million project will turn a metal warehouse at 100 California Ave. into a value-added product development center where students from Leeward Community College can learn entrepreneurship skills while developing value-added food products.

Students will be able to develop products such as baked goods, pickled products, ice creams and juices, which will help local farmers utilize off-grade produce as ingredients, minimizing food waste.

“The Wahiawa Product Development Center will be instrumental in supporting the diversification of our local economy by adding value to Hawaii’s agricultural and food sector industries,” UH Community Colleges Vice President Erika Lacro said in a statement. “It will take the knowledge, creativity, innovation and uniqueness Hawaii offers to the next level, creating a robust workforce pipeline and providing the tools and skills for local farmers and entrepreneurs to take their value-added food products to market and beyond. Bringing this to the heart of Oahu achieves a critical milestone for our state in food security and sustainability.”

The state Department of Agriculture’s Agribusiness Development Corp. bought the property from Tamura’s in November 2013 for $4.29 million, and UH launched plans for the center in late 2019 with the publication of a draft environmental assessment. Ushijima Architects is designing the project.

“Products that are made-in-Hawaii are highly desired worldwide and we have a huge opportunity with the WPDC to capitalize on that global demand. Value-added entrepreneurship is critical for economic recovery as we look to strengthen the agricultural industry and diversify our economy to be less reliant on tourism,” state Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz said in a statement. “Wahiawa welcomes this community investment and looks forward to working with the University of Hawaii in the years to come.”

Small Farmers Deserve Better Support Than The ADC Has Provided

Honolulu Civil Beat
By T.J. Cuaresma –

Twenty-five years after the agency was created, it’s past time for change.

I wonder how many people visit the website of the Agribusiness Development Corp. as often as I do?

I suspect I belong to a very small community of nerds who scour it in hopes of finding pathways to success for local farmers who are interested in growing food to feed the people of Hawaii. The need is urgent.

But if we are looking to the ADC to show the way, my frequent visits to its website and my reading of the minutes of its meetings tell me that we need to do a much better job of providing signposts for those often obscured and difficult-to-navigate pathways to regenerative farming.

Farmers dreaming of leasing a small plot of land from the ADC have their work cut out for them if they even try to penetrate the corporation’s website as I did. It was an exercise in frustration.

The ADC website recently carried a sign on its homepage announcing that the deadline for applications for available land had been extended to April 27. It sounded promising at first glance, though the extension itself tells us that the ADC likely hadn’t received a large enough pool of applications.

If true, this fact is not surprising. The ordinary farmer cannot — and will not — expend the kind of time and effort I have invested in trying to make sense of the ADC’s inventory of available lands.

For example, while several plots are listed on the ADC website as “available,” there is little to no guidance on the condition of the land and how much of it is actually usable and can be farmed.

How can a small farmer afford to put in an application under those circumstances? Even assuming some farmers are dogged enough to try, they will quickly discover hurdles like tax map key numbers not corresponding to City and County records! If only 392 acres in a 580-acre plot listed as available can be farmed, how does a farmer who is not doing the thorough research that I did know this and reflect that knowledge in his application?

More importantly we should be asking: Why does the ADC not make this information visible up front in the interest of transparency and fairness to our small farmers?

After monitoring the ADC website regularly for weeks now, I noticed the minutes of a Feb. 24 board meeting were posted in early April. The delay in posting is concerning but even more concerning is the fact that the submittals, which are supposed to reflect what transpired at the meeting, do not match up with what was actually on the agenda.

While there is nothing on the agenda about more lands available for lease, the submittals for the meeting actually refer to such lands, with none of the clarity a farmer looking for suitable land would need. Also, the minutes reflect a 45-minute discussion of the recent audit that described the corporation as failing to fulfill its mission despite the special powers and significant resources allocated to it.

Those same minutes reference a motion to have a separate meeting devoted just to addressing the concerns raised in the audit. So far, there is no indication if such a meeting has taken place or when it might take place.

At a time when the ADC is facing serious questions about its failure to live up to its mission of diversifying our agriculture to ensure food self-sufficiency, it is deeply disappointing to note that another member has been added to the ADC board — Glenn Hong, former president of Young Brothers — who brings no experience in agriculture that can be applied to right this ship. Testimony submitted in support of his nomination to the board cited his “decades of experience in the maritime and transportation industry (that) give him unique insight into agricultural issues.”

I don’t question Mr. Hong’s finance and accounting background, but how does this improve how our small farmers are served?

The Hawaii Department of Agriculture states quite clearly: “Agribusiness Development Corporation was formed in 1994 to facilitate and provide direction for the transition of Hawaii’s agriculture industry from a dominance of sugar and pineapple to one composed of a diversity of different crops.”

