|Equator Prize 2015 Winners|
We are pleased to announce the winners of the Equator Prize 2015, an international award that recognizes outstanding local achievement in advancing sustainable development solutions for people, nature and resilient communities.
Following a global call for nominations, the Equator Initiative received a record-setting 1,461 nominations from 126 countries around the world. A Technical Advisory Committee comprised of international experts guided a rigorous, months-long peer-review process to select the 21 winning initiatives.
For more details on this year’s winners, please click the organization name for a description of the initiative.
Asia and the Pacific
Rural Green Environment Organization, AfghanistanIn one of the most remote and poorest provinces in Afghanistan, the Rural Green Environment Organization is working across an area of 1,500 square kilometers and 90 villages (over 40,000 people) to promote a model of community development that is based on peace building, environmental regeneration, sustainable livelihoods and wildlife protection. Following decades of conflict, insecurity and the overharvesting of natural resources, the initiative is working to restore ecosystem functioning through a community-driven approach. Starting in one community and since expanding to eight, the organization has worked through community elders to create a community-based forum to ban illegal fishing and hunting, improve food security and restore degraded lands. Activities include food for work projects, tree nurseries, forest guard patrols and reforesting with fruit- and nut-bearing trees. The initiative has created 6,150 jobs, constructed five kilometers of irrigation canals, protected two kilometers of river, constructed 125 check dams and 120,000 meters of terracing, and planted over 200,000 trees (including 16 local vine varieties that prevent soil erosion and contribute to food security). Village mosques, schools and Koran studies are used to raise awareness of the benefits of environmental conservation.
Prey Lang Community Network, CambodiaWorking to protect a 500,000-hectare forest in the Cambodian lowlands – the largest primary lowland evergreen forest remaining in the country – Prey Lang Community Network is an alliance of indigenous Kuy communities that is using communications technologies to document forest crime. Since 2007, the network has advocated against illegal logging and large-scale land grabs for mining, agri-business and logging concessions. With an emphasis on non-violent actions and peaceful dialogue, the network has engaged civil society, indigenous associations, commune and district authorities, NGOs and research institutions in a joint movement for environmental justice and sustainable development with the goal of improving the livelihoods, food security and health of the 200,000 people living adjacent to the forest. The network uses forest patrols and smartphone technology to geo-reference, document and upload information about forest health, illegal logging and wildlife poaching. As a result of their work, the Government of Cambodia drafted a sub-decree to make Prey Land a protected forest. The network has become the primary source of reliable on-the-ground data about the forest, information that is now used by a range of stakeholders to strengthen advocacy efforts on continued protection of Prey Lang.
Yunnan Green Watershed Management Research and Promotion Center, ChinaFormed in response to a 1998 Lashihai dam project that flooded large areas of farmland and left the Yi indigenous people displaced, the Yunnan Green Watershed Management Research and Promotion Center has become a model of indigenous self-organization and participatory watershed management. The group responded to displacement by founding four autonomous organizations for sustainable resource management, each of which have achieved remarkable results: two watershed management groups (which have brought mudslides under control, used agro-forestry to increase incomes ten-fold over 10 years, and protected over 1,300 hectares of mountain forest), a fishing association (which has banned illegal nets and recovered the local fishing industry) and a water users association (which has successfully managed water access and negotiated fair upstream and downstream water use). Agroforestry, ecological cropping, animal husbandry, sustainable fisheries and the sound management of water resources have all improved local incomes and food security and strengthened resilience in the face of droughts.
Umbrella Group of Naghadeh NGOs, IranWorking in the areas surrounding Lake Urmia – the world’s second largest hyper-saline lake (5,000 km2) and the largest inland wetland in Iran – the Umbrella Group of Naghadeh NGOs addresses water management issues that include wetland restoration, adaptation to droughts, farm irrigation and sedimentation in canals. While previous efforts to restore the rapidly disappearing Lake Urmia focused on the lake itself, this initiative took an innovative approach by instead focusing on the restoration and conservation of satellite wetlands surrounding the lake. The partnership of seven community NGOs has restored over 1,600 hectares of satellite wetlands where previous government initiatives had failed. Their work has improved the livelihoods of local farmers, strengthened water access, enhanced environmental health and built social capital among communities in the region. The restored satellite wetlands have also restored the ecosystem functioning of degraded Lake Urmia, benefitting globally important biodiversity and the surrounding population.
