Equator Initiative

The Equator Initiative is designed to reduce poverty through the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in the equatorial belt by fostering, supporting and strengthening community partnerships.

The world's greatest concentration of biological wealth is found in tropical developing countries that are beset by acute poverty. In these regions, the loss of biodiversity is accelerating as poverty is increasing.

There are many ingenious and effective ways through which indigenous and other local communities are rising to these challenges. Unfortunately, their innovations remain largely unknown. Whether for food, medicine, or income generation, these groups are using their biological resources in a sustainable way to improve livelihoods.

The Equator Initiative seeks to promote a worldwide movement to reduce poverty and conserve biodiversity through the recognition of local achievements, the fostering of South-South capacity building, and by contributing to the generation and sharing of knowledge for policy impact through publications, radio, television and the Internet.

The Equator Prize 2002 Jury selected the following seven outstanding community initiatives to receive the Equator Prize 2002:

2002 Winners

Il Ngwesi Group Ranch, Kenya

Before the early 1990's the Laikipia Plateau in the Rift Valley Province, Kenya, remained undeveloped with little economic activity except for subsistence pastoralism. Although there was some wildlife in the area, elephant poaching remained a major problem.


Il Ngwesi Group Ranch is a collectively owned initiative of 499 local households that incorporates an exclusive eco-tourism lodge and a locally led committee responsible for land and resource management. A major priority of the initiative is the planning of seasonal livestock grazing patterns in a way that will ensure an increase in ground cover vegetation and a reduction in the present erosion. By limiting poaching through community patrols and leading efforts to sustainably manage local resources, the trust has helped to secure a more certain future for wildlife on Il Ngwesi and neighbouring reserves. Poverty at Il Ngwesi has been tackled through the redirection of tourism revenues back to the local community. With the revenue from the lodge, the Il Ngwesi community has paid for many social developments, such as the provision of school bursaries and the construction of a primary school and three nursery schools. Funds have also been directed into water maintenance and health schemes. Training and awareness workshops have become an important component of the initiative as they deal in wildlife conservation project management and the further development of sustainable resources. By adopting a collaborative approach to resource management, Il Ngwesi has achieved remarkable success in promoting local livelihoods without compromising the integrity of the natural environment.

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Suledo Forest Community, Tanzania

The Miombo woodlands of southern Africa provide a large variety of inputs to the livelihoods of rural people. Due to the heavy dependence of the local community on these forests, there has been growing interest in reorienting Miombo management practices, from the conventional approach based on state control and professional management by the forest service, to community forest management.

Harnessing their knowledge of the species-rich Miombo forests of Tanzania's Arusha region, the Suledo Forest Community has established an effective system of village-based forest management that meets the diverse needs of local people. After being spurred into action in 1993 by government plans for use of local forests, communities have regained control over land management and have devised a system of unique forest planning zones. To add weight to community anti-poaching rules, area villages have passed supportive by-laws and members of local communities now patrol each forest zone to ensure enforcement. As a result of these interventions, villagers have access to a greater range of forest products, including sustainable timber and products such as fruits, nuts, mushrooms and medicines. Water supply has also been improved, sustainable tree nurseries, vegetable gardens and orchards have been introduced, and maize production has increased from 15 to 25 bags per hectare.

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Fiji Locally-Managed Marine Area Network

The Fiji Islands is an independent nation consisting of an archipelago surrounding the Koro Sea in the South Pacific Ocean. The archipelago consists of some 332 islands scattered over about 3,000,000 square kilometers. Of the 330 islands, about 100 are inhabited with a population of around 800,000 people made up of indigenous Fijians (50%), Indians (47%) with Europeans, Chinese and South Pacific Islanders making up the remaining 3%.

Since its inception in 1999, the Fiji Locally Managed Marine Area Network has grown to include communities in six districts and covers 10% of the inshore marine area of Fiji. With emphasis on involvement of community members, extensive awareness campaigns were carried out through village meetings and workshops. The involvement of communities in the network has led to increases in the number and size of clams, crabs, and other species harvested adjacent to tabu areas, where fishing is prohibited. As a result, household incomes have increased 35% over three years and catches have tripled. The community members involved in the initiative have acquired new skills in planning, monitoring, analysis and communication as their experiences are shared with other villages. Community cohesion has also increased and communities are more enthusiastic to work together in other development issues following the success of the marine protection initiative.

Much of the success of the network can be attributed to its participatory and collaborative focus, which has ensured that local people are at the center of the network's operations. As a testament to the success of the network in protecting marine biodiversity and alleviating poverty in fishing communities, the government of Fiji has recently incorporated many of its approaches into national policies designed to protect the coastal resources of Fiji for future generations.

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Uma Bawang Resident's Association (UBRA), MALAYSIA

Sarawak is the largest state in the federation of Malaysia with an area of approximately 124,449 square kilometers, which accounts for about 37.5% of area of Malaysia. Sarawak's forests are the state's most important resource and asset, producing timber and a multitude of forest products. The rainforest is home to an incredible variety of more than 8,000 species of flowering plants and over 20,000 animal species, the majority of which are insects.

