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Equator Prize 2017 Award Ceremony
An evening to celebrate the achievements of local communities and indigenous peoples in managing nature for sustainable development
The 9th Equator Prize Award Ceremony honored 15 winners in a gala event in New York, coinciding with the Global Goals Week and the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly. On 17 September, leading thinkers, policy-makers, business and civil society leaders from around the globe gathered in The Town Hall theater in New York, hosted by the Equator Initiative partnership, to celebrate the extraordinary initiatives and innovations brought about by indigenous peoples and local communities from 12 countries. The winners were recognized for their significant work to create scalable, nature-based solutions to address biodiversity conservation, climate change adaptation, disaster risk reduction, gender empowerment, land rights, and food and water security.
Nearly 1,500 people came together to celebrate the achievements of 15 Equator Prize 2017 winners protecting, restoring and sustainably managing marine, forest, grassland, dryland and wetland ecosystems. They've been recognized for their significant work to create scalable, nature-based solutions to address biodiversity conservation, climate change adaptation, disaster risk reduction, gender empowerment, land rights, and food and water security.
The ceremony was opened by the blessing of Native American actor, singer and educator John Scott-Richardson and a performance by Native American grass dancer Sheldon Raymore. The Master of Ceremonies was Xiuhtezcatl Martínez, a 17-year-old indigenous climate activist, hip-hop artist, and powerful voice on the front lines of a global youth-led environmental movement.
UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner commended the work of all Equator Prize Winners over the last fifteen years: “The 15 communities we honor tonight, together with the more than 200 previous prize winners, and the more than 5,000 nominations we have received to date, are beginning to weave a tapestry of local solutions that tackle some of the most vexing challenges in sustainable development. These solutions show us that when we invest in nature, and we can achieve our global, national and local goals of obtaining food, water, peace, gender parity and security in a truly sustainable manner. They give us hope for the future.”
Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and renowned climate change and environmental advocate, recognized the efforts of local and indigenous communities to fulfill the Sustainable Development Goals: “As we celebrate the recipients of the Equator Prize tonight, let us welcome the lessons they can teach us in living in balance with nature, and let us recommit to a future where all are equal in dignity and rights.”
President and CEO of National Geographic Society, Gary E. Knell, recognized the ability of local communities to be powerful agents of change: The “courage, grit and creativity of people like tonight’s awardees is a force that is getting stronger every single day. It’s a growing movement.” He highlighted the importance of storytelling to raise awareness of and support change-makers like the Equator Prize winners. Mr. Knell also introduced three videos, produced by National Geographic, presenting the three winner categories: Forests, Drylands, Grasslands, and Mountains, and Oceans.
H.E. Vidar Helgesen, Minister of Climate and Environment of Norway, highlighted the importance of forests to humanity: “Forests are one of the two lungs of our planet, and the thermostat of our climate. When you protect forests, you protect life. Forests harbor 80% of all plants and animals on earth. Protecting and restoring forests is key if we are to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement and many of the Sustainable Development Goals. Forests hold up to a third of the solutions to climate change mitigation, they are critical to biodiversity, to water and rainfall patterns and food security.”
The awards were presented to the winners by Achim Steiner and Kristen Walker, Senior Vice President at Conservation International. Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, Vice President of Global Policy at Conservation International and former Minister of Environment of the Government of Costa Rica, recalled his personal experience of witnessing deforestation as a child in Costa Rica, and the subsequent reforestation and preservation efforts. “When we lost our forest, we felt like the values and richnesses of our country was lost. Protection is not a burden to development – on the contrary, logging in Costa Rica does not make any economic sense.”
On behalf of the Equator Prize winners, Benki Piyãko from the Associação Ashaninka do Rio Amônia Apiwtxa, said, “In the same way as life in the forest is related – that every creature and every plant interacts and is dependent on each other to thrive and flourish – we as a global community are related and our efforts to care for the forest help maintain the ecological balance of the planet’s entire ecosystem. By protecting our forests and Mother Earth, our one and only home, we ensure development for humanity as a whole.”
Winners in the category “Forests”
Drylands, Grasslands and Mountains
Naoko Ishii, Chairperson and CEO of the Global Environment Facility, highlighted the achievements of the Equator Prize winners from arid and semi-arid ecosystems: “We must seek new and innovative pathways toward resilience to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Indigenous peoples and local communities have shown that they can be an engine of innovation and learning, and a source of inspiration and courage for all of us. By investing in these communities, we can achieve lasting results that help provide a pathway toward a just, resilient and sustainable ”
The awards were presented to the winners by Achim Steiner and Cristián Samper, President and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society. Mr. Samper said, “We live in a world out of balance, losing biodiversity and wildlife at a swindling rate – only 23% of the surface of our planet remains wild, and we have lost 10% of that wilderness in the last two decades alone. But tonight, the Equator Prize winners are showing us a way forward, towards a life in balance: with people, with water, with agriculture, and with wildlife.”
