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VOS6-3 Full Episode – College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources


[music]>>Kanesa Duncan Seraphin: In this episode of “Voice of the Sea,” we’re exploring some of the research conducted by CTAHR, UH’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. We’ll learn about traditional farming practices and indigenous plants as well as chemicals in the aquatic environment and their effects on food fishes. We start off with environment social scientist Dr. Mehana Vaughan. She welcomes us with anoliand shares knowledge of this special place. [singing foreign language]>>Mehana Vaughan: I look at questions of how community groups can care for lands and waters in Hawaii and across the world, what makes those kinds of efforts work, how can people work effectively with government and policy makers, how can communities deal with the realities of climate change and apply knowledge from their ancestors and also adapt that knowledge and those ways of observing places to the ways they’re changing today. I work extensively with Hawai’inuiakea, the School of Hawaiian Knowledge. My position was created as part of a collaboration calledHui Aina Momonawith CTAHR and Sea Grant and Hawai’inuiakea to bring in more Hawaiian faculty. Many of us are young, many of us are based on neighbor islands, and to try to bring the rich offerings of the university out into our communities, into our local communities across Hawaii more as well as to help the deep ‘Ike of our communities to guide the work that happens by students and faculty at Manoa.>>Mehana: I’m a community-based researcher. All of the work that I do in CTAHR and Sea Grant is guided by community groups and tries to answer questions of relevance to them that can help them in their work to take care of the places that they guard and care for andMalamaacross Hawaii, and I do a lot of work just to understand what was here before us and how places looked in the past and who were the communities of these places in the past and how did they care for these places, and what can we learn from that. We’re, right now, in Wanini. We refer to this whole coast as Anini, but really, each part of it has a very different story and very different names and families related to it in different ways. So I brought a team of students from Oahu, from UH Manoa, mostly graduate students, in a class on community management to come and interview community members. And these are families who grew up in this place, who’ve been in this place for generations. Many of them have had to move away, but about 40 different individuals were able to come together with the students over the course of four days, and they took them on tours, walked them around the area, showed them their homes, told them who used to live in all of these homes along the coast, made maps of that information, and just told their stories of the place, and we were able to compile that for the community as a resource that they can always keep using and to make sure that those stories continue. This whole coast was known for its springs. Freshwater feeds the health of the ocean. So because of those springs and this water percolating out everywhere, this was an abundant reef, and families rememberedlimucovering this reef so thick that they could hardly– you couldn’t see the holes when you were walking, so you had to be careful or you’d fall in. And such an abundant ocean, they named 60 different species that they would harvest and eat. So being in the College of Tropical Agriculture we often think of agriculture as large-scale, how are we gonna feed a large population, when really in every backyard along this coast families were growing taro, they were cultivating vegetable gardens, they were coming out to the ocean in the morning and catching reef fish for breakfast. They were harvesting limu and they were also cultivating the ocean as well in the way they harvested and making sure that, you know, they picked in a way that continued to rejuvenate and lead to more abundance. Families really had everything they needed right here, harvesting from the land and the sea and sharing with one another. When we take students to work with community groups, we always are working on three fronts. One is cultural, one is ecological, and one is policy. And the students have teams that address all of these things, and so they look for existing resources, land use plans, ecological studies, old Hawaiian maps and place names. They bring all of this together, and they bring that to the community, and then when we do interviews, we also ask questions along those same lines, asking people what changes they’ve seen, asking what they wanna see for the future. And then bringing that all together so that they can use it however they want. Because in Hawaii, property taxes are based on value, any time a home down here sells for a vacation rental or developments in Princeville that are high end, those raise the property values for everyone along this area. So where there were 20 families living in this area in the 1960s, a thriving community, two churches, of those families, only two still live here, twelve of them continue to hold their lands, but they can’t afford to live here, and they’re really worried that they’re not gonna be able to keep their property in their families. And that has a tremendous change, ’cause you have a thriving community that is now mostly empty vacation rentals, which means there’s no one here looking out for the place, watching