UNDP’s Equator Initiative has announced the 25 winners of the 2012 Equator Prize, dedicated to recognizing innovative local community development organizations from around the world. Among the winners is Zan va Zamin (Women and Earth), a Christensen Fund partner linking traditional knowledge, landscapes and livelihoods around the restoration of endangered local varieties of fruits and crops in Central Asia.
Founded by a group of female activists, Zan va Zamin works in the Kulyab zone of Tajikistan to strengthen traditional knowledge systems and restore the region’s incredibly rich agrobiodiversity. In addition to helping farmers secure tenure for their land, the organization runs community nurseries and school programs and recognizes and rewards women and elders for their role in the maintenance of agricultural heritage. Zan va Zamin also involves artists, poets, heroes of labor and other celebrities in a celebration of Tajikistan’s biocultural diversity, awakening the traditional spirit after a long Soviet slumber.
“Though Zan va Zamin is not specifically a ‘development’ organization, the fact that the UNDP has recognized their critical work to enhance local agrobiodiversity and traditional knowledge systems is very important,” said Erjen Khamaganova, Program Officer for The Christensen Fund’s Central Asia Program. “This suggests that the development community is beginning to realize the centrality of biocultural diversity and the importance of the stewards in creating resilient landscapes and livelihoods.”
Honoring the Stewards
Zan va Zamin has proven very successful at gaining recognition and respect for the custodians of traditional agricultural knowledge. In many cases, local elders did not consider themselves or their biocultural wisdom as valuable until they were acknowledged and awarded by Zan va Zamin. As a result, many local stewards have become venerated people, teaching eager young students how to revitalize the agricultural traditions of their communities.
Zan va Zamin has also helped to create more than 30 seed banks and multiple funds to give farmers access to seed varieties and to provide opportunities for local food entrepreneurs. The group’s twelve field schools produce at least 1,000 tons of vegetables annually, while community orchards supply saplings and maintain more than 10,000 fruit trees, including local varieties of apple, pear, apricot and peach. Their important work helps to create more resilient ecosystems, fewer food shortages, increased food sovereignty and better local incomes.
Food producers have also benefited from Zan va Zamin’s provision of value-add technologies like solar vegetable dryers, greenhouses and energy-efficient ovens, which aid in the production of delicious food products for local and regional markets.
UNDP Equator Prize
The UNDP Equator Initiative is a collaborative project of the United Nations, governments, civil society, businesses and grassroots organizations. The initiative supports local knowledge and expertise for development solutions, working with organizations rooted in their cultures and communities. The annual Equator Prize awards effective grassroots organizations for their visionary leadership and the benefits they bring to both their communities and the environment.
Zan va Zamin was chosen as one of 25 winners from a pool of more than 800 nominees from 113 countries for the 2012 award. The formal awards ceremony will be held at the Rio + 20 Conference on Sustainable Development in Brazil, in June 2012.