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Hawaii to host World Conservation Congress: Ancient Hawaiian Farmers Offer Lessons in Sustainability

The Hawaii botanist says he hopes that by coming to Limahuli, visitors will learn some valuable lessons from the ancient Hawaiians who worked this land

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Limahuli Garden and Preserve is set in a verdant tropical valley on the north shore of the Hawaiian Island of Kaua`i. Against a backdrop of majestic Makana Mountain, the garden overlooks the Pacific Ocean. Image source: VOA
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Hawaii is hosting the World Conservation Congress. Thousands of government officials, environmental activists, business leaders and other delegates from nearly 200 countries are in Honolulu for 10 days to shape the direction of global conservation and sustainable development. This is the first time the Eco-summit is being held in the U.S. Organizers say one of the reasons the Aloha state was chosen to host the quadrennial conference is because it’s been a model for incorporating indigenous culture into its conservation initiatives.

A shining example of this is Limahuli Garden and Preserve, on the island of Kauai.

Its director, Kawika Winter, points to the evidence of successful, sustainable farming in the verdant tropical valley. “You see all these terraces that are remnants of the ancient agricultural complex that dates back almost a thousand years. So the original inhabitants of this valley built these walls and left them to be able to grow taro on the land.”

Kawika Winter gives a tour of the garden to a group of environmental journalists.
Kawika Winter gives a tour of the garden to a group of environmental journalists. Image source: VOA

Winter notes while most of Hawaii’s food is now imported, once upon a time, valleys like this one nourished the whole community.

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“If you’re to take the time to walk through the jungle over here, you’d find terrace after terrace after terrace, all the way down to the ocean. So this valley was definitely feeding a lot of people in the old days.” In fact, its name – Limahuli – in Hawaiian, means turning hands, and Winter says it might refer to the people who once turned their hands here to work the earth.

Ancient land management system

Limahuli Garden and Preserve is one of four gardens in Hawaii run by the National Tropical Botanical Garden. Winter says it’s also one of the few places in the state where people can learn how to manage resources based on the ancient Hawaiian ahupua`a system. He explains, “An ahupua’a is basically a land section that extends from the top of the mountains, out into the ocean and it’s within the borders of an ahupua’a that Hawaiian communities were developed and managed.”

Artist's depiction of what the area around Limahuli might have looked like many years ago.
Artist’s depiction of what the area around Limahuli might have looked like many years ago. Image source: VOA

Limahuli’s approach gives it a leading role in saving native species. Hawaii is the endangered species capital of the U.S., if not the world. There are more endangered species per square kilometer on these islands than any other place on the planet, and Winter says nearly 40 of them are in 400 protected hectares of Limahuli’s garden and nature preserve.

“We’re working to do ecological restoration to prevent extinction of this precious biodiversity that exists in this valley,” Winter says. “Some of the species are only existing in this valley, and some of them are down to a few individuals in the wild.”

Lessons for sustainability

The Hawaii botanist says he hopes that by coming to Limahuli, visitors will learn some valuable lessons from the ancient Hawaiians who worked this land: whatever you do on the land affects the life and ecosystem of the ocean, and that fresh water is the secret to everything. One of the last pristine waterways left in the Islands runs through the garden.

Limahuli Stream is one of the few pristine waterways left in the Hawaiian Islands.
Limahuli Stream is one of the few pristine waterways left in the Hawaiian Islands. Image source: VOA

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At more than 1,000 workshops and panel discussions, delegates to the World Conservation Congress are focusing on the theme of our planet at the crossroads, with topics ranging from species recovery and eco-tourism to indigenous peoples and megacities and watersheds.

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Kawika Winter believes Limahuli Garden and Preserve can show the world how to care for the planet. “From our perspective, instead of reinventing the wheel, all we need to do is look back to a system that worked in Hawaii for at least a millennium and quite possibly more. And our hope is that we can be a model of sustainability and we can show that the ahupua’a system can offer viable solutions to our contemporary issues regarding sustainability in Hawaii and the globe.” (VOA)

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Why Does Trump Separate Families, A Policy Or A Law?