what fish get taken, taking care of the place. So that is a tremendous change. So I’m really excited for new models in which land is really used as gathering places and as places that create food and sustenance and abundance. Today, all across Hawaii, we’re looking instead at how do these places feed people, not just physical food and sustenance but also educationally, spiritually. How do they bring people together? And there’s so much value there, and that other model would have precluded it from happening, and now there’s just all these opportunities to create these other models and these other options for the future that are more grounded in place and specific to each place, but also really across Hawaii have some common values and ways of working. So one of the things I hope to see is no matter who owns land, that there can be an ability for it to house people and for people to make homes along this coast again and to be the caretakers of places again, ’cause it really is less about ownership than about being present and being able to care for something well. So we’ve formed a group calledKipuka Kuleana,a non-profit organization which supports families working to keep their family lands. We do that in multiple ways. One is connecting them to legal support, one is trying to help them with meetings to gather families together and decide what they wanna do, and the third is helping them to access the documents and archival sources they need to prove their relationships to land. And also just helping them know that they’re not alone, ’cause it’s really overwhelming, trying to work with the county tax office to forgive bills or work out agreements or figure out things and just being advocates and folks who can be there to listen and try to offer the different sorts of services they may need. And we need programs like that across Hawaii just so that the families of an area continue to be in their home area, which really affects the character of the place and the experience of all who visit. Even small bits of property, such tiny places can be really important gathering and educational centers, and we look at land in Hawaii as, you know, its highest value, and that could mean a luxury home or a vacation rental, whereas if that parcel is kept in community hands, in the hands of a collection,ohana,it can really offer so much more. So I think part of it is community-held lands, smallkipukaof lands, in everyahupua’a,every community in Hawaii where a community can gather and continue to take care of the place and teach their children the traditions of the place and welcome and host others. [music]>>male announcer:The University of Hawai’iSea Grant College program.Focused on Hawaii’s coastsand its communities,through sustainable development,safe seafood supply,sustainable coastal tourism,hazard resilience,and healthy coastal ecosystems.Hawai’i Sea Grant.>>Kanesa: Welcome back to “Voice of the Sea.” We’re learning about the science and importance of traditional farming practices and growing indigenous crops like ulu and ko with Dr. Noa Lincoln at one of CTAHR’s outdoor laboratories in Manoa Valley.>>Noa Lincoln: We are at the Magoon Research Station, one of a number of stations the university has across the state, meant to support agricultural research to support our farmers and crops here in Hawaii. When we think about modern research into agriculture, when we think about modern agriculture, it’s extremely young, and it’s been very, I would say, narrowly focused both on the number of crops it looks at and also the practices it looks at. Though since the green revolution, we’ve seen a huge loss in crop diversity and a huge loss in farming diversity. Most of the food in the United States is grown in a particular way and it only consists of a small number of crops which we’re all familiar with: wheat, corn, potatoes, rice. But when you look at the history of agriculture on our planet, which is a 10,000- to 15,000-year history, there are hundreds and hundreds of crop species and literally just tens of thousands of different varieties, and then there’s a lot of different ways of growing food that don’t necessarily fall into that Western monocrop style of agriculture. That was a very European construct that got exported around the world. With today’s global buzz around sustainable agriculture and sustainable food systems, I really believe there’s a lot to be learned from cultures and farming practices that have existed a lot longer than the green revolution has.>>Kanesa: What is the green revolution?>>Noa: The green revolution is a relatively recent advance in global agriculture. It really came out of the synthesis of industrial fertilizers, and that’s really what’s fueled the huge increase in yields that we’ve seen in agriculture globally. Unfortunately, though, more recently, we’re starting to realize some of the shortcomings of the farming practices associated with this: environmental impacts, loss of diversity both in crops and in practices. So I most specifically work on the indigenous Polynesian crops, so in particular a lot of my work has been focusing on ko, our native sugar cane varieties; ulu, the breadfruit; to a lesser extent, things like ole’na, which is turmeric; mamaki, native nettle; kalo, uala, pia, and uhi, the yams.>>Kanesa: Can we take a look inside the greenhouses?>>Noa: Absolutely.>>Kanesa: All right, let’s do it.>>Noa: Okay.