Using a backyard aquaponics setup to grow taro, or kalo.

Helping families in the Pacific Islands mitigate the high cost of imported food and maintain healthy eating habits is the goal of an award-winning social enterprise agricultural project developed by a University of Hawaiʻi—West Oʻahu team, Hoʻoulu Pacific.

The group recently won the $12,000 first place prize in Chaminade University’s Hogan Entrepreneurs Non-Profit Business Plan Competition as well as $25,000 as finalists in the national Agricultural Innovation Prize.

West Oʻahu Assistant Professor of Business Administration Keith Sakuda and Hoʻoulu Pacific team members Ilima Ho-Lastimosa (UH Mānoa School of Social Work graduate student) and David Walfish (UH West Oʻahu student) created Waimānalo Aquaponics.

Waimānalo Aquaponics teaches backyard aquaponics (soilless farming) and best practices for distributing the agricultural bounty, enabling families to grow their own vegetables and fish and creating affordable and healthy food options that reduce the high rates of obesity and diabetes prevalent in Pacific Island communities. The project also partners with community organizations to offer counseling, nutrition education and entrepreneurial guidance.

“Projects like these are what make the university great,” said Chancellor Rockne Freitas. “We are so proud of our Hoʻoulu Pacific team and their vision for addressing local health and food challenges with a system that has the potential to improve the health and well-being of people all over the world.”

“The Agricultural Innovation Prize was a wonderful opportunity for our team to share our vision of a scalable solution for food security in the Pacific Islands,” said Sakuda. “Success at Chaminade’s non-profit competition was important to us because it was recognition that came from the Hawaiʻi community. We hope the momentum from both competitions will help move us forward with our Waimānalo Project.”

Prize money from these and other competitions allows Hoʻoulu Pacific to continue scaling the project throughout the state of Hawaiʻi and the Pacific. Hoʻoulu Pacific’s Waimānalo Aquaponics has received numerous local and national awards including:

  • 2012 Harvard Social Enterprise Pitch for Change Competition: Winner
  • 2012 Dell Social Innovation Challenge Design Phase: Winner
  • 2012 Dell Social Innovation Challenge People’s Choice (Oceania): Winner
  • 2013 University of Hawaiʻi Business Plan Competition: Finalist
  • 2013 Fish 2.0 Competition: Third Place