Desert activists win UN prize

Posted: 28 September 2006

A community group in Mauritania and the leader of another, in Colombia, will be honoured next month with a UN prize for their achievements in combating desertification and land degradation - a major local and global problem that threatens the lives and livelihoods of two billion people inhabiting the planet's dry and arid areas.

In Mauritania The Tenadi Cooperative has battled years of persistent drought, which has afflicted the whole of the Sahel since 1973. It has killed 90 per cent of Mauritania's livestock and annihilated the hopes of the nomadic people who have been living there for centuries.

In response to this natural disaster and its serious consequences, which include, desertification, encroachment by sand, loss of flocks and a rural exodus, many nomads have decided to come together in creating new activities and to struggle to survive in the face of very hostile natural elements.

As part of this struggle, the Tenadi Cooperative, led by Mr. Sidi El Moctar Ould Waled, has developed a range of techniques to combat desertification. They include solving the problem of drinking water by sinking boreholes with immersed pumps, improving and reforesting an area of 80 hectares around the boreholes to stop the movement of dunes, backed up by a Prosopis nursery for planting windbreaks, and creating a date palm oasis where a diverse range of crops can be grown under the palms.

Thanks to the activities of the Cooperative, a large number of families have chosen to settle around the Tenadi oasis. People are being trained in new agricultural techniques that will bring in some income, including introducing new crops in a desert environment through the regeneration of flora, which were rapidly becoming extinct.

Andean alliance

The other recipient of the UNEP Sasakawa prize is Rodrigo Hernan Vivas Rosas, leader of the Inter-institutional Consortium for Sustainable Agriculture (CIPASLA)-- an alliance between 16 organizations and nearly 6,500 people living in a 7,000-hectare area that encompasses 23 rural districts of Colombia. Together they have pioneered ways of using water - especially rainwater - in an environmentally sustainable way.

Mr. Vivas Rosas also leads the way for REDLAYC - a food security and sustainable development regional entity, and is regional counsellor forECOFONDO, a consortium of regional environmental organizations.

His activities span the Andean region and, says the UN, his achievements have made a dent in the poverty that helps to perpetuate local guerrilla activity, the production of illicit crops and the flow of migrants to Colombian cities.

Mr Vivas Rosas' integrated models and approaches are considered by many to be a kind of laboratory for sustainably managing hillside environments threatened by desertification and plagued with a lack of resources.

Achim Steiner, United Nations Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director said today: "This is an award for the literally hundreds of thousands of grassroots initiatives trying to conserve the health and thefertility of the land in some of the harshest environments on the globe. In honouring Mr. Vivas Rosas and the Tenadi Cooperative we also honour these countless unsung individuals and groups whose commitment, creativity, tenacity and steadfastness are a lesson to us all".

The UNEP Sasakawa Prize, sponsored by The Nippon Foundation and founded by the late Mr. Ryoichi Sasakawa, is awarded annually to individuals who have made outstanding contributions in a specific environmental field.

Source: UNEP, September 28 2006