News / USA

Grassroots Activists Win $150,000 Goldman Prize

Ordinary people doing extraordinary things to protect the environment

Humberto Rios Labrada meets with local farmers at seed diversity fairs across Cuba.
Humberto Rios Labrada meets with local farmers at seed diversity fairs across Cuba.

Multimedia

Audio
Rosanne Skirble

Every April, during the week-long observances surrounding Earth Day, grassroots environmental activists from six regions of the world are honored with the Goldman Environmental Prize.

The privately-funded, $150,000 awards, based in the United States, recognize individuals who've shown courage and initiative in responding to environmental problems.

Farmer-led biodiversity projects

Agronomist Humberto Rios Labrada, with the Cuban National Institute of Agriculture, has played a major role in changing agrarian practices in Cuba.

Like farming systems in many countries during the last half of the 20th century, Cuban agriculture had adopted a chemical-intensive, highly mechanized, mono-culture approach - big, single-crop fields. As scientists eventually learned, this posed a threat to the island nation's biodiversity and over time, reduced crop yields - putting Cuba's food security at risk, as well.

Goldman laureate Rios says his plan was to address these urgent problems one farmer at a time. "I truly believe that if farmers are the ones making innovative decisions, Cuba can overcome its food challenges."

In the late 1990s, Rios and a team of young scientists created agro-diversity learning centers for farmers. They also helped establish seed farms across Cuba to promote cultivation of a wider variety of food crops. Food production increased dramatically.  

Rios says the program that began with 25 people has expanded to include 50,000 farmers nationwide. "My dream is that one day all scientific research institutions will make seed diversity accessible and will recognize rural farmers' knowledge.  And that Cuba will definitely become an organic agricultural island."  Rios' ideas have also taken root in Mexico where he is engaged in similar farmer-led biodiversity projects.

Thuli Makama visits the grave of a villager killed by a game park ranger in Swaziland.
Thuli Makama visits the grave of a villager killed by a game park ranger in Swaziland.

Defending native peoples

Environmental lawyer Thuli Makama is the Goldman laureate from the African continent.  

She has defended the right of native peoples in the southern African nation of Swaziland to live near private game reserves. Makama says these people have subsisted off the land for generations.

"While we do not condone poaching, it needs to be seen in context.  More than 69 percent of the population of Swaziland is living below the poverty level. When one gets up in the morning and they don't have any money in their pockets, they look to the environment to give them their meal for the day."

A 1997 law gave game rangers in Swaziland the right to use armed force against suspected poachers. Makama says the rangers have shot and killed more than 100 native people in the reserve who were illegally hunting for game.

"When you say to me you are killing poachers but you are actually killing people who are poor neighboring the park who are going in there to find things to survive on, I think that does not solve the problem. The lasting solution would be balancing the interests of the local communities and those of the parks."

In 2009, after a five-year lawsuit, Makama won a landmark case. A state court ruled that the Swaziland Environment Authority must give non-governmental conservation groups, like the one she runs, a seat on its board and a voice in decision-making.

"What is key about being able to influence the decisions that are being made in that board is that it is the highest decision-making body on environmental management in the country, and we want communities to have space in the management and the benefit-sharing over natural resources," says  Makama.

Protest against the Via Baltica Expressway in the Rospuda Valley
Protest against the Via Baltica Expressway in the Rospuda Valley

Balancing Nature and human needs

The complex balance between nature and human needs is also an issue in Poland's Rospuda Valley, which winds through vast tracks of primeval forest, peat bogs and wetlands.  

It is one of Europe's last undisturbed wild areas. Goldman Prize winner Malgorzata Gorska has led the fight to stop a controversial highway project from cutting a swath through the wilderness.

"The Polish government had already approved the highway so we were afraid we might not succeed," says Gorska. "However, we felt strongly that we had to try because the place was so unique and so vulnerable and because we felt that we were right."

Gorska is a conservationist with the Polish Society for the Protection of Birds. She took the case to the European Commission with hopes that Poland would be held in violation of the European Union's regulations on protected sites.

"When we heard that we'd won the case in European court, we were extremely happy because this meant that laws pertaining to nature were now considered to be as important as any other issues," she says. "It wasn't a private victory. It was a victory for everyone, not just environmental organizations, but for common citizens that simply love nature."

Other Goldman laureates this year were honored for their efforts to protect Asian elephants in Cambodia, to expose pollution from factory farms in the United States and to campaign for a ban on the international trade in shark fins.

One hundred and thirty-nine people from 79 countries have received the Goldman Environmental Prize since it was established in 1989.

You May Like

Scotland Vote Raises Questions of International Law

Experts say self-determination, as defined and protected by international law, confined narrowly to independence movements in process of de-colonization More

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

Conservationists hail ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015 More

Annual Military Exercise Takes on New Meaning for Ukraine Troops

Troops from 15 nations participating in annual event, 'Rapid Trident' in western Ukraine More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctionsi
X
September 18, 2014 2:28 AM
A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid