A team of University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa researchers is the scientific/creative lead on an up-to $40-million U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant to assist Hawaiʻi farmers, ranchers and foresters in implementing sustainable, climate-smart practices and establishing stronger markets that live beyond the life of the grant for locally produced, healthy food and forest products.
The grant funding will be administered through the Lynker Corporation Pacific Islands and West Coast Division, based in Hawaiʻi, managed by Lynker’s Christopher Hawkins. A sub-award of at least $10 million is going to the UH Mānoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR). CTAHR associate professor Susan Crow is the principal investigator for the $40-million grant and will lead a full-time project team of a diverse coalition of stakeholders. The team has the following interconnected goals:
- Combat climate change through nature-based solutions in natural and working lands
- Reduce and reuse waste for fertilizer and soil amendment
- Create a resilient and abundant local food supply
- Provide healthier food options that will ultimately create a healthier state population
“We have four objectives for meeting these goals, starting with overcoming the many persistent implementation barriers, which we’ll do through investment and incentives,” said Crow, who is from the CTAHR Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management. “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 said that within the first year, the coalition will provide millions of dollars in direct financial assistance to dozens of producers to improve their sustainability practices, which will impact thousands of acres. Over 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,” said Albie Miles, UH West Oʻahu assistant professor of sustainable community food systems. “Climate-smart farming practices are a key part of the transformation of our food system toward health, equity, resilience and sustainability.”
Hawaiʻi coalition brings diverse groups together
The coalition that submitted the proposal, the “Hawaiʻi Climate Smart Commodities: A portfolio approach to equitably scaling the agriculture sector,” represents a remarkably diverse group of stakeholders. The partnership includes the Hawaiʻi Cattlemen’s Council, Oʻahu Resource Conservation and Development Council, Hawaiʻi Farmers Union United, the Kohala Center, Pacific Gateway Center, Forest Solutions Incorporated, Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Forestry and Wildlife, Oʻahu Agriculture and Conservation Association, UH, University of Florida, Colorado State University, Natural Resource Data Solutions, Lynker, Transforming Hawaiʻi’s Food Systems Together, Hawaiʻi Department of Agriculture and various supporting external initiatives such as the Aloha + Challenge, Hawaiʻi Greenhouse Gas Sequestration Taskforce and FarmLink. Grant application support was provided through the Ulupono Fund at the Hawaiʻi Community Foundation.
“We are extremely thankful for the Ulupono Initiative Fund and the many stakeholders, from diverse interests, who rallied together to support the premise of this project,” said Crow. “Just at the proposal stage, more than 46 producers supported us through commitments to implementing climate-smart practices.”
Ensuring local food resilience
Kamuela Enos, the director of the UH 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,” said Enos. “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 the Hawaiʻi 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.
Creating access to healthy food
Crow says the project aims 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,” said Crow. “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 USDA to support farmers, ranchers and private forest landowners. 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.