Forests for People, Forests for Green Growth

Posted on February 24, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized |

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Nairobi (Kenya), 23 February 2011 – 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.

The UNEP Sasakawa Prize, worth US$200,000, is given out each year to sustainable and replicable grassroots projects around the planet and recognizes the most innovative, groundbreaking and sustainable grassroots environmental initiatives in emerging and developing countries.

The co-winners, who were selected through a two-tier selection process of an Expert Panel and a Jury that includes Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and UN Messenger of Peace Wangari Maathai, will receive US$100,000 each in order to expand and develop their grassroots projects.

Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director and UN Under-Secretary-General who is a member of the Jury Panel, said: “This year’s Sasakawa Prize winners underline how the green shoots of a Green Economy are emerging across the globe and in rich and poor communities alike. The two winners are acting on the fundamental fact that the sustainable management of forests is key to securing crucial services from water and soil stabilization to the recycling of nutrients essential for agriculture. In doing so they are tackling not only poverty but forging a different development path for themselves, their families and their nations.”

“They are also conserving and enhancing natural assets that serve the world–as a result of the role healthy forests have in combating global climate change. I hope our two winners, from separate corners of the globe, can unite others to similar actions. This would be a fitting tribute to our winners’ work; an inspiring legacy for the UN’s International Year of Forests and one way of accelerating the achievement of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals”.

The co-winners will receive the prestigious Prize at an Award Ceremony in Nairobi, Kenya, where UNEP is holding its 26th UNEP Governing Council / Global Ministerial Environment Forum.

Last year’s winners were Nuru Design, a company bringing rechargeable lights to villages in Rwanda, Kenya and India; and Trees, Water and People (TWP), an organization that collaborates with local NGOs to distribute fuel-efficient cook stoves to communities in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Haiti.

For more information, please visit the UNEP Sasakawa Prize website: or e-mail:


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