In a drought-prone zone rife with resource conflicts and violent extremism, the Mali Elephant Project (MEP) brings together various ethnic groups to effectively manage local resources and protect an internationally important population of 350 endangered African elephants. For this reason, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has awarded the 2017 Equator Prize to support the MEP’s efforts!
The Mali Elephant Project, a joint program of the WILD Foundation and International Conservation Fund of Canada, is recognized as 1 of 15 local and indigenous communities from Africa, Asia, and Latin America, that showcase innovate solutions for tackling poverty, environment, and climate challenges. The 2017 winners are protecting, restoring and sustainably managing marine, forest, grassland, dryland and wetland ecosystems. In the process, they have created several thousand jobs and livelihoods, improved food and water security for hundreds of communities, protected endangered wildlife, and decreased risks from natural disasters. The communities reinvest revenues generated by their initiatives into water supply, education, women’s economic training and other development goals.
The winners were selected from a pool of 806 nominations across 120 countries by an independent Technical Advisory Committee of internationally renowned experts. The selection process emphasized community-based approaches that provide a blueprint for replication. Many of the winners are advocating for their models to be replicated at national and international levels, which would significantly advance the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
“It is our privilege at UNDP, alongside our partners at the Equator Initiative, to have this opportunity to recognize and commend the achievements of this year’s Equator Prize winners. The solutions they have found in the service of their communities are as diverse as the development challenges they face. But what unites them is that each shows the power of people to bring about change while protecting the planet”, said Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator.
“By shining a spotlight on these initiatives from all corners of the world, we hope that others will be inspired by their example. Their dedication and commitment shows what is possible when communities come together to protect and sustainably manage nature for the benefit of all”, he added.
By promoting conflict resolutions, the Mali Elephant Project is leading the charge on protecting one of two remaining desert elephant herds in Africa. Through the formation of community-based natural resource management committees, the provision of additional income through support for women’s groups engaged in sustainable harvest of non-timber forest products, and anti-poaching measures involving ‘eco-guardian’ youth community members, the initiative has reduced poaching of elephants in the 32,000 km² area, improved social cohesion between different local communities, and contributed to peace-building efforts by providing alternatives to joining extremist groups. Communities have created rules for local use of natural resources, set aside forests for elephant use, formed pasture reserves, and designated seasonal water sources to be shared by people, livestock, and elephants.