October 21, 2022

Hirono Announces $1.37 Million USDA Grant to Combat Coffee Leaf Rust in Hawaii

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) awarded $1.37 million to the Hawaii Agriculture Research Center to support the Center’s work to combat Coffee Leaf Rust (CLR) in Hawaii. The funding comes from NIFA’s Specialty Crop Research Initiatives (SCRI) program, and will be used to revitalize the organization’s coffee breeding program in an effort to produce coffee with CLR resistance.

“Since its discovery in Hawaii in 2020, Coffee Leaf Rust has been a threat to one of our most important local agricultural industries,” said Senator Hirono. “This funding is crucial in supporting the work being done in Hawaii to combat Coffee Leaf Rust and save an industry that generates hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity each year. I am glad that the USDA is continuing to provide necessary resources to address CLR and I’ll continue working to support farmers across our state.”

Coffee Leaf Rust (CLR) is considered the most devastating coffee disease in the world. According to the Hawaii Agriculture Research Center, coffee is one of the most economically valuable specialty crops in Hawaii—the raw crop value of Hawaiian coffee is $62 million and generates approximately $500 million in economic activity each year. It is produced commercially on six islands by over 1,400 growers and has a cultural heritage dating back over 150 years.

In 2020, when CLR was first discovered in Hawaii, Senator Hirono urged the USDA to provide a swift response to contain and treat the fungus. Last year, Senator Hirono introduced the Coffee Plant Health Initiative Amendments Act that would expand research funding to address all current and emerging threats to coffee plant health, including CLR, and Hawaii was also awarded $6 million by NIFA to address CLR.

NIFA’s Specialty Crop Research Initiatives (SCRI) program awards grants to support research that addresses key challenges of national, regional, and multistate importance in sustaining food and agriculture, including conventional and organic food production systems.