Nonprofit Awarded $6 Mil Grant to Address Coffee Leaf Rust

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The Synergistic Hawaiʻi Agriculture Council (SHAC) was awarded a four-year federal grant in an effort to combat Coffee Leaf Rust (CLR) that is attacking coffee lands statewide.

SHAC is set to receive $6,007,090 from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) that will support a coordinated approach to addressing CLR across various entities, including the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Daniel K. Inouye US Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center (DKI-US-PBARC), the ARS Tropical Agriculture Research Station (TARS) in Puerto Rico, University of Hawaiʻi, University of Puerto Rico, as well as Purdue University and Michigan State University.

On Thursday, Oct. 28, Hawaiʻi’s Congressional Delegation released a joint statement regarding the new funding. The award of this grant comes after lawmakers sent a letter to then-USDA Secretary Perdue when CLR was detected in the state last year, alerting him to the situation and requesting swift federal assistance with early detection and rapid response.

“Over the past year our more than 1,400 coffee growers in Hawaiʻi have been dealing with one of the greatest threats to their industry,” Mazie K. Hirono said. “This funding will help bring together leading experts in coffee research to protect one of our most iconic crops, so coffee can continue contributing to our local economy and culture.”

Coffee Leaf rust identified on a farm in Holualoa, according to the Department of Agriculture. (PC: Department of Agriculture)

The five main objectives of this grant include breeding rust-resistant varieties of coffee, surveying spread and identifying field management options for farmers to use to protect existing coffee trees, identifying fungicides or biological control methods to combat CLR, genomic work on CLR, and economic analyses of domestically grown coffee.


“This new federal funding is an important step supporting our coffee growers against Coffee Leaf Rust,” said Sen. Brian Schatz. “By developing rust-resistant coffee varieties and researching the disease to better combat it, we’ll be able to protect and maintain the unique quality of Hawaii coffee. This is great news for our state.”

Rep. Ed Case said the grant is welcome news, especially with the report of CLR being discovered on all major Hawaiian Islands.

“As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, I have worked to secure millions of dollars in federal research funding for Hawaii’s tropical specialty crops like coffee and macadamia nut, and while our funding has helped mitigate the effects of the macadamia felted coccid, coffee berry borer and coffee leaf rust, current law limits the scope of federal research dollars,” Case said. “The members of our Hawaiʻi Congressional delegation last month introduced bicameral legislation to continue to battle these agricultural pests to greatly enhance our ability to fund much more comprehensive coffee as well as macadamia nut research to preserve and grow these invaluable industries.”

The success of Hawaiʻi’s coffee industry has been a priority of Rep. Kai Kahele’s since his tenure in the State Senate, and now as a US Congressman.


“Our coffee industry circulates more than $200 million annually in the local economy creating business and job opportunities back home,” Kahele said. “I applaud the team of dedicated scientists, farmers, project managers and others who crafted the award-winning Specialty Crop Research Initiative application and send my thanks to Suzanne Shriner, Executive Director of the Synergistic Hawaiʻi Agriculture Council, for her leadership in securing federal dollars to address the coffee leaf rust.”

SHAC Director Suzanne Shriner said the recent arrival of the deadly Coffee Leaf Rust fungus has the potential to devastate the industry. The NIFA grant will fund a consortium of scientists and address the problem on the ground for farmers in Hawaiʻi as well as Puerto Rico.

“Research will focus on immediate solutions for growers affected by CLR, through field management of the disease,” Shriner said. “In addition, the grant will fund long-term breeding of trees resistant to CLR, focusing on quality in the cup to meet the high standard of Kona and Hawaiian coffees.”

Additionally, Shriner said the expansion of genomic research will assist the global coffee industry in understanding and combating the fungus.


“Finally, economic analyses of all activities will help our growers, large and small, determine which solutions are best for their farms. SHAC is looking forward to collaborating with the scientists of USDA, University of Hawaiʻi, Purdue, University of Puerto Rico and Michigan State University,” she added. “We believe this team is uniquely capable of answering the challenging questions that this disease raises.”

Aside from the grant, lawmakers introduced the Coffee Plant Health Initiative Amendments Act earlier this year that would expand research funding to address all current and emerging threats to coffee plant health, including CLR.

CLR is a devastating fungus that up until last year was present in every coffee-growing region of the world except Hawaii. It was first detected in Hawaii in October 2020 and its presence has since been confirmed on all main Hawaiian Islands. Spread of the fungus is difficult to control and if left untreated can result in more than 70% yield loss.

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