The 'Ike 'Ai Consortium on Sustainable Food Systems: Transforming Hawaii’s Food System by 2050
To transform the food system of Hawaiʻi to model sustainability and human and planetary health while building climate change resilience.
Lead Applicant Organization Name
University of Hawaii - West Oahu, Sustainable Community Food Systems Program
Lead Applicant Organization Type
If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.
1. University of Hawaii System: Indigenous serving post-secondary research and educational system.
2. Kamehameha Schools: Educational foundation and land asset manager serving the native Hawaiian community of Hawaii.
3. The Hawai‘i Green Growth: Public-private partnership committed to addressing global sustainability challenges and measuring Hawaii's progress in achieving the UN SDGs.
4. Arizona State University (ASU) Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems: University research center that develops innovative solutions to challenges of global food systems taking a holistic and trans-disciplinary approach.
5. MAO Organic Farms: 280 ac. certified organic farm and youth leadership training program tracking Hawaiian youth into higher education.
6. UH Office of Indigenous Innovation: responsible for promoting and advancing indigenous innovation and entrepreneurship within the University of Hawaii and the community.
Website of Legally Registered Entity
How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?
Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?
Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?
United States of America
Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?
The US state of Hawaii (Hawaiian Islands). The 8 largest Hawaiian islands cover 10,451 sq. km.
What country is your selected Place located in?
United States of America
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
Hawaii is my home. It is the place I have chosen to raise my family and work as an academic researcher and educator in close collaboration with the native Hawaiian community. Through research, education and public engagement, our shared goals are to advance food system change toward ecologically sustainability, social equity, human health and nutrition and bio-cultural restoration for the Hawaiian community. Hawaii is a critically important model for the world due to its deep history of ecologically sustainable and self-sufficient food ways in the pre-contact era. Hawaii can serve as a model for the world in developing sustainable food and agricultural systems that integrate traditional ecological knowledge and culture with the science of agro-ecology. The Sustainable Community Food Systems program at the University of Hawaii was founded in collaboration with Kamehameha Schools and community based non-profit MAO Organic Farms. The trans-disciplinary food systems program trains new generations of native Hawaiian and other youth to become future food system leaders. Students are trained to think critically and across disciplinary boundaries to actively solve real-world problems in the food system of Hawaii and beyond through work in agriculture, policy-making, planning, business, research, health sciences and education.
Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.
In one Native Hawaiian creation story the Hawaiian islands are the offspring of Papa (earth) and Wākea (sky) and are the older siblings to Kanaka Maoli, or Native Hawaiians, the original people of Hawaiʻi. The ancestors of today’s Kanaka Maoli peopled the whole sub-tropical island chain, bringing with them kalo (taro), a sacred staple crop, as well as other “canoe crops” such as sweet potato (`uala), banana (mai`a), turmeric (olena), coconut (niu), breadfruit (`ulu), and domesticated animals such as pigs (pua'a) and chickens (moa). In the pre-contact era, Hawaiians produced food for a population of over 500,000 when survival depended on the sustainable management of key natural resources, including nearshore fisheries, freshwater, nutrients and soils needed for the cultivation of a diversity of plants and animals. The kuleana (role and responsibility) of the mahiʻai (farmers) was revered by all levels of society, not only because they were the food producers, but because they also symbolized the weaving together of kanaka (people), kauhale (community) and ʻāina (land). ʻOhana (families) would cultivate, fish, gather, and share food interdependently.
Hawaiʻi’s ecologically sustainable food ways and agricultural systems were fundamentally altered with the arrival of Western traders in the late 18th century, which forced Hawaiʻi’s rapid integration into the emerging global economic system. The Hawaiian cultural traditions of intimate human relationships to the land and sea were replaced with colonial occupation, extractive sugar and pineapple plantations, and the separation of indigenous Hawaiians from their ancestral lands. Traditional food ways and natural resource management practices were disregarded or destroyed, creating the conditions of social and economic marginalization resulting in profoundly negative impacts on the diets, health and welfare of the Hawaiian people.
Immigrant populations from Asia, Europe, the Caribbean, and other Pacific Islands arrived throughout the 19th and 20th centuries as plantation laborers, bringing their cultures and foods and producing the multicultural milieu of contemporary Hawaiʻi. They brought crops and cuisines from China, the Philippines, Japan, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Korea, and others. Another arrival: the ultra-processed foods of the American industrial food system.
Today, Hawaiʻi’s post-plantation agricultural economy is dominated by export commodities with the diversified agriculture sector limited by multiple economic, social and political obstacles. However, a growing Hawaiian cultural renaissance has helped revive traditional land use practices among Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians alike. Traditional ecological knowledge and the indigenous food and farming systems of Hawaiʻi are now being recognized for their role in recreating sustainable human societies. Today, the hopes of Hawaiʻi’s people are to combine bio-cultural restoration of traditional foodways with state and UN Sustainable Development Goals.
