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University of Hawai‘i receives $1M to create Climate-Resilient Food Innovation Network

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Heʻeia Fishpond. Photo Courtesy: University of Hawai‘i

The University of Hawaiʻi plans to establish a first-of-its-kind Climate-Resilient Food Innovation Network that will serve as a hub for Hawaiʻi and U.S-affiliated Pacific Islands to develop collaborative, food innovation solutions driven by Indigenous knowledge systems and modern technology that address climate change impacts.

The $1 million, 24-month award is part of the first-ever U.S. National Science Foundation Regional Innovation Engines Development Awards, which aim to help partners collaborate to create economic, societal and technological opportunities for their regions.

The National Science Foundation Engines Development Award for advancing climate resilient food innovations was one of 44 awards granted nationwide this year.


It provides support for the development of an organizational structure and strategy, including identifying partnerships, resources and initiatives to expand workforce development and commercialization opportunities around innovative, climate-resilient food systems.

The initiative could eventually be eligible for another National Science Foundation award of up to $160 million.

“This is an exciting and unique opportunity for UH, the State of Hawaiʻi and USAPI [U.S-affiliated Pacific Islands] to be able to build a collaborative, tech-driven, regional network to support sustainable, long-term-growth solutions to universal issues like climate change and food insecurity,” said Vassilis L. Syrmos, University of Hawai‘i vice president for research and innovation.


There are four phases for the Climate-Resilient Food Innovation Network:

  • Assessment: Conduct in-person meetings with current and potential partners to share information, evaluate resources, opportunities and challenges of expanding food production systems and workforce development in the region
  • Planning: Combine the information from the assessment phase to generate plans to identify and prioritize goals and objectives and the steps to achieve them
  • Coordination: Establish a framework of the organization, communication and knowledge sharing among the network, including governance activities, formal and informal meetings, and social events to facilitate the sustainable growth of the Climate-Resilient Food Innovation Network
  • Application: Apply for an National Science Foundation Engines Type-2 award, worth up to $160 million over a 10-year period, upon solidifying organization and partnerships in order to initiate and ramp up activities over an extended period

“Fundamental to our efforts will be the deep integration of Indigenous knowledge systems and western methodologies to develop a transformative and holistic approach necessary to thrive and sustain these innovative food systems,” said Erik Franklin, the Climate-Resilient Food Innovation Network’s director and fisheries team leader.

The network brings together the skills and expertise of a group of innovators and entrepreneurs from different industries, governments, small businesses and venture capitalists including: East-West Center; Elemental Excelerator; HATCH; Hawaiʻi Good Food Alliance; Hawaii Technology Development Corporation; Natural Energy Lab of Hawaiʻi Authority; Office of the Governor, State of Hawaiʻi; Pacific Disaster Center Global; Hawaiʻi ʻUlu Cooperative; and the University of Guam.


The University of Hawai‘i Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation will provide leadership support for the efforts of the Climate-Resilient Food Innovation Network with support provided from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa’s leadership teams from the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources Department of Tropical Plant and Soil Sciences, the University of Hawai‘i Sea Grant College Program and the College of Engineering.

The Climate-Resilient Food Innovation Network will engage a collective of 18 Minority Serving Institutions for Native Hawaiians, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders from: the U.S. Territories of Guam and American Samoa; the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands; Republic of Palau; the Marshall Islands; and the Federated States of Micronesia.

“These NSF Engines Development Awards lay the foundation for emerging hubs of innovation and potential future NSF Engines,” said National Science Foundation Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. “These awardees are part of the fabric of NSF’s vision to create opportunities everywhere and enable innovation anywhere. They will build robust regional partnerships rooted in scientific and technological innovation in every part of our nation.”


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