Protecting Forests – Equator Initiative (2015)

Under the umbrella of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Equator Initiative supports the work of local and indigenous communities worldwide in creating sustainable development solutions. In 2015, the Equator Prize was awarded to 20 communities in recognition of their efforts. This short film highlights the work of five of the recipients of the Equator Initiative Prize protecting forests around the world. These include Wanang Conservation Area in Papua New Guinea, Prey Lang Community Network in Cambodia, Mtandao wa Jamii wa Usimamizi wa Misitu Tanzania (MJUMITA), South Central People’s Development Association in Guyana, Instituto Raoni of Kayapo Indians living along the Xingu River in Brazil.

The tragedy of the commons is an economic hypothesis popularized in 1968 by ecologist Garrett Hardin. The Tragedy of the Commons predicts ecological degradation due to human conflict of self-interest over the long-term well-being of their community. Here all of these highlighted cases present an optimism for the fortune of the commons: communities united through their shared efforts to protect their common resources.

These efforts include quite creative projects. The indigenous clans of the Wanang Conservation Area in Papua New Guinea are running a biological field station forming partnership with the global scientific community. South Central People’s Development Association in Guyana are carrying out aerial surveys using remote controlled flying vehicles to prevent illegal extraction of natural resources from their land. Kayapo Indians living along the Xingu River in Brazil have taken a different approach by documenting the insults to their land using video cameras.

Instituto Raoni, Brazil – Equator Prize 2015 Winner from Equator Initiative on Vimeo.

Facing a proposal by the Brazilian government to build a large dam complex on the Tapajós River that would submerge their vast territories, which span one million hectares of primary rainforest, the Munduruku of the Brazilian Amazon formed a resistance movement called Ipereg Ayu. Ipereg Ayu, 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, which created 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.

Movimento Ipereg Ayu, Brazil – Equator Prize 2015 Winner from Equator Initiative on Vimeo.

The Wanang Conservation Area is an alliance of ten 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 trees to study their responses to changing climatic conditions. A research station, which is one of the largest in the country, serves as a capacity building hub and trains Wanang villagers and students are 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.

Wanang Conservation Area, Papua New Guinea – Equator Prize 2015 Winner from Equator Initiative on Vimeo.

Working 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, government-sanctioned land grabs for mining, agribusiness, 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 georeference, 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.

Prey Lang Community Network, Cambodia – Equator Prize 2015 Winner from Equator Initiative on Vimeo.

This 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. Mtandao wa Jamii wa Usimamizi wa Misitu Tanzania (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.

Mtandao wa Jamii wa Usimamizi wa Misitu Tanzania (MJUMITA), Tanzania – Equator Prize 2015 Winners from Equator Initiative on Vimeo.

A federation of Wapichan communities in Guyana, South Central People’s Development Association has developed an innovative land use plan and a ‘living digital map’ of their traditional lands to promote secure land rights and socioecological 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.

South Central People's Development Association, Guyana – Equator Prize 2015 Winner from Equator Initiative on Vimeo.

Worldwide forest ecosystems are under intense pressure. Community driven protection is now seen as one of the most effective conservation strategies. One great example of a working conservation model is traditional community forests like the 48 Cantones of the Totonicapán, province in Guatemala where indigenous Maya Q’uiché government maintains a large protected area.

There are genuine independent reforestation efforts impressively achieved by determined individuals and NGOs such as Plant a Billion and People and Reforestation in the Tropics: a Network for Research and Synthesis PARTNERS. Some regional organizations such as the Aegean Forest Foundation use quite powerful fundraising methods including operation of a solar power station where the income generated is used to pay for reforestation projects which serves as carbon offset for companies that want to reduce their carbon footprint.



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