From Cows to Kilowatts and Berries into Businesses - Winners of the First Seed Awards Announced
UNCSD, New York. An environmentally-friendly way of growing rice and a project to cultivate a highly versatile berry found at the roof of the world are among the winners of a new sustainable development award. They are joined by a community-based marine protected area in the Indian Ocean, an innovative water supply scheme in Latin America and a power-plant in West Africa that turns cattle waste into energy.
The five winners of the Supporting Entrepreneurs for Environment and Development (Seed) Initiative awards will be honoured in a special ceremony in New York. It will take place on 20th April 2005 during the 13th Session of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development. The winners were selected from a pool of over 260 entries from 66 countries, representing 1,200 organisations.
They were chosen for their potential to advance sustainable development in their communities and contribute to the UN's Millennium Development Goals. They are living proof that, through partnerships between communities, non-governmental organizations, businesses and public authorities, innovative and novel solutions for delivering sustainable development and sustainable livelihoods can be born and fostered.
Farmers in Asia and East Africa are partners in an initiative to boost rural incomes through the marketing of indigenous and environmentally-friendly grown rice varieties. Commercial rice cultivation in the developing world is becoming increasingly questionable as a result of low market prices and the financial and environmental costs of using chemicals and fertilizers. Conventional methods of rice production are also extremely water intensive. Some farmers in Cambodia, Madagascar, and Sri Lanka have turned to a production method known as the 'System of Rice Intensification' or SRI.
It involves an a la carte menu of actions including when to plant out seedlings, weeding regimes and the spacing of plants, which can be adapted to local conditions and indigenous rice varieties. Small rural producers who are taking part are achieving water savings of up to 50 percent and increased yields of up to 100 percent. This is because SRI, a collaborative effort between Cornell University, several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and local communities, works without flooding rice paddies and results in stronger plants that need less chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Rice produced in this way commands higher prices. The trick is to empower and assist producers to exploit and benefit from these premium prices in local and international markets.
This new project, which has brought together research institutes from the United States and Cambodia and farmers organizations, is pooling experiences and skills to develop strong marketing programmes. Export markets in Europe and North America are also being explored using, in some cases, certification schemes like Fair Trade. The Seed Award for this winning partnership is generously sponsored by Swiss Re, Switzerland.
Seabuckthorn is a deciduous shrub that is common in the Himalayas. It has a highly developed root system that binds soils on fragile slopes. The presence of a natural seabuckthorn 'forest' can decrease monsoon-related loss of topsoil by 30 percent. The plant also has a wide range of commercial applications which are beginning to be exploited by commercial companies in countries like India. The berries are highly nutritious and yield juice, as well as oils for cosmetics and traditional medicines. The leaves are also used in traditional medicines, as well as for livestock fodder, and the branches can be used for firewood.
The international HimalAsia Foundation together with local Tibetan cooperatives and a family of traditional medical practitioners are developing a sustainable programme for cultivating and marketing seabuckthorn and other medicinal plants for the local and international market. In doing so, they are not only developing sustainable livelihoods for local people but playing an important role in conserving biodiversity in this Himalayan mountain area.
Plans for the future include expanding on three existing seabuckthorn nurseries, training locals in the extraction and preparation of juice and helping to broker fair business relationships between international companies and local communities.
An estimated 11.5 per cent of the Earth's land surface is now held in protected areas but only about one half per cent of the world's seas and oceans enjoy the same rights. The 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development's Plan of Implementation called for the establishment of representative network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). An experimental, community-led, scheme in Madagascar aims to be one of these light-houses by illuminating how partnerships between local people, research institutes and NGOs can deliver marine conservation and sustainable livelihoods.
The project, focused around the 700-strong community of Andavadoaka, is balancing the needs of local fishermen and protection of the area's important coral reefs. Eco-tourism is being promoted as a way of generating income for conservation work, diversifying the local economy and to reduce the pressure on fish stocks. It is hoped that the experiences from this project will act as a blueprint for similar projects in other regions.
Access to clean water is an emotive issue in developing countries and sometimes leads to civil unrest and major social problems. The Millennium Development Goals call for a halving of the level of people without access to fresh water and sanitation and this project directly addresses this aim. The 'Agua Para Todos' initiative in Bolivia has found a way of solving the seemingly intractable problem of who pays for secondary water networks, i.e. delivering water from the municipal supplier's main pipe to the consumer.
Under the project, a consortium of local communities, NGOs and the municipal water company in Cochabamba is building water distribution systems, each connecting between 100 and 500 poor households. The costs are being met by the communities concerned through a micro-credit scheme. Five pilot projects are already under way, already halving the cost of water, and their popularity is underlined by interest from two hundred other community-led water committees in Cochabamba.
Effluents and waste products from abattoirs are a problem for human health and the environment across the developing world. A project being piloted in Ibadan, Nigeria, is turning these wastes into energy to generate income for poor urban communities and reduce the gases linked with climate change. The project treats the abattoir wastes and turns them into a 'bio-gas' suitable for cooking and other uses. A further by-product is agricultural-grade fertilizer. The partnership behind the project claims their bio-gas is significantly cheaper than current, commercially available, liquefied gases. The scheme will cover its costs and become profitable in three years and has a fifteen-year life expectancy.
All winning projects have the potential to be replicated in similar areas around the globe, helping to address a multitude of issues in the developing world.
Quotes from the Chair of the Judges and supporting organizations:
Nitin Desai, former Secretary General to the World Summit on Sustainable Development and chairman of the international jury:
Sustainability as a process requires responsibility (for the impact of our actions on others and on nature), partnership and innovation. I congratulate the SEED Award winners and also the other finalists who are showing us how all three can be brought together in practice. This is the real promise of the partnerships that we endorsed at the Johannesburg Summit.
Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP):
The time for talking is over the time for action is now. If we are to deliver sustainable development, achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 and overcome poverty we need partnerships. Partnerships between people, NGOs, private businesses, local authorities, governments and the United Nations. UNEP's motto is environment for development. These Seed winners are living proof of what can be done if we harness the most powerful assets we have - human creativity, ingenuity and imagination. I look forward to seeing these projects mature and replicated across the globe for the sake of the environment, for the sake of sustainable livelihoods.