Stories of Business

In-depth (based on site visits with extensive interviews)

  1. Thailand – Nonthaburi Province – Temple Reuses and Recycles, Refurbishes and Resells with Great Benefits for the Poor – A temple combines creative reuse and recycling, sustainable agriculture, and social programs.
  2. USAGreen Business in America – U.S. businesses strive to become more eco-friendly.

Capsule (shorter pieces which appear below)

  1. Brazil – Icapui – ‘Microcredit’ Schemes – “Microcredit schemes” serve as alternatives to lobster overharvesting by struggling fishers.
  2. India – Rajasthan (and other states) – Ranbathore Craft Center – A vibrant artisan community revives local traditions and creates alternative employment for women in depressed rural regions.
  3. India – Rajasthan – “Barefoot College” – A village-based program revives traditional wisdom, self-sufficiency and holistic rural development.
  4. South Africa – Walkerstroom Wetlands – Ecotourism – Nature tourism to protect grasslands and wetlands stimulates the local economy.
  5. SwedenEcological Tax Reform – A tax shift creates broad-based, sweeping incentives for sustainability.
  6. USA – Alaska – Denali BioTechnologies – Valuable wild blueberries are harvested on deforested land, providing good nutrition and an economic boost to remote villages.
  7. ZambiaTransforming Communities through Sustainable Development – A wildlife conservation and community development program protects biodiversity while simultaneously improving village life in the region.

Brazil – Icapui – ‘Microcredit’ Schemes

Icapui, Brazil, is a farming and fishing village of 17,000 on Brazil’s northeast coast. Both farming and fishing have suffered due to prolonged droughts and declining lobster catches. Across the region, small businesspeople are ineligible for bank loans, farmers and fishers are struggling, and young people are fleeing to cities to chase the myth that urban centers offer a better life.

One day during a public meeting, lobster fishers were informed of a new national policy that lobsters could only be caught by traps and that nets were banned. This angered the fishers, 95% of whom used nets, because traps meant reduced hauls. While fishers knew it was only a matter of time before net fishing would dry up lobster hauls completely, they had families to feed and long-term sustainability was secondary to more immediate priorities.

Locals believed the most obvious – -and only – -choice for boosting the local economy was to attract a multinational operation to the area, despite the fact that this would probably not only not solve the problem but also bring in other unanticipated economic, environmental and social costs.

However, a community leader named Francisco de Oliveira Repoucas Neto developed the idea of combining “microcredit” with business management training to make entrepreneurs out of local residents. In 1996, Neto launched a program called Orgape, which is a Portuguese acronym for “the organization to support small enterprises.” Orgape combines four types of services:

  • flexible, local microcredit loans
  • training for small business managers
  • helping microenterprise expand and bridge supply-demand gaps
  • educating youth as future entrepreneurs

Borrowers pay 3% interest. This is insufficient to reimburse all Orgape’s operating expenses, and so to make up the difference, municipalities make in-kind donations of office space and pay salaries of two credit agents (1 agent can handle 150 borrowers), all of whom were born in town. Municipalities are cooperative, as they stand to benefit from a healthy small business community and this is less than what they usually invest in economic development.

Orgape operates in eight towns (each of which has a population of 10-50 thousand) and its loan default rate of 2.4% is the lowest in all of Brazil. If clients do default, they are given extensions and business counseling, and have subsequently been able to make repayments. Orgape has assisted 1,335 families in Ceara, one of the poorest states in Brazil, and 75% of its clients have boosted household income by 42%.

The project has helped to steer some fishers away from fishing into various businesses such as sheep farming, turning an old beer stand into a guest house, a beauty salon, and extensions to existing businesses such as restaurants. The loans have also helped to encourage businesses to add value locally to products; for example a rice farmer bought a rice huller which enabled him to sell rice locally instead of shipping it to the city, and allowed him to earn additional income renting it to other rice farmers. The scheme is creating links among borrowers by word of mouth, enabling them to deal directly with each other to create a local supply and distribution routes. The profits made by small producers are sustainable because they meet local needs, provide goods and services at prices that the market will bear and then get reinvested into microenterprises so they can develop diversified offerings.

