UH Hilo to host Tropical AgTech Conference, global agricultural leaders will discuss food system problems

The goal of the conference is to inspire technology-based solutions that increase productivity and efficiency for smallholder farms in the tropics.

Tropical AgTech Conference logo with image of pastureland.

By Susan Enright.

The University of Hawai‘i at Hilo will host the first annual Tropical AgTech Conference at the UH Hilo Performing Arts Center, June 22-23. Global leaders in agricultural technology will convene to spur innovation and solutions to food system problems in the tropics.

Bruce Mathews
Bruce Mathews
Bonnie Irwin
Bonnie D. Irwin

“Our College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Natural Resource Management is a co-sponsor of the conference,” says Chancellor Bonnie D. Irwin. “A student-friendly event, innovators and technologists from our island, state, and around the world are coming here to talk about innovative technology that can be applied in the tropics. Our very own Bruce Mathews, dean of the college, will be speaking on the first day of the conference about Hawai’i Island soils and tropical agricultural and ecosystem sustainability.”

Irwin says that the conference dovetails well with the university’s joint application for U.S. Economic Development Administration funding for the ag sector through a COVID-19 relief spending bill that includes a jobs plan related to climate change.

The conference includes agricultural innovators from around the world who will talk about their technologies and how they can be applied in the tropics. The goal is to inspire technology-based solutions that increase productivity and efficiency for smallholder farms in the tropics. Innovations must be climate-smart, farmer-friendly to implement and economically viable at small scale production, according to the conference’s website.

The highest concentrations of hunger exist in the tropics and climate change is making it increasingly challenging to locally produce food. Approximately 40 percent of the global population is currently living in the tropics and there is an expectation it will increase to 50 percent by 2040. Developing solutions that allow for agriculture production near population centers in the tropics is vital and potentially very profitable.

A major problem is that agricultural technology is currently focused on large-scale production when 80 percent of food consumed globally comes from small-scale farms that are less than five acres. Technology solutions are needed to support increased productivity of small farms.

​Because Hawai‘i is an ideal place for incubating tropical agriculture technology ideas and solutions given the climate and unique island resources, the state can play a critical role in providing solutions for the 3.7 billion people living in the tropics.

Speakers at conference include David Slaughter, Professor of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, and Director of the Smart Farm Initiative, University of California-Davis; Arama Kukutai, Chief Executive Officer of Plenty, an indoor vertical farm company, and co-founder of Finistere Ventures, dedicated to Agrifood Investment; Marisa Wall, Center Director, U.S. Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center, Hilo; Nicholas Comerford, Dean, UH Mānoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources; Robbert Blonk, Director of Research and Development, Hendrix Genetics Aquaculture, the Netherlands; and many others.

There’s still time to register to attend in person. Livestreaming registration is also available. Register online.

For more information, visit the Tropical AgTech Conference website.

By Susan Enright, a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories.