Doubling Hawaii’s Food Production

When Governor Ige first announced his plan to double local food production, people wondered whether he was speaking broadly about general goals, much in the way that political leaders talk about space exploration.

But then he doubled down and repeated it: Hawaii will double local food production by 2020. The Governor did, at least, stop short of calling it his “Five Year Plan.” A good thing, because he gave the state less than three years to accomplish this incredible turnaround. Maybe he just thinks the Soviets weren’t ambitious enough.

Or maybe he didn’t allude to it as Hawaii’s “Three Year Plan” because this exercise in Central Planning is all “central” and no “plan.” While the entire world spent the 20th century learning that agriculture production by government fiat was a bad (and ineffective) idea, Hawaii appears to have missed the memo. Thus, while the governor has blithely stated his intention to double food production, state agencies, farmers, and advocates were left with a few questions about how this would be accomplished. Questions like: Shouldn’t we do a little more research into the state of agriculture now? Which crops are you thinking of? On which land? And how will we irrigate it?

The funny thing is that Grassroot Institute is among those who agree with the goal of increasing local food production, even while we critique the ham-handed way in which it is being pursued. When will elected officials learn that the best way to encourage growth is through the market, not government decree? Turns out that the best way to improve the state’s agriculture sector is through less government involvement, not more.

Why not let the free market help meet Hawaii’s goal of increased food production? We could encourage investment in Hawaii by ending the interventionist economic policies that consistently get the state ranked as one of the worst in the nation to do business. That means reducing regulation and bureaucracy for Hawaii’s farmers. It also means looking seriously at the legal barriers that stifle innovation and creative expansion in the industry. Restrictive land use laws impinge on property rights and prevent creative solutions like an increase in agritourism. Finally, there are some simple things the state can do to put money in the pockets of farmers, businesses, and the consumers who will make food production profitable in Hawaii — like supporting Jones Act reform to lower the cost of living (and shipping) and lowering taxes.

The last thing Hawaii should do is attempt to govern its way to a stronger agriculture industry. It’s good that the Governor wants to support farmers. But the best way to do so is by getting out of their way.

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