The program has helped to boost not only financial but political independence in communities jaded for years by corrupt local governments dependent on the political practice of buying votes for food parcels. It has also reduced the vulnerability of residents to “invasion” by multinational operations.

* Regarding the term “microcredit”: Like so many other buzzwords (such as “fair trade” and “organic”), “microcredit” or “microfinancing” has been so overused and manipulated by vested interests, development circles, or international financial institutions, it tends to evoke confusion and skepticism. To make this more clear, the intention of microcredit as a path to grassroots development is:

  • to help poor families help themselves as contrasted by conventional charity donor-donee dependent relationships
  • based on trust, not legal procedures
  • a challenge to conventional banking which traditionally rejects the poor as unworthy of credit
  • an alternative for poor communities who have lost traditional resource bases other than attracting outside investment by multinationals

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India – Rajasthan (and other states) – Ranbathore Craft Center

When the 400-kilometer-square Ranthanbore National Park was created in the arid part of eastern Rajasthan, those living in the reserve were relocated onto marginal land lacking in water, fodder or proper agricultural land. Displaced from their traditional resource-based economy, villagers were driven into casual labor such as agricultural or construction workers breaking rocks or clearing roads on construction sites.

Around this time, a Delhi-based craft society, Dastkar, identified the area as a potential candidate to build up a crafts industry. Dastkar is a society for crafts and artisans, working to improve the economic condition of craftspeople, and to preserve India’s rich and diverse artisanal traditions threatened by social and market forces. Crafts may include pottery, accessories, garments, or home furnishings. Their process includes identifying skills, creating awareness among locals of the skills, then developing with the villagers designs, markets, and ways to invest incomes generated. Through these activities it hopes to market actually useful products (and not encouraging consumption for charity), encouraging use of recycled or locally available goods such as newsprint, scrap paper, rags, cane, wool, or reed. The emphasis on self-sufficiency also prevents the dependence on exploitative “middlemen” through direct sales to customers at its cooperative shop, exhibitions, and bazaars. Its core philosophy is, to quote its website, “to make itself redundant.” Dastkar has also recently gotten a permit to export outside of India. Each year it chooses 8-10 groups to work with, and today works with over 100 groups in most states of India.

When Dastkar began to visit Ranthambore in 1989, locals were skeptical. Dastkar representatives saw the creative potential in the villages from the local artisanal traditions, including the decorative madna paintings on the walls of houses. Part of the initial work was simply motivating women to understand their own potential, and to earn their trust as outsiders to the villagers. When an initial consignment was finally agreed upon, a group of 35 women worked for 10 days to produce an order of various goods, for which they were paid an amount comparable to the equivalent of backbreaking physical construction labor. This served as encouragement and stimulus, and the cooperative began to grow in numbers: by 1991, 18 months after the first project, 75 women were involved, which has grown to 300 people today whose activities range from embroidery to leather, dyeing, pottery, patchwork and block printing. The role of the members has also evolved from making crafts to going to bazaars to run the stalls and interact with visitors, as well as organizing the accounting, marketing, and management.

The Ranthanbore Craft Community Center has since opened, which houses an office, sales outlet, training/workshop center, raw material store, guesthouse and community center. Since the beginning of the project, there has been a noticeable change not only in the level of confidence of the women, with the weakening of purdah (covering of faces and staying at home) but also in the intercaste relationships between Hindu as well as Hindu-Muslim relations. It has also helped to revive and strengthen knowledge of and appreciation for traditional crafts.

For more information visit Dastkar.

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India – Rajasthan – “Barefoot College”

Popularly known as “Barefoot College,” the Social Work and Research Center (SWRC) is a unique organization located in the Ajmer district of Rajasthan. It conducts multiple projects, aiming to promote traditional wisdom, self-sufficiency and holistic rural development. After seeing a devastating famine that killed thousands of people in the state of Bihar, founder Sanjit Bunker Roy set up the organization in Tilonia village in 1972, with the vision that this should not be in a city run by trained professionals but in the countryside among villages whose knowledge could be tapped to solve some of rural India’s problems.

At that time, Tilonia was typical in the sense that it was suffering many difficulties, such as unemployment, illiteracy, and little access to clean water, health care, or education. Most of all, villagers lacked organization and a sense of their own power – -most were too disenchanted with the petty corruption of village officials and demoralized by poverty to imagine they could change their situation.

