UH team to lead $40M grant project for climate-smart food production
A research team at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa will lead a $40 million grant project, which includes a sub-award of at least $10 million to the UH-Mānoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, to help underserved producers throughout the islands.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture grant will be used to assist Hawaiʻi farmers, ranchers and foresters in implementing sustainable, climate-smart practices and establishing stronger markets for locally produced, healthy food and forest products.
“We have four objectives for meeting these goals, starting with overcoming the many persistent implementation barriers, which we’ll do through investment and incentives,” College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources associate professor Susan Crow said in a press release. “We will also improve technical assistance through a network of community-based organizations, build decision support tools for verification and monitoring and generate internal momentum for a market-based sustainable food system.”
Crow, who is with the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management, is the principal investigator for the grant project and will lead a full-time team aimed at:
- Combatting climate change through nature-based solutions in natural and working lands.
- Reducing and reuse waste for fertilizer and soil amendment.
- Creating a resilient and abundant local food supply.
- Providing healthier food options that will ultimately create a healthier state population.
Crow said that within the first year, the coalition will provide millions of dollars in direct financial assistance to dozens of producers to improve sustainability practices, which will impact thousands of acres. Through time, the coalition will identify, fund and implement an inclusive, community-based approach to identifying and supporting the needs of underserved producers.
“Ecologically sustainable food production is more important than ever, not just for sustenance, but for the health and resilience of our economy and community,” Albie Miles, UH-West Oʻahu assistant professor of sustainable community food systems, said in the press release. “Climate-smart farming practices are a key part of the transformation of our food system toward health, equity, resilience and sustainability.”
Kamuela Enos, director of the University of Hawaiʻi System Office of Indigenous Innovation, said an inclusive, community-based approach will be key to implementing the initiative for underserved communities and laying a pathway for co-learning, especially for Native Hawaiian growers.
“Ensuring the resilience of local food and water recharge into the future means investing in small local producers,” Enos said in the press release. “The long-term vision of our project is to contribute to the re-perpetuation of health, resilience and abundance in landscapes and communities throughout Hawaiʻi and the Pacific area.”
Agriculture is an important piece that often gets left out of the climate change equation, according to Hawai‘i Climate Change Coordinator Leah Laramee.
“By supporting our farmers, foresters and ranchers with technical and financial assistance to implement climate-smart practices, we are reducing the amount of carbon going into the atmosphere, increasing the uptake of carbon and getting closer to our 2045 climate change goals,” Laramee said in the press release.
Crow says the project’s goal is to create a thriving local market for healthy, locally produced food and other climate-smart products.
“For years, I worked with the last large-scale sugar producer in the state and watched as staff closed operations,” she said in the press release. “I also interacted with many small producers as they struggled to start up operations on lands degraded by long-term intensive agriculture. Climate change is such an existential threat that people often feel they can’t contribute to the solution as an individual. My hope is this project culminates in empowerment for people and a sense that individual choices are accessible for all.”
The $40-million grant is part of a $2.8 billion investment into 70 projects nationwide by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to support farmers, ranchers and private forest landowners. Grant funds will be administered through the Lynker Corporation Pacific Islands and West Coast Division based in Hawaiʻi.
The USDA Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities program intends to expand markets for climate-smart commodities, leverage the greenhouse gas benefits of climate-smart commodity production and provide meaningful benefits to production agriculture, including for small and underserved producers.
The coalition that submitted the proposal, the “Hawaiʻi Climate Smart Commodities: A portfolio approach to equitably scaling the agriculture sector,” includes the University of Hawaiʻi, Hawaiʻi Cattlemen’s Council, Oʻahu Resource Conservation and Development Council, Hawaiʻi Farmers Union United, the Kohala Center, Pacific Gateway Center, Forest Solutions Incorporated, state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Forestry and Wildlife, Oʻahu Agriculture and Conservation Association, University of Florida, Colorado State University, Natural Resource Data Solutions, Lynker Corporation, Transforming Hawaiʻi’s Food Systems Together, state Department of Agriculture and various supporting external initiatives.