Naila Rizvi of the Baltistan Wildlife Conservation and Development Organization from Pakistan spoke on behalf of the Equator Prize winners: “Although we come from vastly different homes in Guatemala, Mali, Kazakhstan, India and Pakistan, we share a common reality, a common call to action. Climate change, biodiversity and sustainable development are all threads of one tapestry, a collage that we, and our communities, confront as we wake each day. Every day, stretching back decades for some of us, and over millennia for our ancestors, we restore indigenous methods, protect endangered species and empower families and communities to realize the goals and values enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals and Paris Climate Agreement.
Winners in the category “Drylands, Grasslands, and Mountains”
Céline Cousteau, acclaimed filmmaker and activist, introduced the winners working in marine and coastal environments: “The ocean provides us with the air we breathe and the food we eat – it is essential to all our lives, every day; but, fueled by climate change and soiled by the bottles, bags and bits we discard into the ocean, we also face raging storms and the flow of plastic back into our own bodies. The Equator Prize is one way of recognizing these connections, as the winners we honor tonight protect and restore the corals, seagrasses and mangroves that feed and protect them, and find new pathways to sustainably manage and develop their fishing practices and their communities to live in harmony with the oceans.”
The awards were presented to the winners by Achim Steiner and Jill Blockhus, Director of International Partnerships at The Nature Conservancy.
Ingrid Hoven, Director-General for Global Issues at the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) highlighted the relevance of oceans in our lives: “The power of the ocean is immense. The oceans sustain us, they provide income, absorb half of all carbon dioxide emissions, protect our coastal cities and communities, and enable women to work. The oceans inspire us, and this year’s ocean winners inspire us even more – to take action, to protect the oceans, to restore coastal ecosystems, to support sustainably managed fisheries, and to encourage marine and coastal communities around the world. Only then can we unleash the power of the oceans to help us achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.”
On behalf of the Equator Prize winners, Novia Sagita of Yayasan Planet Indonesia and Josphat Mwamba Mtwana from Mikoko Pamoja in Kenya, delivered joined remarks. “We represent indigenous peoples and local communities who are stewards of the oceans, creating innovative ecotourism, restoring and managing over 50,000 hectares of mangroves, and establishing locally-managed marine protected areas in Indonesia, Thailand and Kenya.”, said Josphat Mwamba Mtwana. “Every day, we strive to live in tandem with nature and to maintain the rich biodiversity of our communities”, stated Novia Sagita, “By sustainably managing and protecting critical mangroves and rainforests, sequestering thousands of tons of carbon, creating hundreds of new jobs and securing countless fish, we feed our families, engage our youth in education, empower women as decision-makers, protect our communities from natural disasters, and develop sustainable and meaningful livelihoods.”
Winners in the category “Oceans”
Ángel Gurría, Secretary-General of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, emphasized the relevance of local and indigenous communities’ achievements: “Despite the challenges they face, indigenous communities have unique talents, capabilities and traditional knowledge of natural resources and land management.” He reminded the audience to follow the steps of the Equator Prize winners in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals: “The Equator Prize winners tonight are showing us a different pathway forward – they are showing us that by investing in nature, they are able to achieve their own sustainable development goals, often at a very low cost, and with a very high return on investment. Now it’s our turn.”
Jazz, Folk and Soul singer-songwriter Morley invited all winners to join her on stage as she performed in celebration and recognition of the exceptional achievements of the Equator Prize winners.
Prize winners were featured in national and international media, including:
Agence France Presse - Spanish, Agence France Presse - Portuguese, Vice Impact, Swissinfo.ch, Telesur English, Istoé (Brazil), Nações Unidas no Brasil, Dawn (Pakistan), Guatevision, The Hindu, KSG India, Foodtank, The Leonardo Dicaprio Foundation, Environment Guru, Prensa Latina, El19 (Nicaragua), HRN (Honduras), The Times of Central Asia, TV9 Marathi (India) , YahooNews (USA) , Newsboss (India) , ElComunista.Net (Spain)
Support the Equator Prize Winners.
Food resilience: A local catalyst for accelerating biodiversity conservation and sustainable development
Food production exists at the nexus of social and ecological sustainability, and is an essential dimension of work to achieve both the Aichi Biodiversity Targets and Sustainable Development Goals. Over the next two decades, the global population will grow by more than 1.2 billion people, the demand for food will increase by 35 percent and the demand for water by 40 percent 1.
Food security is a so-called ‘wicked problem’, or a problem that lacks a clear solution because it is linked to diverse other problems, a fact that makes it difficult to characterize or to solve2. The proximate and ultimate causes of food insecurity span social, ecological, political, and economic sectors and are interlinked with environmental degradation, climate change, socioeconomic inequality, and lack of political representation, among other factors.
