Agriculture college honors agronomist and Big Island grocer

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Cheryl Ernst, (808) 956-2405
College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resource
Posted: Apr 9, 2014

Dr. Thomas Lumpkin
Dr. Thomas Lumpkin
Derek Kurisu
Derek Kurisu

Dr. Thomas Lumpkin has been named Outstanding Alumnus for his work to reduce poverty and improve food security worldwide, and Big Island food industry executive Derek Kurisu will receive the Ka Lei Hano Heritage Award for advocacy on behalf of agricultural producers in post-sugar Hawai‘i by the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR).

“Dr. Lumpkin and Derek Kurisu work in very different places but are united by a common dedication to using their knowledge and skills in creative ways to build community and improve people’s lives,” said Dr. Maria Gallo, CTAHR dean and director. “We are so proud to celebrate their accomplishments and claim both as CTAHR graduates.”

Thomas Lumpkin, the 2014 CTAHR Outstanding Alumnus, has a long-standing interest in both agronomy and Asian studies. As director general of CIMMYT, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, since 2008, he greatly expanded initiatives to improve the lives and economic status of people in developing countries through improvement in corn and wheat production systems, securing support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, government of Mexico and other funding sources. Lumpkin is an expert on azuki, wasabi and edible soybeans (edamame) and the use of the aquatic fern Azolla as green manure and poultry feed. He has also written books on bioconfinement of genetically modified organisms and global horticultural needs assessment. After a 20-year career as a professor and chair of crop and soil sciences at Washington State University, he moved into international nonprofit agricultural research and development as director general of Taiwan-based AVRDC–The World Vegetable Center. Since 2007, he has also chaired the Board of Directors of Global Horticulture Initiative, which fosters collaboration in research, training and technology-generating activities. He earned his MS and PhD in agronomy at UH as an East-West Center grantee after serving in the Peace Corps in India.

Derek Kurisu is the 2014 Ka Lei Hano Heritage Award recipient. The executive vice president at KTA Super Stores created the Mountain Apple Brand, a private label that partners with producers to feature items grown or made in Hawai‘i. The CTAHR alumnus draws on his plantation roots, his employer’s commitment to the community and his own ability to come up with creative solutions and forge partnerships to diversify and promote local agriculture, expand availability of locally produced food, encourage small vendors and preach customer service. He created two cable television shows to promote the aloha spirit and intergenerational sharing, and he averages 50 speaking engagements a year, from sharing business and marketing skills with students, to dispensing advice to business professionals, to inspiring senior citizens. He has chaired the Hawai‘i Food Industry Association and is a particular friend to CTAHR, where he is active on the dean’s advisory council, helped bring student-created Pava (papaya-guava nectar) to market, and has long served as the gregarious emcee for the college’s annual awards banquet. (Local writer and teacher Lee Cataluna will emcee this year.)

The awards will be presented at CTAHR’s 26th Annual Awards Banquet on Friday, May 9, 2014, at the Ala Moana Hotel. Reservations will be accepted through April 24 for the banquet, which is a benefit supporting scholarships for students in CTAHR programs ranging from agriculture, environment and biotechnology to food, family resources and fashion. Information and online registration is available at

About CTAHR: The founding college of the University of Hawai‘i, the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources is integral to UH Mānoa’s Carnegie designation as a very-high activity Research University and works extensively with the citizens of Hawai‘i in fulfilling the university’s federally mandated Land Grant mission of instruction, scientific research and outreach to address state needs. More at