Forum Masyarakat Adat Dataran Tinggi, Indonesia/MalaysiaThis trans-border indigenous peoples alliance came together in 2004 to build on the shared historical and cultural bonds between the Lundayeh, Kelabit, Lun Bawang and Sa'ban peoples living in the highlands of the heart of Borneo. Forum Masyarakat Adat Dataran Tinggi Borneo aims to integrate conservation and development at the landscape level and to generate benefits for local people by preserving the rich natural and cultural diversity of the region, an area that includes the largest surviving intact forested and traditionally farmed catchment area on the island of Borneo. Farmers in the region use a traditional wet rice farming system, developed over centuries, which allows the same fields to be farmed continually and is unique in Borneo where most use rotational or shifting agriculture. The group has prioritized farming native varieties of rice and fruits, building innovative value-added supply chains to NGOs and networks like Slow Food International. FORMADAT is also an advocacy network that actively lobbies for greater land tenure security, indigenous peoples rights and forest protection. Several member communities have conducted territorial mapping and campaigned to gain rights to their traditional lands, including collaborative management of lands inside an Indonesian national park.
Kelompok Peduli Lingkungan Belitung, IndonesiaOn an archipelago off the east coast of Sumatra that has been devastated by tin mining and unmitigated industrial development, Kelompok Peduli Lingkungan Belitung is working to rehabilitate, protect and sustainably manage coastal resources. Community management of coral reefs, mangroves, fishing zones and tropical forests has led to improved livelihoods and the restoration of a unique marine and coastal ecosystem. The group has effectively created three programs that balance environmental protection with ecotourism, including the Kepayang Island Conservation Center (for training, environmental education and turtle conservation), the Mendanau Mangrove Conservation Center (for mangrove and tropical rainforest protection), and the Batu Mentas Nature Reserve and Tarsius Sanctuary (which protects a threatened population of tarsius). Scuba diving, jungle treks, river tubing, tarsius expeditions, mangrove tours, homestays, fishing tours and boat rentals all are run by and directly benefit the local population. The group has successfully advocated for the creation of a regional marine conservation plan (with no-take and sustainable fishing zones) and five island turtle conservation areas, where more than 12,000 baby turtles have been released over the past five years. More than 45,000 mangrove trees have been replanted and the group oversees community nurseries that cultivate 20,000 seedlings.
Komunitas Adat Muara Tae, IndonesiaKomunitas Adat Muara Tae is a community of Dayak people in Kalimantan fighting for the protection of their customary forests. Of their original 11,000 hectares of land, only 4,000 hectares remain, the rest having been lost to illegal clear-cutting by palm oil, mining and logging companies. Through community mapping, demarcation of their traditional territory, and advocacy with government and industry, the group is working to achieve legal recognition of their land rights. The community has replanted more than 700 hectares of forest with traditional wood and fruit trees that are becoming increasingly rare due to land clearing for extractive industries. The movement was formed as a means of struggle and cooperation, a way of maintaining, safeguarding and preserving their culture and the natural resources in the customary forest. Komunitas Adat Muara Tae is a model of peaceful community resistance for forest protection in Indonesia – one community fighting with dignity for their survival.
Wanang Conservation Area, Papua New GuineaDeveloped in response to commercial logging pressures and a lack of public services, the Wanang Conservation Area is an alliance of 10 indigenous, rainforest-dwelling clans that together protect 10,000 hectares of forest for biodiversity research, carbon storage and sustainable livelihoods. The initiative maintains a “forest dynamics plot”, where they have planted more than 280,000 plants to study their responses to changing climatic conditions. A research station (one of the largest in the country) serves as a capacity building hub, where Wanang villagers and students are trained as para-ecologists and research technicians. The research station enhances communication between the local population and research scientists, provides a source of livelihoods and supports environmental learning. The initiative has become a model for community-driven conservation and development in the country and is a powerful example of partnership between a self-governed community, local NGOs, government and research institutes. It is also a model of resistance to commercial logging interests in a region being ravaged by deforestation. Forest conservation has become the cornerstone of the local economy, with partnerships creating greater access to health, education and food security.