The farmers of Hawaii, many of whom are still waiting for access to the lands that will allow for this transition have yet to see evidence of real meaningful steps in this direction. They have seen neglect leading to the sprouting of criminal enterprises that have led to loss of life that could have been prevented with better security and management of ADC-controlled lands.

Twenty-five years is a long time to wait. It’s past time for change.

House Creates Panel To Probe Land Fund, Agriculture Agency

A resolution to create the special investigative committee cites audits of the DLNR’s land and development fund, and the Agribusiness Development Corp.

Civil Beat
By Kevin Dayton

In a rare move on the last day of session, House lawmakers voted Thursday to create an investigative committee to delve into the findings of state audits of the controversial Agribusiness Development Corp. and a state-controlled special land and development fund.

House Resolution 164 establishing the investigative committee cites critical findings of a 2019 audit of the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Special Land and Development Fund as well as this year’s audit of the ADC.

The committee will consist of at least five House members who will be appointed by Speaker Scott Saiki, and will have the power to issue subpoenas to compel testimony, according to the resolution.

The committee is to examine the operations and management of the agencies as well as the audit recommendations, and prepare a report by the start of the 2022 session next January.

The House adjourned for the year moments after approving the resolution in a voice vote.

The 2019 audit of the special land fund found that the DLNR did not have a strategic plan for state lands, and lacked complete or coherent policies and procedures that would enable the department to properly manage its leases and revocable permits.

The House resolution quotes the audit finding that “lack of transparency and accountability hinders the administration of the Special Land and Development Fund.”

Meantime, the ADC audit found the corporation has “done little to fill the economic void created by the closure of the sugar and pineapple plantations,” according to the resolution.

The auditor’s report also found the ADC’s financial records were in such disarray that they were “not auditable.”

In an interview after the House adjourned for the year, Saiki said that “the House wanted to follow up on the two audits that were done previously, because both of those program areas are probably in need of some reform.”

State Agribusiness Development Corporation Executive Director James Nakatani said in a written statement Thursday the agency has already begun to take steps recommended by the auditor.

The ADC and its board “have already begun prioritizing all of the Auditor’s recommendations in order develop a short-term implementation plan and a longer term management structure to ensure ADC can function more efficiently and effectively,” he said in his statement.

The ADC this week completed its process for accepting applications for 1,200 acres in Central Oahu, and agriculture-related tenants are scheduled to be selected later this summer. The remaining vacant parcels should be filled by the end of the year, Nakatani wrote.

“We acknowledge there have been challenges, particularly at our Wahiawa properties with previous community concerns,” he said in his statement. “As mentioned during a House briefing earlier this legislative session, we have spent the past year clearing the area of illegal activity, making the land suitable for farming and providing the necessary irrigational improvements.”

How Hawaii Squandered Its Food Security — And What It Will Take To Get It Back

Honolulu Civil Beat

Hawaii’s reliance on food imports began in the 1960s. To achieve self-sufficiency again, experts say it will take old values and new tools. –

By Brittany Lyte –

Nearly 2,500 miles from the nearest continent, Hawaii spends up to $3 billion a year importing more than 80% of its food — a dilemma that government leaders, economists, farmers, food shoppers and community activists have long tried to solve.

Things weren’t always so grim.

For centuries Native Hawaiians managed a self-sufficient agricultural system distinguished by thriving fishponds and taro, banana, pig, chicken and sweet potato production.

But with the arrival of Westerners, vast stretches of farmland were transformed into sprawling pineapple and sugar cane plantations that exploited cheap land and cheap labor to produce goods that were mostly shipped out of state.

By the 1960s, only about half of the state’s fruit and vegetable supply was produced locally — an important roadmark in the long decline of Hawaii’s food sovereignty. Researchers have found that an island needs to be growing at least 50% of its staple crops — foods like rice, ulu, potatoes, wheat — in order to be self-sufficient if disaster strikes.

The coronavirus pandemic, which raised the risk of shipping disruptions and stoked fears of food shortages, has only exacerbated the archipelago’s vulnerability.

To gain momentum toward the goal of reclaiming self-sufficiency, it’s helpful to examine what’s changed in the half-century since Hawaii last produced roughly half its food.

But as society looks to strengthen the state’s agricultural future, experts emphasize that Hawaii can’t simply revert back to the sustainable food system of the past.

“We’re not in the same environment,” said Noa Lincoln, assistant professor of indigenous crops and cropping systems at the University of Hawaii Manoa. “We have to deal with challenges that our ancestors didn’t have to — new species of weeds and pests and rodents and diseases that just didn’t exist.”

“Our ancestors developed their agricultural practices and methods in an environment that was really different,” he said. “And there’s literally no going back to that.”

But self-sufficiency in the 21st century will require a new system rooted in the sustainable values that guided Hawaii’s pre-Western food system, Lincoln said.

