Author: Jamison Ervin

May 4, 2017

Women, Nature and Development: Holding up Half the Sky

The nomination process for the Equator Prize 2017 closes on March 8th, which is also, coincidentally, International Women’s Day. In my previous post, I highlighted why rural communities are the leading edge of sustainable development. Today I explain why rural women are critical to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, especially at the intersection of women and nature.

The Sustainable Development Goals include a specific goal on women and girls: Goal 5 highlights the need to end discrimination by assuring women’s rights through legal frameworks, and emphasizes the need to ensure full and effective participation and equal opportunities, including access to economic resources. We have a long way to go to achieve the targets in Goal 5. Women face legal discrimination and inheritance inequalities — 52 countries do not have legal frameworks to ensure equality of women. They spend between two and five hours more in unpaid household labor than men every day. In many parts of the world, women comprises the bulk of the workforce in agriculture, yet they own on average less than 20% of land.

But empowering women with rights to land and water, and access to credit and resources, would achieve far more than gender parity. If women had the same access to resources and credit as men, they could increase crop yields by up to 30 percent, in turn reducing global hunger by up to 17 percent. In fact, full gender parity would likely contribute $28 trillion in global economic growth. Furthermore, women invest 90% of their earnings on their families, compared to just 30 to 40 percent for men, yielding tremendous benefits in health, education, food security and water security.

The Try Oyster Women’s Association, a 2012 Equator Prize Winner, exemplifies how combining gender action with nature-based action can yield a potent engine for sustainable development. The association brings together 700 female oyster harvesters from 15 villages in the Greater Banjul area of Gambia. The women, most of whom are the sole providers for their families, work in cooperatives where they exchange sustainable oyster harvesting techniques, and receive training in small-scale enterprise development. The cooperatives support access to needed equipment and technologies, set higher standards for working and sanitary conditions, and coordinate the processing, packaging and marketing of oysters. As a result of the cooperative’s advocacy, the Gambian government granted the cooperative exclusive use rights to the cockle and oyster fishery in Tanbi Wetlands. These rights allowed the members to practice long-term sustainable harvesting techniques, including seasonal closures and size restrictions. As a result, the oysters now grow larger, and fetch better market prices, increasing from 30 cents per cup to 80 cents.

Fatou Janha Mboob, TRY’s Executive Director, explained that the 2012 Equator Prize Award “reminds them that in their quest to improve their lives, they are doing it responsibly and sustainably, and therefore admirably… (and) increases the trust they have in themselves, in each other, and in the Association. This confidence and trust building brings the women together as a stronger unit with a stronger voice.”

A stronger voice for women, especially in the interface between rural communities and nature, is exactly what we need to fully achieve the sustainable development goals. Our team looks forward to March 8th, where we will be celebrating International Women’s Day. And as we start sorting through the nominations for the Equator Prize 17, we will be keeping our eyes open for nature-based solutions that showcase how actions on gender and nature can help us accelerate local sustainable development.


About the author

Jamison Ervin is Manager of the Global Programme on Nature for Development in UNDP’s Bureau for Policy and Programme Support in New York.

Follow her on Twitter at @jamisonervin

To find more posts, visit the Equator Blog.

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May 3, 2017

Rural Communities Are a Hotspot for Sustainable Development

Last week, the Equator Initiative launched its call for nominations for the 9th Equator Prize. It is for people like Fatima Ahmed, and the community initiative that she established, that this prize was established. Fatima is president of Zenab for Women in Development in Sudan, a women’s agricultural cooperative that empowers girls and women, promotes sustainable agriculture and helps reduce deforestation. Zenab embodies the three basic principles of implementing the Sustainable Development Goals: of indivisibility – that we cannot achieve one goal at the expense of any others; of inclusion – that we can leave no one behind in our race toward economic prosperity; and of acceleration – that we must focus on actions that have multiple development dividends.

If we are to implement the SDGs, however, we need more than guiding principles. We also need to understand how key global trends affect development. The late Hans Rosling, often called “The Jedi Master of Data Visualization” and the “Global Data Rock Star,” did just that. Whether the topic was the role of washing machines and poverty, or the role of religion and population growth, Rosling made analytics cool, and he left a legacy of helping us look past data points, trends, and correlations, and to step back and see a larger story.

We can take the same approach when thinking about the trends affecting the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. A forthcoming UNDP report, “Global Trends: Challenges and Opportunities in the Implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals,” will outline many of these trends. If we are to address the SDGs by 2030, we must recognize some basic facts:

• By 2030, demand for food will increase by 35%, for water by 40%, and for energy by 50%;

• 70% of the world’s food is produced by rural communities farming small plots of land;

• 1 billion of the 1.4 billion people living on less than $1.25 dollars a day live in rural areas where agriculture is their primary livelihood;

•We have lost 10% of wild areas in just 20 years, species populations have declined by 58% between 1970 and 2012, and we are likely to lose much more before 2030;

•The world’s population living in rural areas shifted from 66% to 46% over the past 55 years, and by 2030, will decrease to 40%;
• Wealth inequity is likely to be most acute between urban and rural communities – more than 80% of global GDP is generated in cities;

• Rural people disproportionately bear the brunt of climate change impacts; over 96% of disaster-related deaths occur in developing countries; and

• Indigenous peoples’ lands safeguard 80% of the world’s biodiversity

Each of these trends has its own set of implications for the SDGs. But it is only when we step back and view them together that we can see with clarity a larger, inevitable conclusion: one of the major battlegrounds for achieving the SDGs is at the intersection of people and nature in rural communities around the world.

A more urbanized and wealthier world depends on increasingly stressed and fragmented ecosystems, and on the labors of a shrinking and proportionally poorer rural population. At the same time, rural communities continue to be disproportionately responsible for maintaining the world’s biodiversity and for producing increased volumes of food and water, while becoming ever more vulnerable to the impacts of over consumption, to the fraying of the ecosystems that they depend on for their livelihoods, and to the impacts of climate change.

However, if rural communities are a hotspot for challenges of implementing the SDGs, they are also a hotspot for innovation and creative solutions. It is for this reason that UNDP’s Equator Initiative, a partnership for people, nature and resilient communities, focuses on rural communities. Since 2002, the Equator Initiative has recognized, shared and celebrated indigenous and community nature-based solutions for local development. These solutions range from the Articulação Pacari network, a community-based medicinal plant cooperative in Brazil, to the Zenab Women in Development agricultural cooperative in Sudan, and everything in between. They are examples of how a local community or indigenous peoples can protect, sustainably manage and restore nature to attain their own sustainable development needs. These solutions can often be replicated and scaled up nationally, including for example Community Tours Sian Ka’an, a tourism operation that is being replicated across Mexico, and the Tree Kangaroo community conserved area, that now serves as a model for Papua New Guinea.

Hans Rosling once said that he was neither an optimist nor a pessimist but a “possibilist” – he believed that data can tell a story, but not the whole story. At the Equator Initiative, we are also possibilists; we believe that the data and trends cited above do not condemn rural community members to lives of poverty and helplessness. On the contrary, we believe that rural communities are an engine of ideas and solutions for local sustainable development. It is for this reason that we are proud to launch the call for nominations for the 9th cycle of the Equator Prize.

Nominations are open through 8 March 2017. Won’t you join us in the search for innovative nature-based solutions for local sustainable development?


About the author

Jamison Ervin is Manager of the Global Programme on Nature for Development in UNDP’s Bureau for Policy and Programme Support in New York.

Follow her on Twitter at @jamisonervin

To find more posts, visit the Equator Blog.


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