What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)
What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
Hawaiʻi’s food system faces a number of pressing environmental and social challenges that threaten its ability to meet the economic, ecological, cultural, public health and food security needs of its population now and under the long-term impacts of global change.
Colonial occupation and dispossession of Hawaiians from indigenous food ways and traditional ecological knowledge (TEK), along with rapid integration into the global food system, fundamentally changed the diets and health status of many inhabitants of HawaIʻi. Today Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders experience significantly higher rates of diet-related chronic illness than the state average, including a 130% higher incidence of diabetes, a 68% higher incidence of heart disease, a 32% higher rate of cancer, a 20% higher incidence of stroke, and 113.7% higher rate of household food insecurity. Meanwhile legal cases over indigenous land and water rights and access to quality farmland and housing remain unresolved for many communities.
In 2016 the last commercial sugar cane harvests took place, leaving tens of thousands of acres of prime agricultural land and water resources to transition into a new, uncertain era of land use. But what we are seeing is that much prime agricultural land lies idle or slated for urban development. High costs of production, including land, labor, capital, housing, electricity and input costs all limit the economic viability of small- and medium-scale agriculture in Hawaiʻi. This, combined with significant demand and profitability of high-value housing, has created a system where "highest and best use" of Hawaiʻi’s agricultural land is perceived to be urban or industrial development. Lands and waters that were once productive agricultural or fishing grounds and which formed the basis of Hawaiian culture are now developed or degraded, reiterating the cycle of disconnection, loss of culture, and poor health outcomes of Native Hawaiians. What is supported by the post-plantation agricultural economy of Hawaiʻi are non-food commodities and specialty crops grown for external markets such as coffee, macadamia nuts, tropical fruits and flowers as well as biotechnology seed crops that bring pesticide use in close proximity to communities, posing significant environmental quality and human health risks.
All of this makes the food system of Hawai‘i vulnerable to the impacts of global environmental change with potentially significant risks and opportunity costs associated with maintaining the current system over the long-term. With a residential population of over 1.4 million and 10 million annual visitors, Hawai‘i is one of the most geographically isolated and food import-dependent populations in the world. Importing over 90% of its food and fertilizer, and over 73% of its energy. We are uniquely vulnerable to statewide and community food insecurity in the face of anthropogenic climate change, fuel price fluctuations and other economic or natural disturbances.
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
Our vision for Hawaiʻi’s food system includes the coordination and scaling of a robust network of community organizations, institutions and state agencies that collaborate to integrate sustainable food production, processing, distribution, consumption and waste management to enhance the environmental, economic, social and cultural health of all people in Hawaiʻi.
Through research, education, policy analysis, community engagement and movement building, the 'Ike 'Ai Consortium on Sustainable Food Systems will collaborate with a range of state agencies, research and educational institutions, community foundations, private-sector actors and NGOs to eliminate malnutrition and food insecurity, advance more biologically diverse and ecologically sustainable farming systems, promote food system resilience, restore traditional Hawaiian food and agricultural systems, and promote sustainable economic activity through local food system development in Hawaiʻi.
The problems of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander dispossession, cultural loss, and health disparities taking place alongside environmental degradation and development will be addressed by an emphasis on supporting and accelerating a bio-cultural restoration movement that is already underway. This would include building relationships among existing networks of practitioners and community groups, incorporating Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander stakeholders into research and planning, and developing and advancing policy frameworks that support community-based management of local land and water resources.
The issue of high costs of production that limit small- and medium-scale diversified local agriculture will be addressed by changes to food and agriculture policy that incentivize organic and regenerative agriculture. This will include addressing the key problems faced by farmers, such as developing creative funding solutions to connect them with affordable capital, clearing policy boundaries that make their jobs harder, and developing marketing and processing practices that better link consumers and institutional buyers to producers. The vision also includes policy changes that address the problems faced by farm laborers such as working conditions and wages, and of low-income families who need access to safe, affordable, nutritious, and culturally-appropriate foods.
The problem of Hawaiʻi’s food import dependence and vulnerability to climate change will be addressed through public-private-partnerships linking key emergency management agencies with private sector food distributors and by the system changes discussed above. These changes will create more resilient communities better able to respond to disasters and increase local agriculture while decreasing our dependence on imported food. Other key measures included in the vision will address this problem through sensible changes in our critical infrastructure, planning, and emergency preparedness that take into account sea level rise projections.
High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.
