Family participants restoring loʻi kalo as part of Kakoʻo ʻŌiwi’s ʻohana or family biocultural restoration program. Photo courtesy of UH/Casey Ching.

As part of the largest collection of scientific publications authored by Native Hawaiians that focuses on biocultural restoration in Hawaiʻi, an interdisciplinary research team from the University of Hawaiʻi at MānoaThe Nature Conservancy of Hawaiʻi and the community-based non-profit Kakoʻo ʻŌiwi demonstrated how biocultural restoration of traditional agriculture (loʻi kalo) produces healthy local food, supports vibrant communities and provides clean water to downstream coral reef and fish pond ecosystems, as reported by UH.

Biocultural restoration is an approach that incorporates both humanity and its connections to nature in a larger effort to restore the health, function and resilience of both land- and seascapes.

At the same time, the research team showed how such biocultural restoration efforts can significantly contribute to State of Hawaiʻi sustainability goals around local food production, carbon neutrality and ecosystem protection.

The article, “Biocultural Restoration of Traditional Agriculture: Cultural, Environmental, and Economic Outcomes of Loʻi Kalo Restoration in Heʻeia, Oʻahu,” was published as part of a special issue on biocultural restoration in Hawaiʻi in the journal Sustainability. Nearly 100 authors contributed to 14 articles in the special issue. More than a third of the authors are of Native Hawaiian ancestry; each paper had at least one Native Hawaiian author; and several papers had a Hawaiian lead author.

The article highlights the value of a biocultural approach, which focuses on food production as well as ecological outcomes, such as biodiversity restoration and erosion control, and cultural outcomes, such as community (re)connection to place and restoration of culturally important species and the traditions associated with them.

Their study site was Heʻeia, Oʻahu, an ahupuaʻa at the forefront of biocultural restoration where three community-based non-profits have worked for over a decade to restore the area from mountain to sea. The area has also recently been designated as a National Estuarine Research Reserve, and the first of such designations to specifically focus on links between ecosystems and social, economic and cultural values. This research focused specifically on wetland and flooded field system agricultural restoration with KakoʻoʻŌiwi, but future research will demonstrate the many benefits of the linked biocultural restoration currently being carried out by Paepae o Heʻeia and Papahana Kuaola in Heʻeia as well as other projects throughout Hawaiʻi and beyond.

“My family gets to eat, mentally, physically, spiritually. The thriving factor increases as we work not only for my own family but for the place,” noted a Kakoʻo ʻŌiwi’s ʻohana program participant in an interview with Natural Resources and Environmental Management student Casey Ching.

Authors of this study are: Leah Bremer (UH Economics Research Organization and Water Resources Research Center); Kim Falinki (TNC); Casey Ching (NREM); Kimberly Burnett and Christopher Wada (UHERO); Kanekoa Kukea-Shultz (TNC and Kakoʻo ʻŌiwi); Nick Reppun (Kakoʻo ʻŌiwi); Greg Chun (Hawaiʻinuiakea School of Hawaiian Knowledge and the Social Science Research Institute); Kirsten Oleson (NREM) and Tamara Ticktin (Botany). Editors of the special issue on biocultural restoration were Kevin Chang, Kawika Winter and Noa Lincoln. This study was supported through funding from a National Science Foundation grant to the University of Hawaiʻi.