Today, World Forestry Day, we report on the outstanding efforts of people who have made an extraordinary contribution towards protecting forests and forest communities. At a special ceremony hosted recently by the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF), the Forest Hero Award was presented to six regional winners.
Since its launch in February 2011, global observance of the International Year of Forests has raised public awareness of the vital role of people in sustainable forest management and boosted action on conserving all types of forests.
Forests cover 31% of the world’s total global land area, store more than 1 trillion tons of carbon and provide livelihoods for more than 1.6 billion people. Deforestation accounts for 12 to 20% of the global greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.
“The well-being of forests is a concern for everyone,” says Stephen Kelleher, Deputy Director of IUCN’s Forest Conservation Programme. “Through many activities, the Year of Forests has helped promote awareness of the issues confronting the world’s forests and the people who depend on them. It is an honour and a privilege to be able to recognize those that are truly making a difference. The world needs more people like them.”
The UNFF Secretariat received 90 nominations from 41 countries and selected 15 finalists for the Forest Hero Award. The jury decided on the following regional winners: Africa’s Paul Nzegha Mzeka (Cameroon), Asia’s Shigeatsu Hatakeyama (Japan), Europe’s Anatoly Lebedev (Russian Federation), Latin America’s Paulo Adario (Brazil) and North America’s Rhiannon Tomtishen and Madison Vorva (United States). A special award was added in recognition of the deceased couple José Claudio Ribeiro and Maria do Espírito Santo, two activists tragically killed in Brazil while trying to protect their natural forests. Each hero embodied innovative approaches and grass-roots initiatives that make a direct impact on the forests to which they have dedicated themselves:
• Through education, reforestation, and sustainable bee farming, Mr. Mzeka and his team have helped 30 communities in Cameroon to protect their watersheds and conserve community forests, and he still works tirelessly at the age of 77.
• As an oyster fisherman, Mr. Hatakeyama understands the critical role of forests in maintaining clean water for his oyster beds and has become an iconic advocate of sustainable forests and farming practices in Miyagi, an area of Japan recently devastated by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
• Working through the legislative system, as well as through outreach and education, Mr. Lebedev has successfully campaigned against illegal logging and destructive land practices in the Russian Federation that threatened indigenous communities and Siberian tigers.
• Despite death threats and warring interest groups, Mr. Adario has dedicated himself to the protection of rainforests and the forest-dependent communities in the Brazilian Amazon.
• As 11-year-old girl scouts, Ms. Tomtishen and Ms. Vorva worked to raise awareness about palm oil, which is linked to the destruction of rainforests and an ingredient used in girl-scout cookies. Now at 16, these inspiring girls are working to educate consumers and persuade multinational companies, such as Kellogg’s and Cargill, to change their supply-chain practices to help reduce deforestation.
While the Forest Heroes come from varied backgrounds and geographic locations, they share a common courage, passion and perseverance that serves as inspiration to those wishing to make a difference for forests.
The awards ceremony also featured the winners of the 2011 Universal Postal Union letter-writing contest, which drew entries from more than two million children and youth worldwide, and the announcement of the winners of the 2011 children’s art contest “Celebrate the Forests”.
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