Latin America and the Caribbean
Maya Leaders Alliance, BelizeThis coalition of Maya organizations and leaders collectively works to promote the long-term wellbeing of the Maya people and to defend collective rights to their territories. The alliance achieved a landmark legal victory in 2015, which affirmed that the 39 Q’eqchi and Mopan Maya indigenous communities of southern Belize have rights to the lands that they have historically used and occupied. This historic legal affirmation – which states that traditional land rights constitute property, equal in legitimacy to any other form of property under Belizean law – is the first indigenous peoples land rights victory in the Caribbean region. In addition to providing mobilization, outreach, advocacy and legal support on customary land rights, the Maya Leaders Alliance is active in sustainable forest management and environmental conservation efforts. Village funds are used to improve services in education, health, and infrastructure for Mayans living across 39 villages.
Consejo Indígena del Pueblo Tacana, BoliviaIn the heart of one of the most biodiverse areas of Bolivia, Consejo Indígena del Pueblo Tacana has secured collective land title to more than 389,300 hectares of forest for the Tacana people. After successfully presenting their land claim to the Government of Bolivia, the group built consensus on a land use plan and natural resource management strategy amongst the 20 communities living in the territory. The land use strategy prioritizes sustainable livelihoods, biodiversity conservation and forest protection and has resulted in four times less deforestation. The group has also launched 24 community-based associations in agroforestry, ecotourism, cacao production and sustainable caiman harvesting that have benefited more than 50 percent of Tacana households. Indigenous peoples have gone from poorly paid day laborers to members of associations that provide sustainable livelihoods. An independent women’s group has been established to coordinate work across the 20 communities with a focus on food security and traditional livelihoods. The Tacana territory is a connectivity corridor between the Madidi protected area and two important bird areas, providing critical protection for the more than 50 endangered wildlife and plant species in the territory (including the jaguar and the white-lipped peccary).
Movimento Ipereg Ayu, BrazilFacing a proposal by the Brazilian government to build a large dam complex on the Tapajós River that would submerge their vast territories (one million hectares of primary rainforest), the Munduruku of the Brazilian Amazon formed a resistance movement called Ipereg Ayu (what in local language means, “I am strong, I know how to protect myself”). Designed to safeguard the Amazon rainforest and protect the rights of the Munduruku people, the movement has helped to demarcate traditional territories, protect indigenous lands from illegal logging and mining and create platforms for the Munduruku people to exchange experiences, knowledge and best practices. The focus on territorial defense and resistance to destructive projects has not only empowered a broad segment of the Munduruku's 13,000 people, but also encouraged greater organization among the region's communities to stand as one against common threats and in favor of sustainable, culturally appropriate development. In addition to successfully demarcating the Sawré Muybu territory (creating a political imperative for the Brazilian government to permanently protect Munduruku lands), the movement was the driving force behind a groundbreaking protocol on the right to free, prior and informed consent.
Instituto Raoni, BrazilInstituto Raoni is the organizational face of the Kayapó, a Brazilian indigenous group that is leading the fight against unfettered deforestation of the Amazon and using an innovative media strategy (the “video warriors” project) to document illegal logging in their territory and increase accountability in the remotest parts of the Amazon rainforest. The institute has also been used by the Kapotnhinore, Panará, Yudja, Trumaí and Tapayuna peoples to create realistic and far-reaching policies to promote economic independence, territorial integrity and forest protection. Since 2004, the institute has protected 2.5 million hectares of indigenous lands, including the largest remaining segments of the Amazon rainforest. The initiative is working to strengthen local food security and provide sustainable livelihoods for more than 3,000 indigenous people.
