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Friday, April 22, 2005

Goldman Environmental Prize winners 2005, part one

Richard and Rhoda Goldman began issuing the $125,000 awards 16 years ago as a way to honor grass-roots environmental activists. Goldman feels the publicity generated by the awards gives recipients more leverage with government officials. More here and here. Here are the first three of the six recent awards; the other three, tomorrow.


The Olancho region includes mountaintop cloud forests, rare old-growth pine forests and lowland tropical rainforests, ecosystems critical to preventing erosion, protecting the region's water sources and reducing flooding in the region.

Unregulated logging has taken more than half of Olancho's 12 million acres of forest. Erosion is widespread, water levels are low and natural springs have dried up completely. One community dug 120 wells before hitting water.

Powerful landowners, logging companies, drug traffickers and informal crime bosses control the area. Community members opposed to logging have been threatened and murdered.

Father Jose Andres Tamayo Cortez directs the Environmental Movement of Olancho, a coalition of subsistence farmers and community and religious leaders defending the land against uncontrolled commercial logging. He has organized massive protests to pressure the government to curtail illegal logging and mining. He's had a bounty put on his life and been shot at several times.

In 2003, he led a campaign that stopped a major highway intended to increase access to forests for new sawmills. He then led the "March for Life," a 3,000-person, 120-mile, weeklong march to the nation's capital, bringing the environmental debate to the national stage and inspiring other rural communities to organize against illegal logging. One month later, the Honduran president agreed to meet with Tamayo.

In June 2004, more than 5,000 people joined a second "March for Life," drawing attention to alleged corruption in the government's National Forestry Agency. The March led to a government investigation, prompting the resignation of the agency's General Manager.


Once covered with lush tropical forest, Haiti today is massively deforested, with trees covering only two percent of the land. Floods and landslides, exacerbated by this deforestation, wash down Haiti's mountains and destroy everything in their path.

As the soil erodes, once-fertile land becomes barren, leading to food shortages. Desperate to earn a living, rural families cut the few remaining trees for charcoal, immediate needs being paramount.

Agronomist Chavannes Jean-Baptiste Jean-Baptiste founded the Peasant Movement of Papay (MPP) in 1973; with his help 200,000 subsistence farmers have planted more than 20 million fruit and forest trees to help stabilize denuded soil and provide more food sources.

Jean-Baptiste and his colleagues teach sustainable agriculture and anti-erosion techniques (drip irrigation systems, natural fertilizers and pesticides, erosion-prevention structures) in a land that is literally washing away due to extreme deforestation.

Some say crop yields improved using these methods have decreased Haiti's dependence on imported food, reduced malnutrition rates in children, protected vital water supplies and helped decrease overall poverty levels.

Mr. Jean-Baptiste has survived at least three shooting attempts on his life. Death threats forced him into exile from 1993 to 1994.

Critics say planting trees is pointless given that so many will be cut down for fuel; Chavannes hopes to promote alternative fuel sources, teaching the construction of solar-powered battery chargers and establishing small manufacturing facilities for solar products.


Isidro Baldenegro Lopez is a subsistence farmer and community leader among Mexico’s indigenous Tarahumara people. They live in the Sierra Madre Mountains, one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world.

When the Spanish invaded Mexico in search of precious metals, natives hid in remote mountain valleys. Today, loggers and ranchers seeking lumber and land at any cost have forced many to flee. 99 percent of the region's old-growth forests have been logged.

The area is controlled by crime bosses who launder drug money through logging and ranching operations. The government generally ignores the violence. After Baldenegro's father, leader of earlier logging protests, was assassinated in 1986, Baldenegro took up the work of defending old growth forests.

In 1993, Baldenegro developed a non-violent grassroots resistance movement. In 2002, he organized non-violent sit-ins and marches, prompting the government to temporarily suspend logging in the area.

The following year he mobilized a massive human blockade of women whose husbands had been murdered, resulting in a special court order outlawing logging in the area. He was then arrested and jailed. He was released 15 months later.

Baldenegro’s work has led to new logging bans throughout the Sierra Madre region. He established an environmental justice organization, which currently has cases pending in the federal courts.

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