>>Noa: One of the things we do is work with farmers of our indigenous crops and try to overcome some of the barriers they have. Most ulu are actually sterile, so you have to propagate them. Traditional way of doing that is you’ll have a root running and a sprout coming up, and you can come and cut off that root, plant it out, and you get one new tree. We are kind of taking that technique and amplifying it, taking that section of root, dice it up a little bit with a razor blade, kind of like you hit it with a weed-whacker, and that makes it start making a bunch of shoots. And these little guys, then, we can take them, cut them off, and treat them like a cutting, get ’em to root out, and so from that same section of root that you got one tree from, we can probably make on the order of about 100 trees from. So this is one of those basic research projects, and this is actually a student-run project. It’s called the Deficiency Trial. Our student, Kahaia comes once a month, and she makes a custom fertilizer that gives the tree everything it needs except for one thing. So you make a fertilizer that has everything except calcium, one that has everything except phosphorus, and by depriving the plant of that one element, you eventually induce a deficiency. And so we can both look kind of scientifically at, well, how does that deficiency manifest in the plant, what does it do to the plant physiologically, but also more practically, we can make a very user-friendly guide for farmers. Can take pictures of the plants and be, like, “This is what a calcium deficiency looks like. If your tree does this, give it crushed oyster shell or something that’ll provide a calcium. Ko, our sugar canes, are something that I’ve had a lot of passion for over the last decade. Sugar cane can fix nitrogen, meaning it can take nitrogen from the air, then make it available to the plant. It’s a trait we usually associate with things like beans and peas and other legumes. We’re working with our sugar cane varieties here to test that ability and see how much nitrogen are our plants able to take from the air. And this is important, not just for sugar cane but to think of a diversified cropping system. So if you are growing kalo or pumpkins or anything, they all need nitrogen too. And if you can grow your sugar cane as a nitrogen fertilizer, that allows you to fertilize your other crops without having to buy industrial fertilizer. I think this really summarizes my real interest. It’s not in individual crops so much as new systems of farming and diversified systems of agriculture that really help to increase efficiencies in the way we farm, and instead of being, “We’re just gonna buy fertilizer from somewhere, we’re gonna put it on our plants and it’s eventually gonna disappear,” that’s a very linear style of thinking. We need to think about how do we close these loops and how do we make these systems circular. And by growing a plant that brings in fertilizer, using it to fertilize another plant and build the health of the soil, which can then be used to grow more sugar cane and bring in more nitrogen, it starts to turn into a circle, and that’s really sustainable farming there. And it’s actually been something I’ve been focusing a lot of my research on over the last many years, is how did our ancestors maintain nitrogen in these systems for 200, 300, 400 years? And I think if we can answer some of those questions, they have very direct application to improving our farming systems today. I do think sugar cane was one of the keys to that. When we look at how much sugar cane our ancestors grew in terms of the land area, it seems disproportionate. Nobody was eating that much sugar cane, and to me, the only reason to grow that much sugar cane is if it helped you grow a larger kalo, if it helped you grow a larger sweet potato. And so I really do believe that ko was one of the keys to a successful cropping system. When you break it down, sugar cane produces the most calories per area of any crop on the planet. The big field of research today is microbes and fungi. The whole life system of the soil that, really, these plants when you plant them in the ground are not separate. They are joined by this whole ecosystem of soil, and you can have fungi and hyphae, you know, connect the roots of the plants. You can have microbes and bacteria that are supported by one plant influence another, and so there is a much stronger interaction between plants below ground than I think we give them credit for.>>Noa: This is one of my labs here at the University. This is where we bring in a lot of our samples for initial processing and prepping to run for analysis. What we focus on is the interaction between plants and the soil and kind of the flow of nutrients in those systems. We do a lot of soil science, looking at soil quality, nutrient availability, and how that’s affected both by the natural environment but also by management practices and agriculture. The interesting thing of working with breadfruit, in particular, is that it’s a long-lived tree crop, and that starts to really change those cycles as plants put their roots in the soil, take up nutrients into their leaves, which drop back down to the soil and decompose and release those nutrients. And you start to amplify these nutrient cycles and even in very poor or infertile areas, start to build up more and more fertility over time. Rainfall is good in the sense that rainfall dissolves the rock, it helps release the nutrients and build the soil, but too much rainfall is bad because rain is also leeching nutrients out of the soil. So there’s kind of a sweet spot of development where there’s enough moisture and