Global Land and Water Issues Hit Home
A community discussion held last Monday about how the world is handling its natural resources lead to call for unity after an emotionally charged debate arose over agricultural corporations and their use of land and water on Molokai.
The event, hosted by the University of Hawaii (UH), gathered a panel guests from the UH and across the globe to hold a week-long series of public discussions in Honolulu and on Molokai about natural resource security and appropriation on a local and worldwide scale. Molokai was their first stop.
“When we think about the kinds of impacts that humans have had on the planet in the last 50 years, it is more damaging than any other period in human history,” said Noe Goodyear-Ka`opua, a professor from the UH Political Science Department.
World scientists compiled a report in 2011 for the journal Environmental Science & Technology. They said that due to recent human activity in the last two centuries, we have launched the planet into a new geological time period—called the Anthropocene (New Man) Epoch—altering the earth for millions of years and possibly drawing the sixth largest mass extinction in Earth’s history.
“We are an inherent part of the ahupua`a,” Andre Perez, a Hawaiian community activist. “The most important thing you should think about is how there’s a symbiotic relationship between the land and the sea. If you disturb one, you’re going to disturb the other and we are all part of that balance.”
Palagummi Sainath, a guest speaker at the event and recipient of Asia’s 2007 Ramon Masaysay Award for his written reports on the agrarian crisis in India, said global exploitation of the world’s most precious resource—water—is currently being depleted at an overwhelming rate.
“You cannot have food security without water security,” he said. “There are tens of millions of bore wells that are sucking up water from the ground and the recharge every year from the rain is less than 30 to 40 percent of what we’re taking out each year. So you’ve got a serious problem.”
Molokai is no different, according to Halealoha Ayau, Department of Hawaiian Homelands (DHHL) acting district supervisor for Molokai. He said Kualapu`u aquifer chloride levels have been on the rise for several years now, causing more salt to deposit into the aquifer, which indicates freshwater is being taken out faster than it can regenerate.
Roughly 5 million gallons daily can be taken out of the Kualapu`u aquifer for sustainable yields, though that amount is still somewhat contested, according to a UH presentation. By 2010, the aquifer was estimated to pump 4.43 millions of gallons daily (mgd). Today, the DHHL has reserved 2.9 mgd alone, not including millions of gallons used each day by the county, Molokai Ranch, Monsanto, and local farms.
“One thing that’s crystal clear about the Kualapu`u aquifer is that it cannot handle expansion — that’s out of the question,” said Ayau. “If you read all the studies the county and the state has done, they all point to find an alternative source because the existing ones have been taking too much.”
Though event attendees agreed prioritization of water and land allocation is key, international agriculture corporations such as Monsanto are big players in resource distribution, according to Sainath.
“The two greatest crops on earth are hunger and thirst and…those who control food and water, hold the world by its belly.” said Sainath.
Food and water are the two largest areas of corporate expansion in the last 20 years, he said. In 2009, Fortune magazine published a list of the fastest growing companies in the world in profit and revenue. Food-related companies were first in profit and fourth in revenues, Sainath added.
“Think about the level of wealth and power [corporations] are able to marshal in order to influence local politics, national politics and even international politics,” said Goodyear-Ka`opua.
A passionate argument ensued when the discussion turned towards Monsanto utilizing genetically modified crops, or GMOs.
“These corporations only care about the bottom line — their pocket books — we all know this already,” said Glenda Maude, a Molokai resident and retired pig farmer. “I have faith that these corporations will reap what they sow, and if they sow greed, then greed will turn around and bite them in the you-know-what.”
While the vast majority of the participants followed similar points of view, one attendee voiced that both sides of the argument needs to be part of the discussion for a better, overall understanding of the topic.
“A lot of local families work for [Monsanto] and they work everyday trying to earn a dollar for their families,” said Molokai resident and homesteader Kanoho Helm. “I have a different point of view and I’d to think everyone here part of this dialogue would want to here from the other side as well.”
Perez agreed that corporations are doing well providing for local families, but said the community needs to be the authority on how their resources are used. He said Molokai needs to be involved in every part of the community’s decision-making process. Also, they must be willing to partake in the physical labor required to return to a traditional and sustainable way of managing the island’s resources such as clearing invasive vegetation, planting traditional crops, and harvesting them for local consumption.
“There was this paradigm we used in the 80s—we used to say, keep Hawaiian lands in Hawaiian hands,” said Perez. “But I realized we’ve got to huli that. We’ve got to keep Hawaiian hands in Hawaiian lands.”
However, Kaleikoa Ka`eo, a Hawaiian studies professor at UH Maui College, said keeping Hawaiian hands in Hawaiian lands is not only literal, but also a frame of mind involving how the community views the land and their relationship with it.
“We will not survive the future if we’re stuck on the ‘me.’ If we are going to move into the future, it’s the ‘we,’” he said. “But the ‘we’ is not just us [humans]. It also includes the aina on which we stand upon, the fish in the sea, the trees on the hills, and the stars in the sky — that’s the ‘we.’”
While the discussion offered no concrete solutions many of the attendees asked for, water and land used for GMO crops continue to be one of Molokai’s most debated topics. When asked how Molokai can begin to unify to solve community issues, Perez said that the best way to unite is to first work as individuals.
“As individuals, you have to first raise your own consciousness. Hopefully over time we will have a growing collective consciousness and I believe we are getting there,” said Perez. “Then, question everything. If the cigarette company is telling you the cigarette’s not bad, don’t believe them, brother. Question it—and you’re already doing that.”
You don’t need a crystal ball to know where this debate is going. We’ve been through this before. The strategies are the same, like everybody went to the same school to learn about grassroots tactics. One ingredient most of these corporate giants cannot comprehend…the spiritual strength of this community. Money cannot replace the soul. Once it’s sold, it’s gone!