The projects began with training to villagers to give them tools to help themselves, which would undermine the mentality that only qualified professionals could help them, as well as revive a sense of pride in traditional knowledge and practices. To date the center has trained two generations of villagers without any formal degrees to become alternative health care workers, solar engineers, hand pump mechanics and teachers. There is a broad range of projects, such as water management and revival of rainwater harvesting, night schools for children busy on the farm by day, health centers, solar power development, environment-friendly, cost-effective housing techniques, income generation and revival of regional artisanal skills combined with fair trade enterprise, community education via traditional media such as puppets and storytelling, women’s development groups, and community action to challenge the misuse of village government funds.

Solar power was first used in 1986 on a large scale to provide energy for the 80,000-square-foot campus, which today is totally self-sufficient in energy. The center has installed solar home lighting systems and produces solar lanterns, which produce a combined 178 kilowatts of solar energy across the country. Health centers are small dispensaries which charge a nominal fee, and provide services which combine “biochemic” and natural medicines, and services for women’s health, family planning, and trained midwives. There are also programs for physically challenged youth, and “mental wellness camps” which provide access to government psychiatrists to patients with mental disorders. There are 150 night schools for children whose farming duties prevent them from attending school during the day, and these are powered by solar lanterns. Teaching aids and learning materials used in the night schools are made from waste materials. Instruction is both formal and practical, for example children may learn about animal husbandry as well as reading and math. A mobile library also visits villages with the goal of encouraging children to read.

There is also the regeneration of waste lands by transplanting drought-resistant seedlings grown in the college nursery, the installation of hand pumps and the desilting of village ponds to recharge groundwater, and these construction projects have provided employment to landless laborers. Traditional media such as puppetry has been instrumental in communicating to semi-literate audiences information about health issues, education and human rights. Income-generation has helped to arrest urban migration, and handicrafts are being sold through well-known fair trade organizations Traidcraft, Friends of Tilonia and Bridgehead. In the early 1990s, a campaign began where villagers were asked questions about how much money was allotted to villages by the government for development, and how much was spent on other purposes. This people’s campaign was for the Right to Information, and public hearings were held to investigate the misappropriation of village funds.

Other women’s development programs developed, with direct action to improve wages, legal rights, and access to family planning. While changes are slow, there has been some progress, for example, in the attitude of local men – -particularly in Rajput, where women are forced into purdah, obligating them to cover their faces and stay inside. Initially hostile to the formation of women’s groups, communities are gradually realizing the women were trying to improve the lives of their families.

To date, 100,000 people in 110 villages spread over 500 square miles now have access to safe water, education, health, and employment. This has been one of the more well-known, successful holistic rural development agencies which has attracted attention from around the country and outside India. There are now 20 Barefoot College field centers (each serving 9 to 35 villages) found in 13 of India’s 26 states. It has 20% financial self-sufficiency, and receives the remainder of its expenses through sponsorships from various UN agencies (UNESCO, UNDP) as well as various departments and agencies of the Indian government.

For more information visit the Barefoot College.

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South Africa – Walkerstroom Wetlands – Ecotourism

The town of Walkerstroom is three hours southeast of Johannesberg in the heart of the last great stretch of grassland in South Africa (possibly Africa). Its population of 6,500 people has been declining with the cancellation of a railroad originally planning to run through the town. Due to this outmigration, about half of the houses were derelict and empty. There was no tourism, nearly three-quarters of the businesses had closed down, and the main employers were government services. Neither the grassland nor the nearby wetland had any legal protection. As local activist Elena Kotze points out, the townships suffer “the urban woes without the advantages of urban areas,” including high unemploymennt, no services and few prospects for the future except to leave for the cities, further impoverishing the townships.

Ancient upland grasslands once covered about 60% of Africa. Africans use many indigenous plants and animals in traditional medicines, many of which are unique to South Africa’s grassland, making it an irreplaceable gene pool which could supply both traditional and pharmaceutical products sustainably. Its natural collection and slow-release of rainwater also feeds three of the country’s major rivers. While some pristine areas remain, some 60-80% of these grasslands have been transformed by timber plantations, open-pit coal or gold mining, sprawl, or cropland.

