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Helping elephants thrive, restoring degraded wetlands, and protecting essential rainforests are some of the many projects overseen by the 10 winners of this year’s Equator Prize by the United Nations

The annual Equator Prize recognizes community groups that are conserving ecosystems, fighting climate change, and ensuring biodiversity remains robust in the years ahead.

The winners receive a $10,000 prize to support their work and also get access to a global network of support.

This year’s winners reflect the tremendous efforts being made at the community level to repair the natural world. Many of the winners are Indigenous communities who are drawing on centuries of wisdom and land management skills, while others reflect the extraordinary potential of grassroots organizing. 

The community groups hail from 10 countries — Canada, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ecuador, Guatemala, Indonesia, Kenya, Madagascar, Mexico, Myanmar, and Thailand —  and share a consistent approach to wildlife conservation. Rather than viewing the natural world as a resource to exploit, they all understand that the health of humanity is inseparable from the health of wildlife. 

“The winners show us the value of working with nature, for climate action, for water security, and for inclusive prosperity,” Achim Steiner, UNDP administrator, said in a statement. They show us the importance of putting nature at the very heart of sustainable development. Their stories provide a blueprint for solving our planetary emergency.”

In Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve, the Nashulai Maasai Conservancy is weaving community development into conservation practices. Local Maasai practice a form of sustainable farming that generates funding for the conservation of beloved animals like elephants and lions and the diverse plant life in the area.

An eco-tourism program, meanwhile, has helped to fund two schools, improved access to water, and entrepreneurship opportunities for women. 

The Boon Rueang Wetland Forest Conservation Group also won this year. The community-led group is helping to restore degraded wetlands and save an ancestral forest in the Ing River Basin in Northern Thailand. They’ve successfully prevented industrial projects from going ahead in the area as part of their work to maintain local biodiversity. The wetlands are being returned to their role as a source of clean water, a rich habitat for wildlife, and a crucial carbon sink.  

In the Ecuadorian Amazon, meanwhile, four Indigenous groups representing 70 communities have banded together to protect the rainforest through the Alianza Ceibo. The cooperative provides access to clean water, solar energy, and sustainable job opportunities. It also provides people with alternatives to mining, ranching, and large-scale monocultures — three of the biggest drivers of deforestation in the region. 

“We are honored by this global recognition by the UN for our work in defense of our rainforest territories and cultures,” said Alicia Salazar, Siona leader and Ceibo Alliance’s Director, said in a press release. "This prize goes out to all our Indigenous communities and nations who are on the front lines of the battle to protect the Amazon. As Indigenous peoples, we have suffered many oppressions and violations. But through our shared struggle for survival and guided by the vision of our ancestors, we are building a unified movement to protect the rainforest, our planet, and future generations.”

You can learn more about this year’s winner’s here


Defend the Planet

UN Awards $100,000 to Indigenous Communities Protecting the Planet

By Joe McCarthy  and  Pia Gralki