On World Environment Day (WED), climate experts warn sustainable incomes for rural communities are key to protecting the planet. Climate charity, Ashden, shared insights on how, in order to boost conservation, there is a need to back decent work for local people.
The theme of this year’s celebration, which takes place on 5 June, is ecosystem restoration. Harriet Lamb, CEO of climate solutions charity Ashden, says soils and forests will only be safe once local people are able to make a sustainable living from them.
She says: “Rural communities are stewards of the land. In fact, resources managed by local people nearly always deliver bigger climate benefits than those managed by businesses or governments. But indigenous communities and others are under huge pressure – from destructive logging and mining, big food and farming, attacks on their rights, and challenges such as COVID-19.
These communities deserve the chance to earn a decent and sustainable living, while preserving the soils and the forests as they know best. But they often lack access to financing, technology, training and raw materials.
Local and indigenous communities play an undervalued role in conservation and restoration, Lamb points out and are also often hindered by finance not reaching these communities, which often don’t have the financial means to invest in technology, equipment, materials or training.
“Supporting them is a question of climate justice – they didn’t cause the crisis yet are most at risk from its effects. We can support them build their resilience – and we will all enjoy the benefits” said Lamb.
Pioneers in natural climate solutions and regenerative agriculture will be honoured at the annual Ashden Awards, taking place in November 2021. Here follows three that are among those listed…
1. Mbou Mon Tour from the Democratic Republic of Congo how a forest community protected their forest
In the DRC, after the enactment of a law making the soil and subsoil the property of the State instead of the traditional communities who lived on the land and deforestation increased dramatically. Mbou Mon Tour found Article 22 of the Forest Code and turned it to the communities’ advantage determining that it allowed local communities to “allocate part of their land for the use of their choice”.
They trained farmers to grow crops on the savanna in a productive low-impact way, without using chemicals, instead of using slash and burn.
Importantly, Mbou Mon Tour also recognised the role of communities in protecting the famous but endangered bonobo monkeys. The country’s first Local Community Forest Concession is now in place for the Mbee-Nkuru group (around 9,342 people) in Mai-Ndombe province and it is hoped it could benefit the entire province of 1,852,000 people.
This community-managed forestry plus community-based ecotourism, are providing alternatives to creating or expanding state-owned wildlife reserves, which all boost local people’s financial security.
“We don’t do conservation for conservation’s sake,” says Claude Monghiemo, research manager at Mbou Mon Tour. “We reconcile conservation and socio-economic development to stop the breakdown of the forest ecosystem, improve food security and diversify sources of income. Someone who diversifies their sources of income will no longer harm the forest. They have fields; cultivate, consume and sell the surplus.”
2. YICE from Uganda – regenerative farming and finance provide food and skills to refugees
This social enterprise trains women, young farmers and refugees in permaculture farming techniques while also providing flexible financial services.
Trainer Caleb Odondi Omolo says: “The gardens are designed with nature firmly in mind. Corn is used for mulching, and once broken down by termites replenishes the soil. Banana trees draw in nutrients from the air and ground; spinach, cabbage and climbing beans create a variety of layers, supporting the whole system as they grow. Everything here has a purpose.”
3. Conexsus from Brazil – how providing finance to farmers is key to conservation
Conexsus helps sustainable producers in the Brazilian Amazon – particularly indigenous or community-led organisations – access federal credit to support their business.
This supports everything from sustainable management of tropical wood extraction to the transition to organic production and Fairtrade products such as coffee and fruit.
Josenilde Bras Ferreira Riberio, the treasurer of a community agricultural cooperative in the Tapajos National Forest, explains the impact: “Now we have more influence over the price of wood. As we have financing. We don’t have to run to sell.”
Other initiatives protecting the land while providing jobs and other benefits to communities include Albertine Rift Conservation Society in Central and Eastern Africa is an NGO supporting sustainable forest-based cooperatives; Associação Agroecológica de Teresópolis (AAT) based in Brazil is a smallholder farmers’ association in the agricultural ‘green-belt’ of Rio de Janeiro, and Sapara Women’s Association, Ecuador – a collective of Indigenous women opposing logging and drilling, and strengthening governance of their territory.