Fijian Community Group Receives Equator Prize

Last night at Rio+20, the Equator Initiative acknowledged 25 grassroots organizations for their sustainable development efforts. Among them was the Sisi Initiative, which has been funded in part by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF).

2012 Equator Prize winners at Rio+20 award ceremony

Winners of the 2012 Equator Prize accept their awards at a ceremony at Rio+20. (© CI/Photo by Kim McCabe)

A voluntary group of local landowners from Fiji is one of 25 winners that have been awarded the prestigious Equator Prize. A representative of the group, Silio Lalaqila, received the award in a ceremony attended by heads of states, U.N. representatives and celebrities at the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development (also known as Rio+20) currently underway in Rio de Janeiro.

The Sisi Initiative is a BirdLife Fiji project named after the sisi bird — also known as the silktail (Lamprolia victoriae) found only in the Natewa Tunuloa Peninsula on Fiji’s second-largest island. This peninsula is one of the 14 Important Bird Areas in Fiji identified by BirdLife International; however, the birds’ old-growth rainforest habitat is being encroached upon by forces such as illegal logging, forest fires, overgrazing, agricultural expansion and the spread of invasive species.

Silio Lalaqila, a representative of Fiji's Sisi Initiative, who accepted the Equator Prize on the group's behalf

Silio Lalaqila — a representative of Fiji’s Sisi Initiative — accepted the Equator Prize on behalf of the community group at a Rio+20 award ceremony. (© CI/Photo by Kim McCabe)

In response to these threats, the group has been working with communities to wisely use and manage their natural resources in order to conserve the endemic bird — a potential ecotourism draw — while at the same time improving their own way of life. Actively managing more than 6,000 hectares (almost 15,000 acres) of forest, six villages are turning to income-generating activities that are compatible with conservation, including beekeeping and jewelry-making.

The Equator Initiative is a partnership that brings together the U.N., governments, civil society, businesses and grassroots organizations to build capacity and raise the profile of local efforts towards sustainable development.

This week, all 25 recipients of the 2012 award have been giving presentations, sharing experiences and knowledge at the Community Aldeia in Rio de Janeiro. These groups represent grassroots communities from 25 different countries and territories, with different areas of focus as varied as wildlife conservation, traditional ethnobiology, climate change, agriculture and women. However, all have a common interest: the empowerment of local indigenous people to affect change at the local, national and global level.

Participants have been having fruitful discussions and exchanging information in this 10-day dialogue. In order to better promote local actions to national governments and the international arena, these networking opportunities are essential for grassroots groups.

The Sisi Initiative is only the second Fijian group to receive the Equator Prize. Silio Lalaqila is proud to receive the award on behalf of the group, and has dedicated it to the communities of Natewa Tunuloa.

Miliana Ravuso is the program coordinator at the BirdLife International Pacific Secretariat office in Suva, Fiji. CEPF is a joint initiative of l’Agence Française de Développement, Conservation International, the Global Environment Facility, the government of Japan, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the World Bank.

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