LG candidates weigh in on food insecurity, sustainability at ‘Super Debate’

Jul 28, 2022

Gubernatorial and Lieutenant Governor candidates faced off in Hawaii News Now’s Super Debate 2022 on July 21 — one of the last opportunities to hear from the candidates before 2022 Primary Election ballots arrived in voters’ mailboxes.

Issues ranged from affordable housing to individuals’ quality of character, with candidates trading barbs at times. Among the topics discussed was the critically important topic of agriculture, when moderator reporter Keahi Tucker asked the candidates about food insecurity and sustainability.

“After all the talk and all the policies to move us forward and start producing our own food and goods here in Hawaii, we are still so dependent on mainland and global imports. So, it would take a category four storm to put us in big trouble. What do you do as Lieutenant governor to move us forward?”

— Keahi Tucker

Here’s how the candidates responded (alphabetical order):

Keith Amemiya

We saw during the pandemic how vulnerable we are to food insecurity. And the fact that we import nearly 90% of our food is clearly unacceptable. But before we get into specific programs, we have to look at the broader picture. We’ve talked about food security for decades. We talked about affordable housing, homelessness, and climate change for decades with no real results. When applied to politics, the definition of insanity is electing the same people into office over and over again. My opponents have over 35 years of collective experience in elected office. They’ve held important decision-making positions like the House Finance Committee, like City Council chair … with no meaningful results. It’s time for change. It’s time for new people in office. And until we do that, we’re not going to get any traction on food security or any of the other major issues.

Ikaika Anderson

As a county elected official, we provided core services that taxpayers came to depend upon for their everyday lives. Police, fire, ambulance, public safety, trash pickup, sanitation. As lieutenant governor, I will propose to the next governor that the state start treating agriculture as a core service, agriculture as a whole. I've had the opportunity to talk with a number of farmers from Hawaii Island to Maui to Kauai, even here on Oahu, who have difficulty getting their crops from the farm to harvest.

Sometimes they've got to ship it back. I believe that the state administration would be in a great position to offer subsidies for shipping, for trucking. In return, the farmers would need to provide lower prices to the people of Hawaii in return for the tax subsidies that they offer to all of our farmers. I believe this is a solid policy. Our policy team has worked on putting this together for some time, and it’s something that I would propose to our next governor — agriculture being treated as a core service.

In conversations that I've had with Hawaii Island farmers and Oahu farmers in particular, who hold state agricultural leases, they consistently share with me their concern about the terms of their lease. The terms of the leases are simply too short. When you have to put a quarter of a million dollars, half a million dollars into your agricultural leased property, and you’ve only got 10 or 15 years to make a go of it, (it’s) very difficult to obtain a loan. And if you can obtain a loan, being able to pay for that loan with that uncertainty is just too much. So we can certainly increase the time of those leases. And I assure our neighbor island farmers and Oahu farmers that is something my team will work on if elected lieutenant governor. Together, with working with our governor, to start treating agriculture as an official core service, much the same as public safety and our sanitation issues that our county governments do. We have to be able to do that.

Sylvia Luke

Supporting agriculture and making sure that we have food for people is not about just diversifying our industry and economy. It’s really to make our state self-sustaining. We continue to import about 90% of what we eat from the mainland and from out of state. During the pandemic, we realized, especially with supply chains, lack of resources, we knew how difficult that was. So what we have done over the years is support small farmers.

What the state can do, which we tried to do this year and we're going to continue to do is extend land ag leases for small farmers and ranchers. We have family farms on the big island. We have family farms on Kauai, many family farms, but if they only have 15 years on the lease, they're not going to be able to invest and then pass it down to their future generation. This is one of the things we can do.

The other thing is we have farm to school program. We have successful farm to school programs around the state where the schools get together with farmers in the area to make sure that we have scratch made food for our kids. Some of the schools, they have seen significant drop in allergy cases, and kids throwing away food because they know where the food comes from and they enjoy eating it. The other things that we can do is support farm hubs … a lot of times they need economic assistance and business help, and supporting farm hubs is a major initiative. And there's so many things that we can do.

Sherry Menor-McNamara

Thank you so much for that very important question as we look at diversifying our economy and recognizing that agriculture is a key component as relates to sustainability food security, and quite frankly, supporting local. There are three areas we need to focus on. One is government. What can government do to help our local farmers? There are some existing programs. One is DA BUX (Double Up Food Bucks), which allows those who have EBD (electronic benefit transfer) cards to use those cards to buy local. So there's a win-win situation. Unfortunately, the legislature did not refund that program. The other is to provide technical assistance centers and food hubs, because many of these farmers are hands on. And sometimes, it’s the business side that they need help with. From my perspective, since I have that business experience, we need to invest more in those support technical assistant centers. And then obviously leveraging federal dollars to build that infrastructure. As lieutenant governor, I want to make sure that all the dollars that come to Hawaii are spent in an efficient, effective way.

Workforce development is another area. We have to strengthen the ag pathway in order for our future farmers to … in order to recruit more future farmers. At the Chamber of Commerce, we are working on these different career pathways. So we have to be mindful of not only in the thinking of the short term, but long-term, and start getting our kids excited about being in the farming industry. One program that is successful is the Kupu program. It's sort of like a service core that is headed by John Leong, and that's what he is doing. And another area, I think, we can get workforce development is looking at the incarcerated people. And finding out how we can retrain or provide them the skill sets so that when they do get out of jail, they can work on these farms and then build that skillset, build that confidence because they're back in the workforce.

And finally, PPP, public private partnerships. Shipping is one of the highest costs for farmers. How can we work with the private sector to help our farmers get the goods to the different islands. And in building this ecosystem where all these industries, the manufacturing industry, supporting the ag industry. So there's so many different opportunities that we can, but we must start first in putting policies in place that will support our local farmers survive as well as thrive as we address these very important questions.

Watch the entire Hawaii News Now’s Super Debate 2022.

Be Sure You're Heard!

Remember to make your voice count. Primary Election is on August 13, and your ballot must be received by 7 PM to be counted. 

Along with mailing it in, ballots can be returned to any convenient ballot drop box locations throughout the state. If you have not yet registered to vote or recently moved, voter service centers are a great last-minute option for same-day voter registration. Please visit elections.hawaii.gov for details and to find the voter service center and ballot drop box location nearest you.