Wuasikamas, el Modelo del Pueblo Inga en Aponte, ColombiaIn the midst of armed conflict, the Inga indigenous peoples of Aponte (a population of 3,600) successfully fought to recover their sovereignty and rights to their 22,283 hectares of ancestral territory. The group brokered a groundbreaking agreement with the Government of Colombia to reframe a national program designed to pay indigenous peoples to clear drug plantations from their land. The Inga of Aponte negotiated to receive a communal fund to support the entire community in their work to rid the territory of the armed guerillas, paramilitaries and drug-trafficking groups that had between 1986 and 2004 violated their territorial rights, degraded local ecosystems and stymied sustainable development. Following expulsion of these groups, the Inga people set aside the majority of their land as a 17,500-hectare sacred area. The community organized themselves around a local governance model that is based on shared a vision of justice and collective action on health, education, community services, ecosystem restoration and sustainable livelihoods. At the same time, the group created the Court of Indigenous Peoples and Authorities from the Colombian Southwest, designed to support other indigenous peoples in reclaiming their ancestral territories and combatting drug trafficking.
South Central Peoples Development Association, GuyanaA federation of Wapichan communities in Guyana, South Central Peoples Development Association has developed an innovative land use plan and a “living digital map” of their traditional lands to promote secure land rights and socio-ecological resilience. Community mapping teams create territorial maps that are used to make land claims and devise collective land use plans for the forest, mountain, savannah and wetland ecosystems that fall within the territory of the 17 Wapichan communities. More than 100 intercommunity agreements have been reached on the sustainable use of natural resources, the protection of wildlife and the conservation of forests. Field investigations, smart phones, GPS units and a community drone are used to detect deforestation and other environmental damage caused by illegal logging and mining in the Wapichan territory. The land use plan includes a collective vision and agreed priority activities in the fields of health, food security, education, cultural integrity and sustainable livelihoods.
Comité para la Defensa y Desarrollo de la Flora y Fauna del Golfo de Fonseca (CODDEFFAGOLF), HondurasIn a coastal region of Honduras that has some of the highest rates of poverty in Latin America and is facing severe environmental threats from the shrimp farming, sugar cane and commercial fishing industries, Comité para la Defensa y Desarrollo de la Flora y Fauna del Golfo de Fonseca (CODDEFFAGOLF) has been a force for positive change over the last 20 years. With a focus on protecting and restoring dwindling mangroves and coastal biodiversity, the group has constructed artificial coral reefs as fish aggregation sites and used direct seeding to replant and regenerate the coastal forests. Fish populations have increased by 36 percent in installed reef sites and more than 1,200 hectares of mangroves have been reforested, improving local fishing livelihoods and benefiting over 7,000 families along the Gulf. Restored mangroves serve as “green infrastructure” and buffer the coastal communities from climate-related storm surges and floods. Radio programming has helped the organization raise awareness about climate change, ecosystem health and the power of community action. The group has successfully campaigned for the established of nine protected areas, the declaration of a 69,711-hectare Ramsar site and the creation of a vibrant, citizen-driven environmental monitoring network.
Muskitia Asla Takanka - MASTA, HondurasAn indigenous federation that represents the Miskitus of the Honduran Mosquitia, MASTA works to protect indigenous territorial rights and culture, strengthen local governance and natural resource management and improve regional health and education systems. The group protects a large part of the remaining intact rainforest in Honduras, approximately 1.2 million hectares or 7% of the national territory. MASTA represents all 60,000 Miskitus people in Honduras and has used social mobilization, skillful negotiation, creative communications strategies and alliance building to secure titles for Miskitus territories. MASTA is the first indigenous organization in Central America to develop their own “bio-cultural protocol” as a mechanism to defend the collective right of the Miskitus to free, prior and informed consent on proposed development projects in their territories. The federation has helped the Miskitu defend their territories from ranchers, drug traffickers and palm oil and petroleum companies. Through land titling, the group has significantly decreased rates of deforestation and helped create sustainable livelihood options in the areas of forest management, small-scale fisheries and organic agriculture.