The Uma Bawang Resident's Association (UBRA) represents a community of less than 100 people that has successfully used blockades, and now innovative mapping efforts, to defend customary land rights and access to forest lands. Critically, since UBRA's first mapping workshop in 1995, this technique has been increasingly used by other communities to legally defend their borders and secure recognition of traditional lands. UBRA also helps communities learn a wide variety of skills that provide cash income, including communal rice farming and milling, pig-rearing, handicrafts marketing, growing pepper and fruit trees, and developing sustainable teakwood plantations. Projects supported by UBRA provide income without endangering forest resources and are complemented by work in reforestation and restoration of damaged forest lands. Since 1992, UBRA has planted 4,000 tree seedlings in degraded areas, with an average of 200 fruit trees planted per family, and is leading a new reforestation initiative focused on native species.

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Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE), BELIZE

Toledo, the southernmost district of Belize, is 1,669 square miles of rainforest, mountains, rivers, and Maya Villages. The Toledo area offers a wealth of attractions for the ecotourist. Five distinct cultural groups are represented here: Maya, Creole, Garifuna, East Indian and even some descendants of American Confederates who fled the United States after the Civil War. TIDE's ecotourism venture offers an authentic approach to accommodation and experience.

TIDE was founded in 1997 in response to urgent conservation needs. This local conservation organization is dedicated to protecting the resources of the Toledo District of southern Belize through sustainable development. Ecotourism has been a principle focus of its conservation and development efforts. The Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE) works in some of the poorest areas of Belize and, through the Maya Mountain Marine Sustainable Livelihoods Initiative, collaborates with local communities to promote sustainable income generation and conservation. TIDE has focused much of its poverty reduction efforts on certification programs and training, including an on-going program to train and certify flyfishing guides and an "ECO-OK" certification project for sustainably produced local timber. The project also supports microenterprise and ecotourism training through a tourism arm, TIDE Tours. TIDE Tours subcontracts with small community-based businesses trained by TIDE to return income to communities and promote local enterprise. Through promotion of participatory co-management of natural resources and development of community monitoring, the project has also reduced poaching of endangered manatees, the practice of gillnetting, and illegal hunting and logging.

As a result TIDE has instituted an ecotourism enterprise that directly benefits both the ecosystems and associated communities by furnishing alternative employment opportunities and funds for ongoing conservation programs. Its ecotourism program is recognized as being environmentally sound, culturally sensitive and dedicated to keeping the revenues within local communities.

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Green Life Association of Amazônia (AVIVE), BRAZIL


The municipality of Silves is located 300 km from Manaus, down the Amazon River in an area surrounded by lakes of different sizes and shapes. AVIVE was founded in Silves to defend and preserve the local environment and culture while also working to improve the quality of life of local people, especially women. Since being launched in 1999, much of AVIVE's work has focused on developing techniques for sustainable extraction of the Aniba plant, also known as pau-rosa, as well as other medicinal and aromatic native plant species. The project also promotes the home production of natural medicines and cosmetics as an economic alternative for the women of Silves. These products are now sold in stores, catering to local consumers and tourists, and are marketed abroad to generate income for local women. The organization also leads an important environmental education program and produces seeds for the replanting and recovery of regional forests, where extractive activities threaten biodiversity. To protect the endangered pau-rosa and other rare plant species, AVIVE highlights the importance of sustainable extraction and is actively involved in the creation of a Sustainable Development Reserve where these species can be cultivated in ways that do not imperil their existence.

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Talamanca Initiative, COSTA RICA

While more than 10% of the country has been designated as "protected areas", paradoxically Costa Rica has one of the highest deforestation rates in the world. Turmoil and poverty in the neighboring countries of Panama, Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador have turned this nation into a magnet for poor landless peasants. Talamanca, located in the southeast corner of the country is the poorest of Costa Rica's regions in socio-economic terms but the richest in terms of biodiversity and remaining tropical forest ecosystems. The 3,000 square kilometers that form Talamanca contain a staggering two- percent of the world's biodiversity, 30 to 40% of which is found nowhere else on Earth. This tiny region is also home to 35,000 people, including Costa Rica's largest concentration of Native Americans.

A collaborative partnership of three community-focused organizations - Associacion ANAI, APPTA, and CBTC - the Talamanca Initiative has worked since 1983 to integrate biodiversity conservation and socio-economic development in the Talamanca region of Costa Rica. The initiative's biodiversity conservation efforts include establishment of Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge, a last sanctuary for the endangered Manatee, and development of Central America's only permanent raptor migration monitoring program. To encourage sustainable socio-economic development, the initiative has promoted crop diversification and organic agriculture, with APPTA's processing system becoming the largest volume producer and exporter of organic products in Central America.

Since 1991, the initiative has also run a Regional Training Center and has helped establish 13 local ecotourism ventures. As an example of the gains that have been made through the initiative's work, income in villages has risen up to six-fold and communities have been able to engage in sustainable income generating pursuits that also work to protect their natural environment.

