U.N. recognises heroes of the forest

NEW YORK, United States (13 February, 2012)_Grandpa oyster, a honey king, Girl Scout cookie sellers, and tenacious Amazon defenders were just some of the forest heroes recognised by the United Nations in a ceremony last week to mark the close of the International Year of Forests.

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International Year of Forests

2011 was the UN International Year of Forests: Forests for People.

NEW YORK, United States (13February, 2012)_Grandpa oyster, a honey king, Girl Scout cookie sellers, and tenacious Amazon defenders were just some of the forest heroes recognised by the United Nations in a ceremony last week to mark the close of the International Year of Forests.

The UN declared 2011 as the International Year of Forests to raise awareness on sustainable management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests. The year’s theme “Forests for People,” highlighted the value of forests and their economic and social relationship with humankind.

During the Year, the UN Forum on Forests set out to identify and honour the countless individuals around the world who are dedicating their lives to nurturing forests in quiet and heroic ways. The inaugural International Forest Heroes Programme and Awards honoured everyday people who initiated inspiring projects with local, national and global impacts.

“One of the things that has been great about the International Year of the Forests is that groups from all over the world that have different interests in forests have been able to highlight why forests are important to them,” said Frances Seymour, Director General of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and member of the selection panel for the Forest Heroes Award.

Award winners have lobbied governments and worked with private institutions and local communities to ensure that future generations benefit from the fruits of their labour.

Here are their stories.

Grandpa oyster spawns tree planting movement in Japan

Spending more than two decades of his life devoted to raising oysters has earned Shigeatsu Hatakeyama the moniker of “Grandpa Oyster”. Fisherman turned environmentalist, Shigeatsu has been fighting to protect the local marine environment of Kesennuma Bay in Japan where he runs an oyster business. Shigeatsu first noticed the role of forests in maintaining clean oyster beds in the 1960s, when an outbreak of red tide plankton caused by polluting wastewater and pesticides made his oysters unsafe to eat. Twenty years later on a trip to France, Shigeatsu noticed that broadleaf forests in the banks of the Loire river were raising healthy oysters, spurring him to start the campaign “Mori wa Umi no Koibito” (Forests are Lovers of the Sea).

With the cooperation of the mayors of the villages along the Okawa River, he and his colleagues planted broadleaf trees upstream to reduce pollutants flowing into the sea, which has since spawned into a region‐wide movement to preserve Japan’s waterways. In 2005, Hatakeyama published a children’s book, “Kaki Jiisan to Shige-bo” (Grandpa Oyster and Shige), which includes memories from his childhood.

Girl scouts fight for palm oil-free cookies

When Madison Vorva and Rhiannon Tomtishen were 11 years old, they learned that America’s beloved Girl Scout cookies contained palm oil – a primary cause of illegal deforestation in Asia that has brought orangutans closer to extinction. The two girls launched the campaign Project Orangs to educate consumers about the impacts of palm oil and motivate them to take action by demanding deforestation‐free products. It worked — last year, the Girl Scouts USA announced a new palm oil policy with the goal of using only sustainable products like canola oil by 2015. The girls are also targeting Kelloggs, a baker of Girl Scout cookies, and Cargill, a major player in the palm oil market, to adopt sustainable policies of their own.

“Even though we’re only 16, we know change is possible and remain committed to protect the existing orangutan population and their habitat,” Rhiannon said in an article from the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“We shouldn’t have to choose between enjoying Girl Scout cookies and saving orangutans. We hope the Girl Scouts of the USA, and other food companies will make a commitment to making deforestation-free cookies.”

“I live from the forest and will protect her by any means.”

At the Awards Ceremony, special recognition was paid to José Claudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife Maria, who were passionate advocates for sustainable management of the Amazon rainforest and campaigned fearlessly against illegal logging in the region. Sadly, they were murdered last year, in an ambush attack not far from their home.

José Claudio was renowned for his passionate speeches and campaigns, and though they were based on local issues, he always gave global perspective. In November 2010, he spoke at a TEDx Amazon event in Manaus despite regularly receiving threats against his and his wife’s lives. He said,

“I stand up, I denounce the loggers, I denounce the charcoal makers and for this they think that I can’t exist…For this…  I live with (the prospect of) a bullet in my head at any time.”

The da Silvas became anti‐logging activists when illegal loggers began to encroach further into untouched areas of Pará, their largely forested home state in northern Brazil. They were known as “tenacious Amazon defenders” who blocked roads and denounced illegal loggers to Brazil’s environmental agency.

Forest conservation in Cameroon is the bee’s knees

Born and raised in a forest community, Paul N. Mzeka has always had deep attachment to forest and trees. After teaching geography for 30 years, Paul retired from the Cameroonian public service and founded what is now known as the Apiculture and Nature Conservation Organisation (ANCO) to promote sustainable bee farming as a means of raising awareness in biodiversity conservation in rural communities.

“The people who are producing honey and selling have increased their livelihoods by 11 percent,” Paul said in an interview for the film The Honey King.

ANCO has helped 30 communities to protect their watersheds and conserve 4 community forests including reforesting degraded portions. In the process, a total of 685,000 trees have been planted, the target being to reach a million trees before 2013. Paul and his organisation have also collaborated with CIFOR on several community forestry research projects, such as NTFP capacity building of small and medium enterprises in Central Africa. He still works tirelessly at the age of 77.

Russian environmental journalist speaks out against forest criminals

Anatoly Lebedev began his career in environmental journalism and quickly found that organised crime and corruption in the forestry sector was going unpunished in Russia. Soon after his work with environmental group Taiga in the 1980s resulted in a national logging ban on cedar forests, Anatoly was elected into regional parliament where he passed legislation on forest and wildlife management, indigenous rights, and helped keep national parks from destruction by illegal logging. Still active in the media sector, Anatoly has produced the first regional environmental TV show, “Preserved,” and the quarterly magazine “Ecology and Business,” which has been a key tool for environmental education and advocacy in the Russian Federation and Siberia.

A guardian of the Amazon rainforest

Paulo Adario has acted as a guardian of the Amazon for the past 15 years, developing moratoria to halt the illegal destruction of forests for soya crops, cattle ranching and logging. Leading a field team focused on research and investigation, his work exposed the timber industry as the first in a number of drivers of destruction in the Amazon rainforest.

Following a campaign on illegal logging, which led to a moratorium in 2003 on the international trade in Mahogany, the impacts of his work attracted death threats from forest criminals across the Amazon. Paulo persisted and went on to create bilateral agreements with international and industrial companies to halt the illegal destruction of the forests for soya crops and cattle ranching. The resulting Soya Moratorium and cattle industry agreements are still in place today. Paulo opened Greenpeace’s office in the Amazon to fight deforestation and force sustainable solutions and currently still leads the office as the Campaign Director.

While these Forest Heroes come from varied backgrounds, they share a common courage, passion and perseverance that serve as inspiration to anyone wishing to make a difference for forests.

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