Next Monday, on the eve of the United Nations Climate Summit, as high level government officials from around the world check into their hotels, a different kind of UN gathering will be taking place in New York City—one that brings people who are far from the seats of power. The Equator Prize Award Ceremony, which takes place every two years, honors community-based groups for achievements in “advancing local sustainable development solutions for people, nature and resilient communities.”
Winners are selected based on criteria like impact, sustainability, innovation, transferability, resilience, adaptability, self-sufficiency, and empowerment of communities, women and marginalized groups. EcoAgriculture Partners has been a member of the United Nations Development Programme Equator Initiative—the coordinating partnership—since 2007, and as I read descriptions of the 35 groups that will receive this year’s prize, it seems only natural. Although the landscape approach is not explicitly called out in the description of the award, its elements appear over and over again in the initiatives, as recipients go beyond “sustainable agriculture” to incorporate stakeholder collaboration, land use planning at a landscape scale, and efforts to impact markets and policies.
The ceremony will recognize a wide variety of projects that fit this year’s theme of local biodiversity and ecosystem-based solutions to climate change. Ten villages facing water scarcity and declining agricultural yields in the Guiè region of Burkina Faso are working together to restore degraded land and ecosystem services across the arid landscape. In Ghana, women-led tree planting groups partner with small-scale businesses, chiefs, elders and local municipalities in support of environmental goals. In the practice of ecoagriculture—and as showcased in these examples—stakeholders agree on goals for their landscapes and working together to achieve them. Collaborative, community-engaged processes for dialogue, planning, negotiating, and monitoring decisions enable this cooperation to occur.
In Ecuador, local indigenous communities have stopped cutting down Palo Santo trees and started harvesting and marketing essential oils from its seeds. A 4,500 hectare protected area created for sustainable harvesting activities has reduced illegal logging and relieved pressure on surrounding forests. In Jamaica, farmers planting pineapple plants and fruit trees on hills to improve food security are also protecting downhill communities from landslides caused by soil erosion. In ecoagriculture, interactions among different parts of the landscape are managed to realize positive synergies and mitigate negative trade-offs between stakeholders.
In Mexico, Mayan women are advocating for policies that stop deforestation and offer alternatives to input-intensive commercial agriculture. In South Africa, a cooperative of small-scale rooibos tea farmers have added a certification to their tea that goes beyond ensuring fair production in the global south to ensuring fairness through the entire trade chain, a move that could shift consumer demand in the tea market. In ecoagriculture, markets are transformed and public policies are shaped to support people, food and nature simultaneously.
I’ll be attending the Equator Prize Award Ceremony on Monday night and meeting with representatives from some of these amazing projects. Check back for my post-event blog on October 1st, where I’ll share what I learned from the event and its participants.
Learn more about The Equator Initiative here.Photo: Utooni Development Organization