At core, food security is an issue of resilience in complex social-ecological systems. When we look at food security through a resilience lens, it is clear that a ‘green revolution’ model based on monocultures and high chemical inputs that dismisses the complex roots of food insecurity will not be sufficient to sustain the world’s growing population. Instead, context-specific approaches to food security that address the roots of food security in complex social-ecological systems are emerging as a key mechanism to provide diverse solutions to global food production.
The Stockholm Resilience Centre, drawing on the work of Biggs and colleagues3, has highlighted seven principles of resilience crucial to building resilience in social-ecological systems. These principles can be used to understand how communities around the globe are working towards food security.
Using the seven resilience principles, the UNDP Equator Initiative created a framework identifying 32 subtypes of actions that can contribute to food security. We then used this framework to analyze our database of 208 Equator Prize winners, asking:
What concrete strategies are working on the ground to enhance system resilience and ensure food security?
Among the 78 Equator Prize winners working to address food security in terrestrial systems, we identified 313 distinct food security strategies, weaving a rich story of how communities are building food resilience around the world.
To understand this story, let’s turn to one thread – Abrha Weatsbha Community in Ethiopia. Once on the brink of resettlement due to desertification, soil degradation, overexploitation of forest resources, and lack of water, Abrha Weatsbha Community has embarked on a multi-pronged approach to enhance food resilience. Their strategies include reforestation, construction of water catchments and wells, planting of high-value and drought-resistant crops and trees, and the promotion of apiculture as an alternative livelihood strategy. These tactics have changed the lives of the local population. Abrha Weatsbha Community has planted 40 million tree seedlings (56 percent survival rate), constructed 180 wells that provided needed access to potable water and irrigation water, increased honey production from 13 to 31 tons, and made possible agricultural production during the dry season. For the average well user, food self-sufficiency is now possible for over nine months of the year; for 27 percent of well users, food self-sufficiency is possible year-round.
How do we break down this case to understand it through a resilience lens? We used our framework to classify the strategies used by the group. In this case, we identified four strategies. The extensive reforestation campaign maintained and increased ecological diversity; we classified this as Resilience Principle 1 – Maintain Diversity and Redundancy. Within Resilience Principle 1, this fell under the ‘Ecological diversity’ subtype. The planting of high-value and drought-resistant crops and trees also fell under Resilience Principle 1, but the ‘Production system diversity’ subtype. The construction of water catchments is a mechanism to manage connectivity, in this case regulating the flow of water. We classified this strategy as Resilience Principle 2 – Manage Connectivity – and the subtype ‘Infrastructure’. Finally, promotion of apiculture also fell under Resilience Principle 1, but under the ‘Livelihood diversity’ subtype.
We took this approach to analyze all 78 Equator Prize winners working on food security, weaving these diverse threads together to create a tapestry that depicts how communities are meeting their food security needs. We found that, like Abrha Weatsbha Community, the vast majority of groups (98 percent) used multiple strategies to achieve food security. Also like Abrha Weatsbha, the majority of strategies worked to maintain system diversity and redundancy (Resilience Principle 1, 43 percent), followed by work to manage system connectivity (Resilience Principle 2, 16 percent). If we look at the subtypes themselves, Abrha Weatsbha also highlights some common threads: production system diversity, ecological diversity, soil fertility, market access, and livelihood diversity were the primary contributors to food security, together accounting for 58 percent of the total. The high number of strategies falling under the five most common subtypes suggests that these types of strategies offer strong potential for replication and scaling to promote food security at broader scales.
But this is not the whole story. Looking at food security solutions across 78 groups also enabled us to understand other subtleties. Although many strategies did fall within these prominent subtypes, the whole showed us that food security strategies were highly diversified and context-specific – 26 of the 32 types of actions were each represented by less than three percent of the solutions. Context-specific types of action provide an important complement to the more common subtypes, enabling strategies to be tailored to each case.
Creating and applying this simple framework allowed us to efficiently identify that successful food security initiatives use tactics encompassing all seven resilience principles. It enabled us to tell the story of food security and resilience at the local level. Food resilience is an issue at the nexus of the biodiversity, development, and climate goals set by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. As we look to deliver on this ambitious agenda, we will need action at the local, national, and international scales. The results from this study confirm that analyzing local approaches food security from a resilience lens can help to identify simple, localized, and highly impactful strategies to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals.
1National Intelligence Council. 2012. Global Trends 2030.
2Rittel & Webber. 1973. ‘Dilemmas in a general theory of planning.’ Policy Sciences 4: 155-169.
3Biggs et al. 2012. ‘Towards principles for enhancing the resilience of ecosystem services.’ Annual Review of Environment and Resources 37: 421-448.
About the author
Annie Virnig is a Knowledge Management and Capacity Building Specialist for the Global Programme on Nature for Development in UNDP’s Bureau for Policy and Programme Support in New York.
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