Overreliance On Imports Started In The 1960s

Although Hawaii’s sugar plantations reached peak production in the ‘60s, the decade also marked the start of their long decline.

Statehood in 1959 gave rise to workers’ rights, which raised plantation labor costs. Sugar and pineapple companies responded by moving their operations abroad. Thousands of acres of some of the most viable farmland was gradually lost to development to support a new tourism-based economy.

As plantations declined, diversified agriculture grew. But so did Hawaii’s reliance on food imports — a response to increasing demand by an emerging tourism sector that quickly usurped agriculture as the state’s economic engine.

Local agriculture could not keep up with the soaring needs for large and consistent quantities of food to supply hotels and other facilities.

To this day, the small-scale farms that make up the bulk of all farms across Hawaii struggle to achieve economies of scale. Roughly 87% of the 7,328 farms statewide generate less than $50,000 annually.

“One of the biggest issues is how hard it is to be a farmer in Hawaii — specifically to make money as a farmer,” said Angela Fa’anunu, a tourism professor at the University of Hawaii Hilo who farms breadfruit on 10 acres near Hilo.

What’s more, the inconsistency between county and state rules for agricultural activities can be difficult for farmers to navigate.

For example, although the Legislature adopted a state law to let farmers sell their farm products on agricultural land in 2012, some farmers have been unable to do so until recently due to conflicting county zoning rules.

“The systems in place, the policies themselves, limit the ability of a farmer to produce,” Fa’anunu said. “The policies themselves are meant to protect agricultural land, but they can be so restrictive that they make it really difficult for a farmer to just get something done.”

Farmers Need More Support, Incentives

More than food sovereignty, advocates claim Hawaii would reap many benefits from growing more food for local consumption: healthier diets, a deeper connection between nature and society, beautification of the landscape.

Replacing food imports with Hawaii-grown alternatives would also strengthen the island chain’s economy.

But the slow pace of progress has frustrated many farmers, citing challenges ranging from the high cost of land to zoning and infrastructure issues.

Many experts agree that more government support is needed to rejuvenate local food production.

The state created the Agribusiness Development Corp. in the early ‘90s to help map out a new plan for Hawaii’s agricultural future. Over the last three decades, the state has given the ADC nearly a quarter of a billion dollars.

But as a scathing report from the state auditor’s office pointed out earlier this year, the ADC has accomplished little. The state has never really figured out what its post-plantation agricultural system should be.

“To me, it’s depressing when I go into the grocery store and the ginger root is coming in from Brazil,” said Bruce Mathews, a professor of soil science at UH Hilo.

“And it isn’t better quality, but it (costs) so much less (money) than what people could sell it for if it was grown here locally. That’s why, without changing some of the policies here, I don’t see how we’re going to move the needle on local food production.”

Today less than 1% of the state budget is committed to agriculture, whereas the plantations that were so profitable in their heyday had the support of generous government incentives.

Reinstating agricultural tax breaks could be key to ratcheting up food security, Mathews said.

“If the state is serious about improving local food production, then we have to realize that most food around the world is to some extent subsidized,” Mathews said. “We have to make it more attractive for people to go into food production so that a person would think, ‘I’d rather go into farming than work at McDonalds.’”

To make that happen, Hawaii needs to invest in agricultural parks, irrigation systems and distribution facilities with the same gusto that it developed infrastructure and amenities to support tourism, said Glenn Teves, a University of Hawaii extension agent on Molokai who grows taro and tropical fruit on his 10-acre Hawaiian homestead farm.

“It’s not enough to make land available for agriculture,” Teves said. “If you’re serious about developing agriculture, you need to look at the big picture and create infrastructure similar to what was done for tourism: airport, convention center, hotels, scenic vistas.”

Community Opposition Slows Big Ag Production

Fierce community opposition to some proposed agricultural projects, such as dairy farms, is another significant hurdle, Mathews said.

On the Big Island, for example, residents were upset when they learned that a dairy had used GMO corn to feed the cows.

The dairy ultimately had to pay environmental fines after it was sued by a community group alleging that the owners violated the Clean Water Act after residents claimed to have found bacteria in brown water downstream from the facility.

The dispute ultimately put the Big Island dairy out of business.

On Kauai, a five-year effort to establish a dairy to reduce the state’s reliance on imported milk crashed and burned in part due to residents’ concerns over the possibility that the dairy could send foul odors and flies downwind to south shore beaches and hotel pools.

Environmental compliance and community pushback isn’t just a problem for dairy farmers, but for many kinds of large-scale agriculture projects in Hawaii, Mathews said.

“I feel that as we become a more suburban and urban society, we’ve become more eco-hypocritical or eco-imperialistic,” Mathews said. “In other words, we don’t want noise, pesticides, pollution in our own backyard — but we don’t mind so much paying for food imported from other places.”