Story by Deborah Caulfield Rybak
The World Conservation Congress is sometimes called the Olympics of environmental gatherings. It’s held every four years by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, a network of more than 1,200 governmental, scientific and nonprofit organizations representing 160 countries. Surprisingly, since its inception in 1948, the congress has never been held in the United States.
Thanks to a Hawai‘i coalition led by Chipper Wichman, president and CEO of the National Tropical Botanical Garden on Kaua‘i, and endorsed by President Barack Obama, Honolulu will host the 2016 World Conservation Congress from September 1 through 10. And the action won’t be confined to O‘ahu. In conjunction with the congress, Maui County will present the first Indigenous Crop Biodiversity Festival, August 24 through 30.
Held on Maui, Moloka‘i, and even the restricted island of Kaho‘olawe, the festival will offer talks, tours and workshops on indigenous Hawaiian foods, species and habitat preservation, food security, renewable energy, and planning for sea-level rise. Sprinkled throughout will be films, music, art, cultural events and more at venues like the Maui Nui Botanical Garden in Kahului, Bailey House Museum in Wailuku, the Maui Tropical Plantation in Waikapū, and the Merwin Conservancy in Ha‘ikū.
“Maui and Moloka‘i possess some of the best biologically diverse Hawaiian crop collections,” says Penny Levin, the festival’s planning coordinator. “We want to highlight that, and to make space for indigenous voices to be heard regarding food security.”
The festival is sponsored in part by the County of Maui, the University of Hawai‘i-Maui College, and the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development, with support from more than thirty environmental and agricultural entities. Festivities kick off on August 24 with a conservation workday on Maui and Moloka‘i. “Our goal is to have as many volunteers as possible working to pull invasive species and plant natives,” Levin says.
The Indigenous Crop Biodiversity Festival takes its theme from a Hawaiian proverb, I ulu no ka lālā i ke kumu, “The branches grow because of the trunk,” a reminder that, without our ancestors, we would not exist.