When Elena Kotze and her husband arrived in Walkerstroom in 1989, she began to take an active interest in finding ways to protect the local grassland and wetland, and to rejuvenate the economy. The grassland supports great diversity of flora and fauna, including many species of birds, and here she saw potential for birding enthusiasts. She opened up a guesthouse for tourists, much to the amusement of locals. Shortly after, many of the derelict houses began filling up with birding tourists. A second guest house opened in 1992, followed by several more. A cheese factory, cafes and local craft shops soon followed, and today there are five guest houses/lodges, seven bed and breakfast cottages, a butcher, bakery and art gallery. Kotze has been encouraging local industries that use local resources, for example paper production by reeds, pressed wildflowers, pottery, basket making, and production of value-added agricultural products such as cheese, salami, jams, pickles, wine, beer and chutneys. For tourist guides, learning first-aid skills as part of their training elevated their value and status to communities who lacked access to basic medical services. They also had to learn about the wetlands and grasslands as well as local culture and history, which bridged a widening gap between the older and younger generations, and helped to build pride and a sense of connection and stewardship for their natural and cultural heritage.

Kotze and her husband have also initiated work to have 1,000,050 hectares of grassland declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. She has helped to create the umbrella organization GRASS (Grasslands Require Active Support to Survive) that brings together government agencies, non-government organizations, youth groups, etc. to carry out research (in particular surveying, mapping and land-use patterns) and campaigning. GRASS has been accepted by all departments and agencies involved, and has attracted the interest of the National Water and Forestry Affairs Ministry for potential replication (integrated catchment management and civil-society-government parterships are popular politically but Walkerstroom is the first living example of this). Out of this grew the Ekangala Grassland Trust, which is a campaign for formalization of the Grassland biosphere reserve under UNESCO. This idea has some popular support as towns outside of the reserve are asking for inclusion.

Another project Kotze has been involved with is the creation of the Walkerstoon Wetland Reserve. The wetland has always been critical to economic survival of local herders, who would burn some of the grassland to ensure a green grass supply. In the years before the reserve was designated, none of the crowned crane chicks fledged, but after burning was restricted in designated areas, reed beds have increased and the number of crane chicks who fledge has increased dramatically.

While many problems still remain, Kotze notes the dramatic change brought in with the recent economic revival, which has also prompted the creation of a business forum and a cultural association. This has brought in new people and new skills from outside, which has reversed the spiral of outmigration and brain drain.

This is a good example of how tourism can prompt local people to learn more about their own natural and cultural heritage, inspiring a sense of pride and stewardship over its future. It is not known from the information whether the area is accessible financially and culturally to tourists or limited to well-off educated white birders from Europe or other parts of South Africa. If this is upmarket or niche tourism, there is the question of risk of gentrification of the town, and the segregation of industry with most of the menial service jobs going to local people. Also, local people feel tourism isn’t enough to support the town’s economy.

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Sweden – Ecological Tax Reform

Compared with the rest of the world, European countries have very well-developed “green” fiscal policies. While most of the these are applied to transportation (motor vehicles, gas and diesel), “green taxes” are used to address various other issues such as waste management, packaging, air emissions, fertilizer use, and extend to other market-based incentives such as trading “credits,” take-back programs for manufactured goods, deposit-refund schemes, rebates, the removal of perverse subsidies (and introduction of others) and various other programs. While many of these measures were originally used to target certain environmental issues, there has been a trend towards more comprehensive tax reform to shape environmentally responsible practices across the board.

Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Western European countries and Japan have set up commissions to explore the opportunities for and issues surrounding introducing broader green tax shifts. In the three decades up to the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, there was growing awareness in Sweden of carbon dioxide emissions and global warming, and the signing of the Rio Declaration pushed them towards more clear commitments. The government had been trying to find the best way to reduce all types of emissions, but the economy had slowed down. Their dilemma was how to do this and still raise employment and also survive in a transforming global system that put increasing pressure on national industries to become more “efficient” by externalizing costs.

