In honor of International Women’s Day (March 8), Human Nature is spotlighting “conservation heroines” around the globe. In this piece, we meet Nolsita Siyang, an indigenous farmer and mother of 10 who also finds time to patrol her community’s ancestral home as a forest ranger.
Nolsita Siyang has not had an easy life. A member of the Palawan indigenous group on the southern end of the Philippine island of the same name, she has spent most of her nearly five decades farming a small plot of land on the slopes of the Mount Mantalingahan mountain range.
Siyang lives in Raang, a mist-shrouded, thatch-roofed village accessible only by a winding footpath that becomes a river of mud during the rainy season.
About 10 years ago, her husband, Federico, had a stroke, leaving him mostly incapacitated. Now the family relies primarily on the income she brings in. Each week, Siyang — usually accompanied by several of her 10 children — trudges several kilometers down the footpath from her village to the market in the lowlands, carrying surplus corn, peanuts and other wares on her back in hopes of making a sale.
Between caring for her land, making trips to the market and looking after her family, Siyang doesn’t have a lot of spare time, yet she chooses to spend it volunteering as a forest ranger, patrolling the protected area surrounding her village.
Why does she do this? Siyang’s community is linked to the land by tradition, spirituality and survival. If the land isn’t protected, life as she knows it will cease to exist. Together with her only daughter, she is proving that women play a vital role in securing their community’s future.
In honor of International Women’s Day (March 8), Human Nature is spotlighting “conservation heroines” around the globe. This piece takes us to a floating village in the middle of one of the world’s largest freshwater fisheries, where Srey Mom Keng is banding together with fellow female fishers in search of higher and more sustainable incomes.
Or at least they once did. As Cambodia’s population grows and more people migrate to the Tonle Sap floodplain in search of work opportunities, the lake and its resources are being stretched thin. From 1998 to 2008, the number of full-time fishers on the lake grew by 38%; part-time fishers grew 33%. Overfishing and deforestation of surrounding forests for fuelwood and to make space for rice farming and other activities mean that there are fewer fish to be found in the lake — and making a living there is becoming more difficult.
High male fatality rates during the Cambodian civil war and its aftermath has resulted in a disproportionate number of female-led households on the lake. Yet because local Khmer tradition prescribes a passive role for women, these women still have few opportunities to participate in community decision-making. They are also particularly vulnerable to poverty and food insecurity; women have less access to land and property rights, credit, paid employment, education and health services than men do.
In honor of International Women’s Day (March 8), Human Nature is spotlighting “conservation heroines” around the globe. In this piece, photographer Charlie Shoemaker and Conservation South Africa’s (CSA) Tessa Mildenhall spent a day with Gertruida Cloete, a herder in Namaqualand who — at an age when many people are slowing down — continues to face daily hardships while struggling to make a living and protect her fragile, wild homeland. Continue reading →
Editor’s note: The 600 billion cups of coffee we consume every year globally start out as berries on trees in the tropics. In the coming years, those trees — and the farmers who harvest and export their beans — will be buffeted by an unpredictable mix of market forces and climate change, threatening the global stability and sustainability of coffee and of the forests and farms that make it possible.
In response, the Sustainable Coffee Challenge, a new initiative launched in part by Conservation International (CI), aims to make coffee the world’s first completely sustainable agricultural commodity. The initiative, still in its formative stages, will begin to take shape at the upcoming World Coffee Conference in Ethiopia.
With major organizations adding momentum to the effort, the next step is providing direction, as Bambi Semroc, a CI senior strategic adviser, explains in the following interview. With forecasts of growing demand and a changing climate, she says, the time to protect this crucial crop is now.
A week ago, Tropical Cyclone Winston smashed into Fiji with ferocious force. By the time it reached the island’s shores, the storm had escalated into a Category 5 event, with gusts of wind reaching 325 kilometers (200 miles) per hour. It was the strongest cyclone ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere.
The extent of the devastation across Fiji is astonishing. The death toll has reached 43 people and is expected to rise. The winds demolished farms and collapsed buildings, folded concrete electric poles, twisted palm trees and scattered metallic debris across the countryside. The Fijian government has declared a 30-day state of emergency, as electricity and cell phone coverage is slowly restored and debris is piled along the roadside. According to UNICEF’s latest report, roughly 39,000 people continue to be sheltered in evacuation centers.
As I’ve taken in the scale of the damage and watched communities begin the long process of rebuilding, the importance of protecting and restoring healthy ecosystems to bolster and defend vulnerable coastal communities against increasingly hostile weather — in Fiji, across the Pacific and around the globe — has never been clearer.
Editor’s note: Deep in the Peruvian Amazon, a remote, flooded forest supports a menagerie of life and livelihoods — but faces increasing incursions from farmland and fertilizers that threaten the vitality of this unique wetland. In this piece, Paulina Jenney gives an inside look at how a small community took charge as caretakers of the nature around them.
The journey to the world’s highest flooded forest begins on a winding dirt road out of the city of Moyobamba, Peru. About an hour’s drive down the road, there is a small dock, where visitors climb into a long, wooden boat called a pekepeke, named for the noise the motor makes.
The boat gurgles down the Avisado River, startling white herons from the reeds. As the channel narrows, the captain stands up and pulls the boat around overhanging vegetation. After half an hour, a small stream branches to the right, and a sign reading “Tingana” marks the exit on this aquatic highway.
Tingana lies just east of the Andes in the rainforests of northern Peru’s Alto Mayo region. As one of the last remaining wetlands in the area, it’s a stronghold for swamp-loving plants and animals, like kingfishers and the San Martín titi monkey (found nowhere else on Earth), that attract researchers and tourists from around the world. It’s also home to a small community of about 25 families who depend on this land — and water — for survival.
As the use of mobile technology in Africa continues to skyrocket, it’s changing more than how people communicate — it’s also changing how they grow their food.
In a recent special edition of Foreign Affairs magazine, Conservation International’s (CI) Sandy Andelman and Peter Seligmann write that improving access to ecosystem data can help farmers adapt to climate change. One program that is striving to do this, Vital Signs, is already helping national governments in Africa improve development decisions — but reaching individual farmers is a tougher challenge.
In this interview, Andelman talks about efforts to surmount this challenge — and revolutionize the livelihoods of African farmers.
Editor’s note: It’s Valentine’s Day, when thoughts turn to romance — a complicated matter for us humans, but even more so for some of our animal friends. This Valentine’s Day, we asked Conservation International’s own Russ Mittermeier, a renowned primatologist and naturalist, about some of the more colorful mating habits of the animal kingdom.
Male parrots only get lucky if a nearby tree is producing fruit.
“The kakapo is a nocturnal, flightless parrot residing in New Zealand. Males of this critically endangered species climb to the top of a mountain, build a nice round display area, then “boom” several hundred times per night to attract females. But the females are interested only once every three or four years when a particular tree species fruits — so the males boom tens of thousands of times before they get any action. Reminds me of some guys I knew in high school.”