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Desertification Campaigners Recognized

2006 United Nations Environment Programme Sasakawa Prize Laureates Honoured in New York

New York/Nairobi, 30 October 2006 – The laureates of the 2006 United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Sasakawa Prize are being honoured today for their efforts to combat desertification by United Nations Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner in a gala ceremony at the American Museum of Natural History, Rose Centre for Earth and Space, in New York, USA.

Two grassroot initiatives – the Tenadi Cooperative Group of Mauritania, and Rodrigo Vivas Rosas, leader of the Inter-institutional Consortium for Sustainable Agriculture (CIPASLA) in Colombia – are this year's recipients. They are recognized 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.

Mr Steiner said: " The UNEP Sasakawa Prize recognizes extraordinary grassroots initiatives from around the world. Its purpose is to nurture innovation, research, initiatives and ideas by offering prestige, publicity and, not least, financial support. This year's winners are playing their part in reversing land degradation and improving the lives and livelihoods of dryland dwellers. We believe they stand as an example of what can be done with few resources but a lot of determination."

The award underlines that many of the solutions to overcoming the global threat of desertification reside in the hands of local grassroots communities and indigenous peoples, including women and small-scale farmers.

Mr Vivas Rosas, one of the laureates, said: "I accept this prize in recognition of the hundreds of families that now believe and value the importance of caring for water, and the use of preservation alternatives in rain water harvesting. Their leadership has contributed to the development of a new culture on water, resulting, in the immediate future, into a public policy in Colombia, and hopefully not only there, but throughout the region and maybe world-wide."

" Fighting poverty and desertification is a task for all, and it is clear that the ruling economic model in Latin America is unsustainable, both from an ecological and conservation of water standpoint. Our entire planet is suffering from extreme water resource waste and degradation. Reflecting on the beauty, richness and potential of our countries, with their landscapes, peoples and struggles, and where waters spring along the way as a symbol of hope, rejoices us as well as worries us – mainly due to the deterioration of the protective forest zones, diminishing everything due to the unjustified actions of men."

Speaking on behalf of the Tenadi Cooperative, Mr Sidi El Moctar Ould Waled said: "Despite our limited resources and the persistent nature of environmental problems, we take heart from being awarded this prize, which demonstrates that we were right to choose not to give up. This choice, which involves the participation of all those concerned at all stages of the decision-making process, from the identification to the realization of projects, requires continuous training, awareness raising, the assumption of responsibility and constant dialogue with the members of the cooperative."

He added: " The people of Tenadi have also asked me to extend to all those present an invitation to visit them in Tenadi. When the Sasakawa prize winners were announced, one of the members of the cooperative said, 'The prize is an honour to us and has made it possible for the world to hear the voice of at least one of those without a voice.”

The new UNEP Sasakawa Prize, worth US$200,000 is awarded annually. The Prize, considered one of the most prestigious environmental awards in the world, recognizes innovative research and ideas and extraordinary grassroots initiatives from around the world.

Each laureate’s scope of activities is associated with an environmental theme selected for the year. In 2006, the theme was ‘Deserts and Desertification’.

The Winners

The Tenadi Cooperative

The years of persistent drought since 1973 in the Sahel, and in Mauritania in particular, have killed 90 per cent of 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 initiate a struggle to survive against 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 innovative 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.

Due 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 income generating agricultural techniques, including introducing new crops in a desert environment through the regeneration of flora which were rapidly becoming extinct.

Mr. Sidi El Moctar Ould Waled, President of the Cooperative, said: “This Prize honors the Tenadi Cooperative and its members and the people of Mauritania. It also confirms that the efforts undertaken by the Cooperative to address the challenges of desertification have borne fruit. Our initiatives serve as an example to many other communities who are fighting desertification in Mauritania and throughout West Africa.”

Rodrigo Hernan Vivas Rosas

Mr. 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 -- has implemented solutions that are technically viable and environmentally sustainable regarding the use of water, especially rainwater. The partners in this effort include government and non-governmental organizations, a foundation established by ex-guerillas and an association of indigenous people.

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

His activities span the Andean region and his achievements have resulted in a dent in the poverty that helps to perpetuate local guerilla 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.

Through these applications and methodologies, several of his initiatives are and are aiming to develop an institutional model for organizing community efforts to combat desertification, poverty and resource degradation.

The co-winner is also working towards creating computerized models that would enable research and development organizations and community groups to make sound resource management decisions.

Mr. Vivas Rosas said: “It is a great honour for me to receive this award. I am very pleased to obtain this recognition, which is very significant and motivating for my personal work and for our organization”.

"I always thought we could replicate successful sustainable development initiatives in Colombia. Thanks to the support of international organizations, this has become possible. It is now feasible to promote a culture of harvesting and using rainwater in Colombia. This should become public policy and a priority for all local and regional governments," he added.

Note to Editors

• A complete biography and photographs of Mr. Vivas Rosas and the Tenadi Cooperative are available.

• 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.

• The Prize winners were selected on 22 June 2006 by an independent and distinguished Jury of international leaders and environmentalists, including 2004 Nobel Prize Laureate, Professor Wangari Maathai; Ms Wakako Hironaka, Member of the House of Councillors, The National Diet of Japan and former Minister of the Environment; Ms. Angela Cropper, a Senator in Trinidad and Tobago, Board member of IUCN (International Conservation Union) and President of the Cropper Foundation, and UNEP’s Executive Director, Mr. Achim Steiner.

For more information, and to obtain the 2007 nomination forms, please contact: Eric Falt, Director, UNEP Division of Communications and Public Information, on Tel: (254-20) 762-3292, Mobile: 254 (0) 733 682656, E-mail: eric.falt@unep.org or Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson, Office of the Executive Director, on Tel: (254-20) 762-3084, Mobile in Kenya: 254 (0) 733 632755, Mobile when travelling (41-79) 596-5737, E-mail: nick.nuttall@unep.org or Elisabeth Guilbaud-Cox, Head of Special Events, on Tel: (254-20) 762-3401. You can also visit our web site at www.unep.org/sasakawa.

To interview the laureates, please contact them at the following coordinates: Rodrigo Hernan Vivas Rosas on Tel: (57) 282 49275, Fax: (57) 282 49275, and e-mail: rodrivenn@gmail.com; and Mr. Sidi El-Moctar Ould Waled on Tel: (222) 648-5990 or (222) 644-9384; Fax: (222) 525 2822, and e-mail: swaled@tenadi.com

UNEP News Release 2006/49




Further Resources

Sasakawa Prize 2006 Update
News update: awards ceremony, speeches, profiles, press releases, and photogallery.

2006 Prize Winner: Rodrigo Hernan Vivas Rosas


2006 Prize Winner: Cooperative agricole et avicole de Tenadi


Combatants of Global Desertification Win Key Environment Prize
UNEP Press Release

Previous Winners of UNEP Sasakawa Prize

UNEP / Sasakawa 2007 Nomination form
Nominations are now open for the 2007 UNEP Sasakawa Prize. Deadline for submissions is 15 March 2007

Environmental Awards

Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change

Prix Sasakawa du PNUE 2006


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