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2004 Winners

Proyecto Nasa - Colombia

This project takes its roots in a vigorous community of Colombia's indigenous Paez people. Together, they sustainably manage a territory of 49,000 hectares, partially located within the Nevada del Huila Biosphere Reserve on the Colombia-Ecuador border. Since 1980 they have courageously worked to incorporate holistic strategies for natural and cultural preservation into daily life - while in the midst of civil strife and violence from conflicts in their region. To achieve these goals, the project has launched a wide range of programmes designed to promote the overall health of the community and their natural environment. These activities include environmental education and the promotion of traditional medicinal and agroforestry techniques. The project's activities, while reaping rewards for both human and environmental health, are funded creatively through the sale of environmentally friendly products, such as juices and objects crafted from artisanal marble. "Nasa", a Paez word meaning 'living being', also describes the language of the people.

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Comunidad Indigena de Nuevo San Juan Parangaricutiro - Mexico

This innovative Mexican community of indigenous peoples collectively owns 11,000 hectares of forest in the richly biodiverse state of Michoacán. For over twenty years, the community has maintained a wide range of successful eco-enterprises based on sustainable forestry, the creation of eco-friendly timber products (including production of furniture and resins), ecotourism, agroforestry and wildlife management.

These enterprises have provided a boost to local incomes while ensuring that the resource base upon which the community depends is sustained for future generations. Reassuringly, the community's successes have spread well beyond their origins as these novel conservation and business practices have been widely adopted by other indigenous communities in Mexico.

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Genetic Resource, Energy, Ecology and Nutrition (GREEN) Foundation- India

Over its eleven-year history, GREEN Foundation has harnessed traditional knowledge of agricultural practices and seed diversity to create highly successful seed and gene banks throughout the state of Karnataka. Working primarily with a network of women's farming groups called sanghas, GREEN Foundation has improved food security through the creation of a farmer-based community seed supply system and through establishment of home gardens. In doing so, the foundation has forged a number of valuable partnerships between farmers and scientists. To date, GREEN Foundation has helped establish 31 community seed banks and, as a result, the number of farmers in Karnataka conserving indigenous seeds has grown from 10 to over 1,500.

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Bunaken National Park Management Advisory Board (BNPMAB) and Bunaken Concerned Citizen's Forum (FMPTNB)- Indonesia

The Bunaken National Park Management Advisory Board (BNPMAB) is responsible for co-management and conservation of a globally significant marine protected area in North Sulawesi. Through its innovative approach to decision-making, zoning, enforcement and fee-collection, the Board has maintained the Park's rich biodiversity while responding to the needs of the 30,000 people who live in the Park. A key feature of the Board's success is the participation of the Bunaken Concerned Citizen's Forum (FMPTNB) which holds 5 of the 15 Board seats. The Forum's active and prominent involvement on the Board has helped ensure that the villagers' wide experience and knowledge inform all aspects of park management. Critically, 30% of all entrance fee proceeds go to local communities through a highly successful small grants programme.

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Rufiji Environment Management Project (REMP-MUMARU) - Tanzania

Since 1998, this project has made headway in its goal of promoting long term conservation through wise use of the lower Rufiji forests, woodlands and wetlands. Several of the villages with which the group works are adjacent to the Selous Game Reserve - a UNESCO World Heritage Site. REMP seeks to ensure biodiversity is conserved, critical ecological functions are maintained, renewable resources are used sustainably and the livelihoods of the area’s inhabitants are secure and enhanced. Working closely with district authorities, communities and other stakeholders, REMP has taken important steps in developing an environmental management plan at district and village levels. This activity supports and furthers efforts to raise awareness and train communities in sustainable fisheries and beekeeping and in tree propagation and planting. Encouraged by the cooperation of government authorities and the enthusiasm of local communities, REMP is actively working towards a more sustainable future for Rufiji.

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Torra Conservancy - Namibia

Torra Conservancy covers 352,000 hectares of land in the Kunene region of northwest Namibia. This successful community-based conservancy was formed following passage of Namibia's unique conservancy legislation in 1996. Since then, Torra has established sustainable hunting and ecotourism activities that have earned significant profits for the entire community. Together with the private sector, they have also founded Damaraland Camp, a luxury tented lodge that has received accolades as an outstanding ecotourism destination. Damaraland Camp is fully managed and staffed by conservancy residents and has injected 1.6 million Namibian dollars into the community economy. As members of the Management Committee, community members monitor wildlife and human activity and ensure that policies for land and wildlife management are locally informed and, ultimately, successful.

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Sociedade Civil Mamirauá - Brazil

Among other successes, this innovative NGO has pioneered the creation of Sustainable Development Reserves (SDRs) in Brazil. Through application of this novel approach to the management of protected areas, Sociedade Civil Mamirauá has achieved tangible outcomes in the areas of biodiversity conservation and poverty alleviation. In order to protect local biodiversity, the group serves as manager of two SDRs located within the Central Amazon Conservation Complex - a richly biodiverse UNESCO World Heritage Site. Since 1992 they have worked in this capacity with communities, scientists, and state governments to ensure a sustainable future for both local livelihoods and the living resources of the Amazon rainforest upon which communities so vitally depend.

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The full records from which these briefs are extracted as well as many other practices are available at: http://www.undp.org/equatorinitiative