La Dynamique des Groupes des Peuples Autochtones, Democratic Republic of CongoStarted in 2005 to improve recognition of indigenous pygmies rights in Congolese legislation, La Dynamique des Groupes des Peuples Autochtones is a network of 43 community-based organizations from across the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The group has lobbied for a legal framework in the DRC that promotes and protects the rights of indigenous peoples. Extensive consultations with indigenous groups across the country, international lawyers and NGOs helped to create a draft law on the rights of indigenous pygmies that was submitted to parliament in July 2014. An historic march of thousands of pygmies was organized in the streets of Kinshasa to demand adoption of the law. The group aims to reduce poverty in indigenous pygmy communities through the conservation and sustainable use of forests and applied traditional knowledge. Its advocacy work has stopped concessions for over 600,000 square kilometers of forest and has helped maintain a moratorium on the allocation of extractive industry concessions in the rainforest.
Oromia Pastoralist Association, Ethiopia/KenyaExtreme weather and droughts have historically brought the Borena and Gabra pastoral tribes into conflict over pasture land, water and natural resources. The Oromia Pastoralist Association (OPA) was created to facilitate the cross-border mobility of pastoralist tribes between Southern Ethiopia and Northern Kenya and is helping to address land disputes, resource conflicts and the barriers these vulnerable groups face to coping with climate change. The association pursues peaceful coexistence and now has a track record of three consecutive years without a single community conflict. Cross-border community dialogue and the co-creation of conflict resolution strategies (including “reciprocal resource use agreements”) are helping to reduce overgrazing and soil erosion, improve market access for pastoralist products and build resilience to climate-related stresses. The model has the potential to be transferred to neighboring regions where resource and water scarcity are growing challenges and has already been replicated in Somalia.
Union Soamitambatra, MadagascarUnion Soamitambatra is using a traditional consensus-based Malagasy governance system (fokonolona) and community social contracts known as dina to regenerate the Badika forest and its surrounding lakes. Working with 10 villages (6,589 people), the union brings together community user groups, technical experts, municipal government and private sector partners to protect and restore local ecosystems and provide for sustainable jobs. Member incomes from the sale of fish and other products have reached four times the minimum salary for the country, while attendance in primary school has increased from 30 to 90 percent. Farmers have transitioned to a variety of short-cycle seeds (rice, maize and peanuts) to diversify their agricultural activities. Spawning areas for fish have been protected, while compliance with sustainability standards are helping to increase fish abundance and catch size. Together the union manages 14,910 hectares of forest and 65 hectares of lakes, integrating management of natural resources with economic and social sustainability. The union is a beacon of strength, serving as the last barrier against an expanding tobacco industry that is the primary driver of land conversion and deforestation in the region.
Mtandao wa Jamii wa Usimamizi wa Misitu Tanzania (MJUMITA), TanzaniaThis national network of community-based forest management groups provides capacity building, communications and advocacy support for local communities with the aim of improving their participation in the management and utilization of local forests. MJUMITA is a constantly expanding federation that has 80 affiliated community networks and members in 450 villages in 23 districts across Tanzania. Since its inception, MJUMITA has directly worked with 15,000 members on community-based forest management activities and undertaken a wide range of projects that have collectively impacted more than 500,000 people. The network has helped several villages secure customary land rights to their forests, resolve land disputes and design land-use plans for the sustainable and equitable use of forest resources. MJUMITA is actively engaged in advocacy efforts to ensure that the development and implementation of the national REDD+ strategy in Tanzania benefits forest-dependent communities.
Kayonza Growers Tea Factory, UgandaOperating adjacent to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, one of Uganda’s oldest rainforests and home to 50 percent of the world’s mountain gorillas, Kayonza Growers Tea Factory is a for-profit community enterprise, 100 percent owned by its 7,205 smallholder tea farmers. Facing deforestation, wetland encroachment, soil degradation and water shortages, the initiative has worked to ensure that at least 70 percent of the population is involved in a landscape-scale, community-led climate change adaptation and mitigation strategy that addresses energy efficiency, food and income security and natural resource management. Over 4,800 smallholders have benefited to date through the introduction of new staple or cash crops (including beans, banana, Irish potato, and ground nuts), kitchen gardens and more. Across 52 eco-regions, more than 4,000 farmers have been trained in conserving wetlands, riverbanks and natural forests. Over 20,000 indigenous trees have been planted on farm borders and degraded hillsides. The initiative is a model of smallholder-led adaptation to climate change, integrated ecosystem restoration, reforestation and ecoagriculture.