Knowing that environmental regulation was unpopular, especially among industry, the government decided to introduce several taxes in 1991. One of these was the carbon tax, levied on a two-tiered basis for two classes of users, household and industrial. They were able to introduce them to households (who depended on this mainly for home heating and transport) because there was broad popular support. Introducing these taxes began to have an effect on heating infrastructure, where the use of biomass increased in local heating districts. It also created new demand for biomass and led to innovations in the field, as well as improvements in other technologies in home heating efficiency.

For industry, who were opposed to the taxes, there were initial exemptions and incremental expansion of taxes. Sweden was among the first countries to initiate the “feebate” system, which was a way to get support from business. The revenue collected from these various taxes was returned to any businesses who increased efficiency of their plants, proportionate to the increase; in other words, the bigger the improvement, the bigger the refund. This would help businesses offset the costs of investing in improved efficiency. Under this feebate system, NOx emissions fell by 35% in the first year alone, and investment in abatement technologies went up accordingly. (This is a situation where heavier polluters are transferring resources to, or subsidizing, lighter polluters – -instead of the case where government and public typically subsidize heavy polluters with elevated health care costs and reduced quality of life).

The taxes have influenced emissions even more dramatically on carbon and sulfur than on nitrogen. The tax on sulfur led to a reduction in sulfur content on fuels 50% below the legal requirement and halved SO2 emissions in the last eight years. The total decrease in emissions since 1970 has been over 70%, and Sweden has led the 30% club, in a pledge to reduce SO2 emissions by 1993-95, and other countries such as France, Canada, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands and West Germany followed suit, pledging reductions of 40-50% by the mid-nineties.

The effects of these changes are apparent on ordinary lifestyles. Emissions controls are used on cars, appliances are energy efficient, homes are energy conserving, and household and industrial materials are recycled. One of the cleanest garbage-to-fuel plants in Karlstad separates and recycles most of its input and burns the rest for energy. Co-generated steam from the plant provides hot water and heating for 60,000 of the area’s residents, and an adjoining landfill feeds a biogas system for additional energy. There is a “solar” village above 58 degrees latitude where households have managed to meet their heat and hot water needs by solar alone for five months of the year, which shows the potential for northern regions to take advantage of the longer days of summer. Taxes on nuclear energy have also been part of a plan to phase out nuclear power by 2010, while retaining limits on hydroelectric power. Over the years these programs have evolved and extended to nitrogen fertilizers, pesticides, scrapping cars, gravel extraction and others.

In 2000, a broad tax “shift” created revenue and raised employment levels through job skill training. The word “shift” is important because while the goal may be have been aimed at raising revenue, it has also redirected the flow of money through the Swedish economy where the tax burden is heaviest on those who exact the greater costs on society. For example, some of the taxes on home heating and electricity have been combined with offsetting tax cuts, which include lower income taxes and social security contributions. Notes:

  1. One speculation is that the expansion of the EU might give northern and western Europe the incentive to externalize some of their costs onto Eastern Europe – -and this is already happening in Slovenia, which is said to be on its way to being the new “Detroit” of Europe, where heavy industries are taking advantage of the removal of barriers and lower costs to set up plants there. At the same time, there might also be changes in terms of technology transfer and harmonization of technologies across the region as well, which may allow Eastern Europe to leapfrog some of the more backward stages in development taken by the West. It is possible to imagine both trends happening simultaneously.
  2. This case, or a similar one, might be useful in looking at larger-scale, global tipping points where an economic system is fundamentally redesigned in a way to internalize costs and cause far-reaching effects on the infrastructure of production, distribution, marketing, consumption, lifestyle, transportation, energy, land use, waste, employment, social services, etc. While taxes in the US are a dirty word, and any talk of fiscal restructuring puts most people to sleep, there could be many concrete examples of the spin-off effects to bring this case alive to ordinary readers. While the Irish “plastax” (preceeding) is an interesting case in that it shows how targeting a specific problem can bring quick results, a case like this would show a slower, more fundamental process which results in a deeper economic and social transformation. In effect, it’s a vision of full-cost accounting, and much of Northern and Western Europe have managed to incrementally introduce these changes with strong support from not only the public, but also industry – -if introduced with careful consideration for incentives and the clear understanding of potential for savings. And of course, Scandinavia or western Europe, while leagues ahead of the rest of the world, are still far from achieving what will be an ongoing drawn-out process which each region will have to follow their lead while adapting to regional conditions.

