Two projects conserving forests and promoting sustainable development in remote rural communities of Latin America and Asia are the laureates of the 2011 UNEP Sasakawa Prize, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) announced today.
The Asociación Forestal Integral San Andrés, Petén (AFISAP) in Guatemala and the Manahari Development Institute in Nepal (MDI-Nepal) are the co-winners of this year's award around the theme 'Forests for People, Forests for Green Growth' in support of the 2011 International Year of the Forests.
The theme highlights the central role of forests in the pursuit of a global Green Economy as key economic resources whose real value has all too often been excluded in national accounts of profit and loss. Estimates from The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) indicate that deforestation and forest degradation are likely costing the global economy between US$2.5 and US$4.5 trillion a year, more than the losses of the recent and ongoing financial crisis.
Both co-winners met a majority of the criteria outlined by the theme. Specifically:
- Promoting the conservation and sustainable management of forests;
- Contributing to a meaningful reduction in carbon emissions caused by deforestation and forest degradation;
- Maintaining forest ecosystems to improve resilience to climate change;
- Supporting pro-poor development, especially among forest-dependent communities;
- Conserving biodiversity and helping secure ecosystem services.
AFISAP, which was founded in 1999, is focused on preserving the forests on a 52,000-hectare concession within the Mayan Biosphere Reserve in the San Andres area which plays a critical role in regional conservation. According to an AFISAP study that used remote cameras, the Mayan Reserve has the highest-density of jaguars ever reported in the world (11 jaguars/100 km2).
The organization, which has distinguished itself as one of the most successful community groups in Guatemala, has also introduced projects to extract the lucrative xate, the popular foliage used for floral arrangements worldwide. Xate, which has been used for 40 years and is exported, has brought enormous economic benefits for the rural communities in the area.
Forests also provide homes, security and livelihoods for forest-dependent populations. In 2006, the World Bank estimated that 60 million indigenous people depend directly on forests for their survival. Indeed, forests sustain nearly half of the population in the developing world, providing wood for fuel as well as non-timber products like nuts, rubber and medicines. For many of the poor in rural settings, ecosystems and the biodiversity they contain are their primary assets and source of livelihoods.
MDI-Nepal, a non-governmental organization founded in 2001, has introduced agroforestry to help improve crop productivity and water irrigation systems as well as reduce soil erosion on the forested hills and mountainous areas. Apart from making up most of the country's land mass, the slopes also are home to 18 million of the 24 million total population. These agrofestry measures have significantly improved food security and living standards of the rural communities living on the steep slopes of Nepal. With the involvement of the indigenous community, MDI-Nepal has delivered economic and social benefits to more than 2,000 households by improving the productivity of marginal lands with the planting of various fruit crops.