BYU–Hawaii graduate Eritai Kateibwi named UN Environment Young Champion of the Earth
UN Environment I December 2, 2017
UN Environment today made Kiribati citizen Eritai Kateibwi a Young Champion of the Earth for his work on a hydroponics system that will improve human health and resilience to climate change on the low-lying island.
Eritai, 28, is one of six winners – each representing a region of the world – awarded the new prize by UN Environment and polymer-producing giant Covestro. The award gives seed funding and mentorship to outstanding individuals, between the ages of 18 and 30, who have big ideas to protect or restore the environment.
“The majority of my people live in [the capital] Tarawa; they come to find jobs, education and health services, but end up living close to each other,” said Eritai. “With the rising sea-level and king tides, their crops are often destroyed. The Te Maeu Project will use hydroponics to allow almost anyone to grow produce at home and sell the surplus through a cooperative.
“I am humbled and privileged to receive this prize, it is a huge step forward and will greatly enhance my ability to make a difference.”
Eritai embarked on his project when he returned home as a graduate in finance from Brigham Young University–Hawaii, feeling empowered by his schooling.
He saw the problems caused by Kiribati’s reliance on imported, often unhealthy, food due to the challenges of growing fresh produce: diabetes, unhealthy children and a garbage problem from dealing with the packaging. He realized that locally grown, nutritious food would reduce these problems, as well as provide entrepreneurial opportunities to the local communities.