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Burning wildfire at sunset with helicopter and water bucket fire fighter. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

NIFA Funded Projects Help Strengthen Maui Community

Nifa Authors
Estelle Robichaux , Climate Change Fellow

May is Wildfire Awareness Month, and many of us will be taking time in the coming weeks to prepare ourselves, our homes and our communities for what may be yet another record-breaking wildfire season. 

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, more than 56,000 wildfires burned 2.6 million acres last year, destroying more than 4,300 homes and commercial structures across the United States. This includes the catastrophic Lahaina wildfire on Maui, with nearly 100 lives lost, more than 2,100 acres burned and 2,300 residences destroyed. 

While a wet spring across much of the U.S. may mean a slow start to the wildfire season, this could change in late May and continue throughout the summer as vegetation and soils dry out. Much of the Southwest, Great Basin and Hawai’i face an above-average risk for fires this year.  

Even as they face this risk, communities on Maui continue to recover from last year’s devastating fires. Through its Rapid Response to Extreme Weather Events program, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture is supporting five projects in the region that will strengthen local community capacity, build resilience and deepen cultural connections.  

Collectively, these projects have the potential to reach the entire community during their recovery, bringing education, tools and greater scientific understanding to community members of all ages. 

  • The Hawai’i Public Health Institute is training school garden educators to use gardens and gardening as a tool to deal with traumatic events through GRaCE: Gardens for Resilience and Climate Education
  • Through its project, Mālama Maui Mahi’ai - meaning to care for and protect Maui farmers, Sustainable Molokai is providing economic and educational assistance to Maui farmers and producers through its Food Hub, Farm to Food Assistance programs, a new Disaster Grant Program and one-on-one consultations to address individual farm business needs. 
  • Researchers and Extension professionals across multiple campuses of the University of Hawai’i system are working on projects to establish pu’uhonua kauluwehi, a regenerative agroecosystem areas for native vegetation, birds and insects; increase disaster preparedness through training and community building; and address ecological knowledge gaps that may have public health implications, especially for agricultural communities. 

Recovery from disasters and extreme weather events can take years, but with the right support, what comes after disaster can be stronger and more resilient. Rapid responses to these events can be critical to protecting food and agricultural supply chains – from production through consumption – especially for our most vulnerable and underserved communities. 

Join the Rapid Response team for a Live FAQ event on June 25 at 6 p.m. EDT. 

Farm Bill Priority Areas
Agriculture systems and technology
Bioenergy, natural resources, and environment
Agriculture economics and rural communities
U.S. States and Territories

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