A video released Monday by Customs and Border Protection

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In this photo provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, people who've been taken into custody related to cases of illegal entry into the United States, rest in one of the cages at a facility in McAllen, Texas, June 17, 2018.
In this photo provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, people who've been taken into custody related to cases of illegal entry into the United States, rest in one of the cages at a facility in McAllen, Texas, June 17, 2018. VOA

The Trump administration at least since April has been separating children and parents who enter the United States illegally at the border — that much is supported by the numbers. But much of everything else surrounding the practice has become mired in confusion.

Here is what we know:

In recent weeks, news stories of children in detention centers have circulated more widely, and the numbers of detained children have grown.

Department of Homeland Security officials told reporters Friday that between April 19 and May 31 of this year, nearly 2,000 (1,995) children were separated from their parents or other adults with whom they were traveling.

A video released Monday by Customs and Border Protection shows what appears to be humane conditions at a shelter site for children, but many worry that this video, the only video that has been released from within one of the detention centers, may not accurately depict them.

A policy or a law?

As criticism over the separation of parents and children at the border grows, the Trump administration has struggled to explain the policy.

Trump, himself, said the practice is the result of a law passed by Democrats, which has forced his administration into separating parents and children.

But there is no such law.

Rather in May, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero-tolerance” policy, which means that those detained entering the United States illegally would be criminally charged. This approach generally leads to children being separated from their parents because the law requires it.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks about religious liberty at the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center's annual leadership mission in Washington, June 13, 2018
Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks about religious liberty at the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center’s annual leadership mission in Washington, June 13, 2018, VOA

On Sunday, senior policy adviser to the Trump administration Stephen Miller told The New York Times that the crackdown “was a simple decision by the administration to have a zero-tolerance policy for illegal entry. Period.”

Administration officials, including Miller and Sessions, have defended the separation of families, saying that having children does not exempt anyone from the consequences of breaking the law.

“If you cross the border unlawfully, even a first offense, we’re going to prosecute you. … If you don’t want your child to be separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally,” Sessions told a gathering of the Association of State Criminal Investigative Agencies.

The administration has said the new practice is directed at combating a “surge” of unlawful border crossings. But the “surge” appears to be numbers marking a return-to-normal after a dip last year.

Not a new idea

Though the practice of treating all people who cross the border unlawfully as subject to criminal prosecution is new under the Trump administration, it is built on existing policies from the Bush and Obama administrations.

Amid a surge of unlawful migration from Central America to the United States in 2014, the Obama administration considered many plans to deter illegal border crossings, including separating parents and children. Ultimately, Obama decided against separations but did expand the detention of immigrant families. New facilities were opened along the border, which held women and children for long periods of time before their cases were processed.

Following widespread criticism after photos of detained women and children, accompanied by testimonies of people being held for extended periods, a federal judge in Washington effectively ruled that asylum-seeking mothers could not be held for longer than 20 days, leading to what has been called a “catch and release” system where adults were released with GPS ankle monitors tracking their movements until their cases could be heard in court.

U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen speaks at the National Sheriffs' Association convention in New Orleans, Louisiana, June 18, 2018.
=U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen speaks at the National Sheriffs’ Association convention in New Orleans, Louisiana, June 18, 2018. VOAU.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen speaks at the National Sheriffs’ Association convention in New Orleans, Louisiana, June 18, 2018.VOA

But this “catch and release” system has been heavily criticized by Trump and his administration.

Also read: Trump Launched A New Attack On Mueller Probe In Russia

“This get out of jail free card for families and groups who pose as families has spread,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen. “The word of this has spread. The smugglers and traffickers know these loopholes better than our members of Congress. I’m sad to say that from October 2017 to this February, we have seen a staggering 315 percent increase in illegal aliens fraudulently using children to pose as family units to gain entry into this country. This must stop,” she said. (VOA)