Combining old and new: aquaponics opens the door to indigenous food security

All across the United States, Indigenous peoples suffer higher mortality rates than other ethnic groups, mainly due to poorer diets and other colonial stressors that have completely altered their traditional ways of life.

One nonprofit organization in Hawai'i, Malama Waimānalo, is attempting to improve food production through aquaponics. In Hawaiian, malama means "to take care of or protect," and waimānalo, also a name of a community on O'ahu, means "potable water." According to the organization's website, the program was founded to test "culturally grounded family-based backyard aquaponics intervention," according to the organization's website. Now, the program is working to expand its operations to other communities and islands, bringing malama to more Hawaiians.

In Hawai'i, Malama's founder, Ilima Ho-Lastimosa, was "doing a lot of food sovereignty work, traditional gardening, and connecting it to kids," says Jane Chung-Do, the organization's public health researcher and an assistant professor of public health at the University of Hawai'i at Hilo. Ho-Lastimosa's vision was to preserve Native Hawaiian culture, founding a nonprofit in 2005 called God's Country Waimanalo. The vision would grow into one that focused on ecological practices and the health benefits of returning to traditional diets. 

Malama Waimānalo, as the organization was renamed, incorporated that cultural legacy into a program focused on backyard aquaponics. Ho-Lastimosa "just really saw the need for Hawaiian families to get interested in family-based, multigenerational, culture-based activities," Chung-Do says. 

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