enough time to create a good soil but not so much moisture that it’s flushing those soils out and degrading ’em. And so our ancestors kind of found these sweet spots and really developed their agriculture in those zones. We’ve seen the failure of modern agriculture, particularly in the tropics where you have very old soils, more very degraded soils, because of the high rainfall just wears our soils out. And when you try to then till them and fertilize them and grow these single crops, they just don’t support it as they should. But a lot of these traditional ag systems took a little bit more care about thinking of putting nutrients back in the soil, building soil capacity over time. [music]>>male: We are looking for a few heroes, mentors, trailblazers, innovators. A passion to change lives, spark curiosity, open hearts, and awaken minds. Help students answer the question, “Who am I?” This could be your calling, but this is no job. It’s the journey of a lifetime. Be a hero. Be a teacher.>>Kanesa: Welcome back to “Voice of the Sea.” CTAHR’s Dr. Andre Seale discusses the research his group is doing on tilapia fish.>>Andre Seale: We’re at the lab of Fish Endocrinology and Environmental Physiology, and we try to understand the mechanisms by which, you know, fish can adapt to different environments, resist stress, and what the implications are on the physiology of the fish. It’s integrating information between genes and environments. We also have a project that involves understanding the effects of endocrine-disrupting chemicals. These are chemicals that are released in the environment by human activity. The negative effects of these chemicals on marine life such as fish can be quite profound, because hormones play a key role in development. Some of the ones that we’re studying are nonylphenol, for example, which is a compound that’s commonly found in plastic and other household products. It’s a byproduct of plastic production, and there are other compounds that can actually directly mimic hormone action, because they’re actually derived from hormones such as ethinyl estradiol, which is a main ingredient in the birth control pill and that isn’t processed by sewage plants, so basically, there is some of that in the environment. In early life history exposure, very low concentrations of these chemicals can affect that physiology. The exposure to endocrine compounds is of concern, not only for the aquatic wildlife, it has profound effects on development, but also everyone is at risk of being exposed to those compounds. They can bring about health implications. One example is estrogen receptors. So estrogen is a sex hormone in females, and we see that when these fish are exposed early on to nonylphenol, we see an increase in the expression of this receptor in males. It’s been well documented in other studies, too, that actually sex ratios do change, depending on the exposure, the exposure period on the concentration of these chemicals. One of the interesting characteristics of this species is that it is euryhaline, so that means that it can tolerate and thrive in freshwater and seawater environments, actually a whole variation in salinities even exceeding seawater, so they’re very adaptable to salinity fluctuations. How is it that those fish can actually detect those changes and adapt to those changes? Tilapia, as a group, is the second-most widely aquacultured fin fish species in the world after carp. By looking at, you know, the growth and development of species like tilapia, one can have a good understanding of the ideal rearing conditions for the aquaculture industry. One aspect of the work is more in the applied scenario. It informs practices where we can actually grow tilapia bigger and faster and that can perhaps cut costs for the aquaculture industry. Our research also addresses fundamental questions in biology and biomedical research. By having a model organism like tilapia, we can address these questions that otherwise there wouldn’t be a suitable organism to address. We can gain some valuable insight into how cells detect changes in solute concentration, what are the mechanisms that mediate that, and how these cells can actually transduce the signal into a meaningful physiological response to regulate saltwater balance. That has implications in medicine. A lot of problems that are actually primarily or secondarily associated with, you know, edema or congestive heart failure are invariably linked to lack of regulation of proper saltwater balance, whether it’s fluid volume or dehydration. That’s a fundamental characteristic to be maintained.>>Kanesa: The College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources’ programs and education, research and extension serve Hawaii and the international community. Mahalo for watching “Voice of the Sea.” [music]>>announcer: The Universityof Hawai’i Sea GrantCollege program.Helping coastal communitiesof Hawaii and the Pacificthrough research, education,and outreach.Serving the communityfrom elementaryto graduate students.Hawai’i Sea Grant.

One Comment

  1. Kanesa Duncan Seraphin Author

    Iʻve gotten some emails asking to learn more technical information about using tilapia and setting up an aquarium to aquaponics system. I tried to respond, but the emails bounce back…. CTHAR has a few publications of aquaponics. Using "aquaponics" as a search term in the link below will retrieve them.
    https://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/site/Search.aspx

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