UN honours activists from India, Mexico and Russia for work on biodiversity protection

The United Nations today paid tribute to three activists who were awarded a top prize for biodiversity protection.

Dr. Alfonso Aguirre-Muñoz, Executive Director of Grupo de Ecología y Conservación de Islas, A.C. (Mexico) Dr. Yury Darman, Director of WWF-Russia Amur Branch (Russia) and Dr. Vandana Shiva, Founder and Director of Navdanya (India) were recognized with the MIDORI Prize for Biodiversity.

The MIDORI Prize is a biennial international prize organized by the AEON Environmental Foundation and the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity to honour individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity at global, regional or local levels.

Working to restore Mexico’s islands

Dr. Aguirre-Muñoz, has been tirelessly working for four decades on the conservation and sustainable management of coasts, islands and seas, with emphasis on the Mexican insular ecosystems. His perseverance to achieve strong conservation outcomes has had significant impacts on island conservation not only for Mexico but also worldwide. Thanks to his leadership, 59 populations of invasive mammals were removed from 37 islands throughout Mexico. This represents the restoration of more than 50,000 hectares of unique insular habitat, with wide impacts for global biodiversity.

During his work he has established a wide range of partnerships including federal government agencies, the Mexican Navy, local fishermen communities, international organizations, foreign governments, academic institutes and universities, and a broad network of donors.

Protecting tiger habitats in Russia and beyond

Dr. Yury Darman is a champion of the Russian conservation movement who has devoted 40 years of professional service to the Amur River − one of the ten greatest rivers in the world. He has integrated scientific and traditional knowledge into a comprehensive programme for biodiversity conservation under the umbrella of iconic rare species, such as the Amur tiger, the Far Eastern leopard and the Oriental stork. Thanks in large part to his efforts, protected areas in the region have been increased and species populations have recovered.

Dr. Darman took leadership in the elaboration and implementation of the Programme for Protected Area Network development, which now covers 12% of the Amur Ecoregion. Since 2000, he has been focusing on the creation of a protected area network for the Amur tiger. Through his efforts, 2 million hectares of protected areas were created, including innovative arrangements related to national parks and ecological corridors. The biggest success has been the gazetting of the Bikin national park in 2015. Now, 25% of Amur tiger habitats are under protection which, together with anti-poaching and law enforcement, has contributed to increasing the population from 350 to 430 adult cats.

Dr. Darman’s conservation activities reach across borders. Cooperation between bordering nature reserves along the Amur River is conducted with reserves in China and Mongolia under a large international initiative, the “Amur Green Belt”.

Supporting sustainable agriculture and farmers’ rights in India

Dr. Vandana Shiva has dedicated her life to protect biodiversity, save seeds, and promote traditional organic farming methods that protect farmers’ rights. Since the mid-1990s, she has been promoting traditional knowledge and livelihoods, sustainable agriculture and biodiversity conservation, particularly in support of small communities and marginalized groups, including women, small farmers and indigenous and local communities in India.

Dr. Shiva founded Navdanya, a network of seed keepers and organic producers spread across 18 states in India that provides training on sustainable agriculture and agroecological techniques. Navdanya’s farm in Uttarakhand conserves more than 2,300 varieties of paddy rice, wheat, barley, oats, mustard, millets, pulses, spices, vegetables and medicinal plants. Innovative agroecological techniques are developed and adapted to local resources and biodiversity studies in this experimental farm.

Navdanya has helped set up 122 community seed banks across the country, trained over 800,000 farmers in seed conservation, food sovereignty and sustainable agriculture, and helped set up the largest fair-trade organic network in the country.

Women are keys to Navdanya’s work. Diverse Women for Diversity is the global movement started by Dr. Shiva in 1995. The movement has rejuvenated women’s skills, knowledge and livelihood related to seeds, and processing of healthy traditional foods, thus empowering women, and benefitting society.

“Seeds of Hope” encourages women’s spearhead role in communities’ food security. Understanding the mechanisms and issues of climate change, farmers can change their production habits with the support of citizen consumers.

Based on her approach and knowledge of agronomy and economic research, Dr. Shiva has been influential on policies at national and international levels, and has contributed to the world discourses on biodiversity, access and benefit-sharing, and biosafety. She has promoted and developed alternative agricultural solutions jointly with small farmers in India. She has contributed as an expert to the Convention on Biological Diversity and to India’s Biodiversity Act, Plant Variety and Farmers Rights Act, and Forest Rights Act. Her great influence in challenging policies has shaped a planetary alliance to protect the planet’s biodiversity and people’s rights.

“For the fourth time, the MIDORI Prize for Biodiversity has been awarded to three individuals who have contributed in outstanding ways to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and the fair and equitable sharing of its benefits,” said Mr. Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity. “I sincerely congratulate the 2016 winners for their numerous achievements and commend them for providing such positive inspiration.”

Each of the prize winners is awarded a commemorative gift and plaque and a monetary prize of $100,000 to support their work. The prize winners will also deliver public lectures at a Winners’ Forum that will be held on 7 December 2016 at the United Nations University in Tokyo, Japan.