In 2050 the movement for bio-cultural restoration of Hawaiian land and seascapes that began in the 1970s and accelerated in the early 2000s is nearly complete, with the reestablishment of the moku system (traditional resource management system) throughout the state. Community groups have rebuilt traditional ecological technologies like ʻauwai (freshwater diversions for taro cultivation) and loko iʻa (fishponds) using designs specific to their places, and in the process have enhanced Native Hawaiian self-determination and well-being. In addition to community-managed resources, Hawaiʻi’s food system is rooted in a stable base of diverse family farms using ecologically-based production practices and local inputs.
This all grew out of a recognition that took place in the 2020s that food and agriculture-related businesses are a key way to create jobs and re-circulate financial capital within the Hawai‘i economy and community. This recognition led to an expansion of state food and agriculture policies that promoted local and sustainable food production, processing and consumption. To support the local food and agriculture economy, we as a society worked together to secure living wages with safe, secure and dignified working conditions for all agricultural and food system laborers. We also found key ways to improve food marketing and processing practices to create direct links between farmers, consumers and institutions.
As a result, in 2050, all community members have secure access to an adequate, safe, affordable, culturally-appropriate and nutritious diet, and we are seeing widespread adoption of dietary behaviors that reflect concern about individual, environmental and community health and well-being. With a strong, decentralized local food system and sensible changes made to prepare for natural disasters like flooding or damage to low-lying infrastructure, the state is also prepared the effects of global climate change. We have a resilient and equitable food system.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
Traditional Taro Farming Hanale, Hawaii.
Restoration of Tradition Taro Farming System of Hawaii
The Hawaii Green Growth Dashboard: Tracking Progress in Hawaii on UN SDGs.
Youth Working at MAO Organic Farms, Waiane Hawaii.
Map of Hawaii, Oahu and Pacific Context.
The following is a video profiling MAO Organic Farms and the youth of West Oahu. MAO Farms is a key youth leadership training program that works in close collaboration with the University of Hawaii West Oahu Sustainable Community Food Systems Program tracking native youth into college to become food systems leaders and change agents.
The following provides an overview of the Sustainable Community Food Systems Program. Students share the impact of the program on their lives and future plans in food systems and sustainability.
Provides summary of efforts of the University of Hawaii System to address pressing global problems through the integration of modern science and the traditional ecological knowledge of Hawaii.
It has been said that “if we get the food system right, we get everything right,” and “the food system is the single strongest lever to optimize human health and ecological sustainability on Earth.” We affirm that the transformation of the food system of Hawaiʻi must advance human and planetary health while building climate change resilience and serving as a vehicle for cultural self-determination and restorative justice for the Indigenous people of Hawaiʻi.
Our vision is to make Hawaiʻi a global model of food system sustainability and resilience by advancing and sustaining, through food system transformation, the following social, environmental and cultural goals: 1) ecological sustainability of farming systems; 2) social equity at all points in the food system; 3) high levels of human health and nutrition; 4) biocultural restoration and indigenous management of Hawaiian land and seascapes; 5) advanced stages of climate change adaptation and disaster preparedness; and 6) broad-based and sustainable economic development.
In summary, the establishment of a sustainable community-based food system in Hawai‘i at 2050 looks like: an economically stable base of diversified family farms using ecologically-based production practices and local inputs; food marketing and processing practices that create more direct links between farmers, consumers and institutions; the restoration of Hawaiian land and seascapes that enhances economic and cultural self-determination and the physical and spiritual well being of the Indigenous people of Hawaiʻi; secure access by all community members to an adequate, safe, affordable, culturally-appropriate and nutritious diet; food and agriculture-related businesses that create jobs and re-circulate financial capital within the Hawai‘i economy and community; living wages with safe, secure and dignified working conditions for all agricultural and food system laborers; expansion of state food and agriculture policies that promote local and sustainable food production, processing and consumption; and widespread adoption of dietary behaviors that reflect concern about individual, environmental and community health and well being.
Recognizing that the food system is a complex socio-ecological system, our vision brings together a set of coordinated and far reaching changes in research policy, technology, education and culture to positively affect the environment, human diets and the economy of Hawaiʻi through food system transformation. To achieve our vision, we’ve gathered together key stakeholders and formed the 'Ike 'Ai Consortium on Sustainable Food Systems ('Ike 'Ai), which is designed as a multi-institutional research, education, policy analysis, community engagement, and movement-building initiative to create and sustain the social, intellectual, economic and political spaces needed to transform Hawaiʻi’s food system and achieve state and United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) by 2050. Our vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for our Place and People for 2050 is as follows:
Policy: ʻIke ʻAi will identify and develop a suite of policies and then build movement power to get policies passed at the state level that address the problems and gaps in our current food system. These will include policies that make life easier for small farmers and those restoring traditional land management and food production systems; policies that incentivize regenerative agricultural practices and disincentivize harmful ones; policies that protect laborers and low-income consumers; policies that incentivize and make possible local food processing and direct links between farmers and consumers; and policies that improve statewide emergency preparedness.
