Press Releases September 2006 - Combatants of Global Desertification Win Key Environment Prize - United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
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Combatants of Global Desertification Win Key Environment Prize

Winners of 2006 United Nations Environment Programme Sasakawa Prize Announced

Nairobi, 28 September 2006 – The daily struggle of billions of people living in the world’s drylands is being recognized through the awarding of a key environment prize to two grassroots initiatives.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) announced today that Rodrigo Vivas Rosas of Colombia and the Tenadi Cooperative Group of Mauritania will be the recipients of the 2006 UNEP Sasakawa Prize.

The co-winners, who will receive their awards next month, are being honored 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.

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.

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 the fertility of the land in some of the harshest environments on the globe. In honoring Mr. Vivas Rosas and the Tenadi Cooperative we also honor these countless unsung individuals and groups whose commitment, creativity, tenacity and steadfastness are a lesson to us all”.

“Desertification and land degradation is a huge problem with wide-ranging consequences, from loss of productive land, increased emissions of greenhouse gases from degraded soils up to the siltation of rivers and hydroelectric dams,” he said.

“Higher sediment loads in rivers can in turn damage fisheries and choke economically important costal ecosystems like coral reefs and sea-grass beds. Desertification thus has wide-ranging impacts on our global attempts to reduce poverty and meet the internationally agreed Millennium Development Goals. Thus combating and avoiding desertification is in the interests of everyone and not just the two billion people living in drylands," he said.

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 will receive the Prize from the Executive Director of UNEP, Achim Steiner, on 30 October 2006 at a special ceremony at the American Museum of Natural History, Rose Center for Earth and Space, in New York, USA.

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 and President of the Cropper Foundation, and UNEP’s Executive Director, Mr. 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: 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: or Elisabeth Guilbaud-Cox, Head of Special Events, on Tel: (254-20) 762-3401. You can also visit our web site at

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:; and Mr. Sidi El-Moctar Ould Waled on Tel: (222) 648-5990 or (222) 644-9384; Fax: (222) 525 2822, and e-mail:

UNEP News Release 2006/45




Further Resources

2006 Prize Winner: Rodrigo Hernan Vivas Rosas

2006 Prize Winner: Cooperative agricole et avicole de Tenadi

UNEP Sasakawa Prize
Official Website

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

Previous Winners of UNEP Sasakawa Prize

Environmental Awards


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