A Hawaii organisation has been awarded a $6 million grant by a federal agricultural programme to combat coffee leaf rust, a pathogen found in all four counties.
The state’s congressional delegation — United States Senators Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz, and United States Representatives Ed Case and Kai Kahele — announced Thursday that the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture Specialty Crop Research Initiative grants programme would award $6,007,090 to the nonprofit Synergistic Hawaii Agriculture Council.
The grant’s five primary objectives are to breed rust-resistant coffee varieties, to survey the spread of coffee leaf rust and to identify field management options for farmers to use to protect existing coffee trees, to identify fungicides or biological control methods for coffee leaf rust, to conduct genomic research on coffee leaf rust, and to conduct economic analyses of domestically grown coffee.
“Over the last year, Hawaii’s over 1,400 coffee growers have faced one of the most serious threats to their industry,” Hirono said in a news release. “This funding will enable leading experts in coffee research to collaborate to safeguard one of our most iconic crops, ensuring that coffee continues to contribute to our local economy and culture.”
Coffee leaf rust is a devastating fungus that was present in every coffee-growing region on Earth except Hawaii until last year. It was discovered for the first time on Hawaii island and Maui in October 2020, and has since been confirmed on Lanai, Molokai, Oahu, and Kauai.
According to the news release, when the pathogen was discovered in Hawaii, the state’s congressional delegation wrote to then-USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue requesting federal assistance. Additionally, earlier this year, they introduced the Coffee Plant Health Initiative Amendments Act, which would increase funding for research to address current and emerging threats to coffee plant health.
The four-year grant announced Thursday will help coordinate efforts to combat coffee leaf rust among multiple entities, including the USDA Agricultural Research Service. US Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center, Daniel K. Inouye University of Hawaii, USDA’s Tropical Agriculture Research Station in Puerto Rico, University of Hawaii, University of Puerto Rico, Purdue University, and Michigan State University.
According to Suzanne Shriner, director of the Synergistic Hawaii Agriculture Council, the grant “will fund a consortium of scientists and address the problem on the ground for farmers” in both Hawaii and Puerto Rico.