Technology: Our vision shifts emphasis from conventional agriculture practices and technologies and instead promotes a combination of agroecological science, certified organic and Hawaiian land use practices based on traditional ecological knowledge (TEK). These land-based technologies have the power to advance both ecological sustainability, climate resilience and biocultural restoration. Part of the work ahead will be conducting the necessary research to document and fully understand the potential and application of specific technologies; such work has already begun among scientists in Hawaiʻi, and increasingly among Native Hawaiian scientists and researchers.
Culture: Through a multi-pronged education effort that ranges from public awareness building to institutionalized programs and academic degrees, our vision includes shifting mindsets and educating the public about the importance of transforming our food system to promote human health, sustainability and resilience as part of creating a more ecologically based society. Increased knowledge will result in widespread shifts in attitudes and behavior toward a culture of valuing the traditional ecological knowledge of Hawaii and using it to steward our local agricultural resources. These developments will draw from and integrate the scientific research findings of university consortium partners, on-the-ground restoration efforts and the establishment of new enterprises run by a new generation of young farmers and food entrepreneurs. Such a culture shift will be crucial to building a movement for food system policy change. We envision shifting consumer preferences and dietary behaviors and educating the next generation of farmers, fishers, resource managers and state leaders.
Environment: Through changes in policy, technology, and culture, we will leverage agroecological and traditional ecological knowledge to restore degraded ecosystems to enhance key ecological and cultural services from managed landscapes. Drawing upon cutting-edge research in agroecology, the diversified farming systems of Hawaiʻi at 2050 will serve to restore and enhance biodiversity, sequester carbon, build soil quality, reduce soil erosion, promote natural pest regulation, make efficient use of water resources and inputs while maintaining high levels of productivity. Such farming systems will be both energy efficient and resilient as means of advancing climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Diet: By instituting policies and practices that create healthier food and a less polluted environment, we will shift local diets to improve statewide health, especially disparities in health outcomes that affect Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. While the Indigenous and recent immigrant populations of Hawaiʻi contribute to Hawaiʻi’s cultural and culinary diversity, the unfortunate trend is that marginalized and lower-income groups end up in food deserts with little access to healthy, culturally appropriate foods or diet and nutrition education. We envision eliminating these problems by 2050.
Economy: Our vision depends on building up the necessary research as well as a movement of people that understand the potential of a diversified, regenerative and bio-culturally restored food system to become an economic driver that offsets some of the negative impacts of our top industries: tourism and the military. While the current belief and practice is that commodity crops for export are the only way agriculture can contribute meaningfully to the local economy, our vision flips this idea on its head. Instead, ʻIke ʻAi envisions local diversified and regenerative agriculture as a force for creating meaningful living wage jobs and waiwai (wealth) in the state.
Together we believe these efforts will bring about systems change to support and empower those who currently malama (care for) Hawaiʻi’s lands and seas and who are key players in Hawaiʻi’s food system. These include groups reclaiming responsibility for Hawaiian-led resource management, small farmers, farm laborers, and consumers, especially those consumers in low-income communities and demographics.
'Ike 'Ai has been collaboratively designed over the last 3 years by university and community leaders and is a multi-institutional science- and Hawaiian culture-based consortium among the University of Hawaiʻi - West Oahu, the University of Hawaiʻi System Office of Sustainability, Kamehameha Schools, Hawaii Green Growth, the ASU Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems, MA'O Organic Farms, the Office of Indigenous Innovation of the University of Hawaiʻi, and faculty in the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources at UH Mānoa, among many others. The 'Ike 'Ai initiative is modeled after the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet and Health. It is intended to serve as a “sister” project to the National Science Foundation (NSF) EPSCoR project on sustainable water resources in Hawaiʻi, entitled 'Ike Wai, and dovetail with a range of state-led sustainability initiatives on water, energy, transportation and food as part of the Hawaiʻi 2050 Sustainability Plan. The 'Ike 'Ai Consortium will both serve as the engine of food system transformation in Hawaiʻi and as a global model of sustainability science and practice.
We are reaching a tipping point where people know that the ʻIke ʻAi vision of a transformed food system is possible because they have already begun to see pieces of it emerging today. “Kīpuka” is a Hawaiian word for a pocket of vegetation that survives the onslaught of a destructive lava flow; kīpuka play an essential role in re-seeding native forests and bringing back the diversity of life. Today kīpuka has become a metaphor to describe the pockets of regeneration found throughout the islands at loʻi kalo (taro fields), small farms, community gardens, reefs, fishponds, and other sites of food production and environmental and cultural restoration that groups of people have come together to build and protect. We envision collaborating to support, connect, resource, and incentivize the growth of food system kīpuka so that in 2050 our transformed food system has not only met but exceeded the UN SDGs and serves a model for the world.
How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?
Academic and community colleagues