For more information visit the HORIZON Solutions Site.

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USA – Alaska – Denali BioTechnologies

The Tongass National Forest is a rare temperate rainforest located in southeast Alaska. With 16.8 million acres, it is the largest U.S. national forest.

In the mid-1950s, large-scale clearcutting began in the Tongass under the U.S. Forest Service policy of selling the trees to private timber companies. Logging roads, pulp mills and saw mills were built and a booming industry began. In 1971, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act reduced the amount of timberland under Forest Service jurisdiction. But once they finally acquired title to the land in the late 1970s, the Alaska Native corporations also began diligent logging operations.

By 2000, the timber boom was over, due in part to a change in Forest Service policy, but also to economic and other factors. This was a relief to the forest, but a hardship for the people. Employment in the forestry industry in southeast Alaska is now about 15% of what it was during the heyday of logging.

The Native village of Kake is a “poster child” of this boom-and-bust cycle, according to Dr. Maureen McKenzie. During the boom years, Kake Tribal Logging & Timber was Alaska’s third largest timber company. The village had a population of around 1,000. Logging jobs in the Tongass led to other jobs, e.g. in stores, restaurants, clinics, churches. The Kake Tribal Corporation (the governing entity) was also doing very well. After the boom, the people were left with few jobs, a badly scarred forest, and a diminished traditional subsistence economy. The town’s population shrank by about half, and nearly 80% of those who remain are unemployed. The Tribal Corporation is in bankruptcy.

Dr. McKenzie is the owner and CEO of Denali BioTechnologies, Inc. in Homer, Alaska, and also an adjunct professor of pharmacy at the University of Florida. Her company produces nutraceuticals—dietary supplements with significant health benefits. She is especially interested in identifying the most abundant resources with the longest history of human use. “We encouraged them [the village residents] to go look through the ‘slash piles’ for new growth,” wrote McKenzie. “Lo and behold, wild blueberries are thriving! We set up a formal harvest operation and make our proprietary, very high quality dietary supplement, AuroraBlue®, from those hand-picked blueberries.” (AuroraBlue also contains local huckleberries and bilberries from other remote regions of Alaska.)

Unlike commercial blueberries that are selected for optimal sweetness and juiciness, the wild blueberries contain exceptional quantities of flavonoids—far more even than wild blueberries grown in lower latitudes. Flavonoids—which are scarce in the modern American diet—are known to prevent and even help heal serious illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases (e.g., Alzheimer’s). They are “natural chemicals designed to protect plants and us!” says McKenzie.

To not compete with people’s subsistence, Dr. McKenzie urges them to stock their freezers first before they pick for the company. When blueberries nearest the community are picked, she offers “chits” for gasoline to people who want to pick further away. It is often rough terrain, and the pickers sometimes encounter black bears who also enjoy the berries.

Denali BioTech pays $3.10 per pound to its 50-75 blueberry pickers in southeast Alaska. This is higher than the global market price. Denali also pays 50¢ per pound to the brokers who weigh and deliver the berries. Additional costs have included the rental of refrigerated vans at $135 per day each and the cost of air freight at $2.74 per pound. Thus the cost per pound of blueberries is sometimes nearly $8.00.

While profit margins are slim, McKenzie is proud of her work and hopeful for the future. “We have infused desperately needed jobs and cash into their communities,” she wrote.  “Although this is now seasonal employment [mid-June through early October], we are seeking ways to create year-round jobs related to the nutrition/health industries in the remote Native villages of Alaska.” Besides wages, she says, it gives people hope for a sustainable economic future, and pride in knowing that the product of their ancestors is of such premium quality.

In addition to AuroraBlue, Denali BioTech produces AuroraGreen from dandelions and AuroraRed from rosehips—both locally abundant and highly nutritious. The company has targeted over 150 plant candidates from all over Alaska for further nutraceutical research.

For more information see

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Zambia – Transforming Communities through Sustainable Development

  • Author: Adapted from the Goldman website (with permission)
  • Posted: July 2008

In Zambia’s North Luangwa Valley, where rampant illegal wildlife poaching in the 1980s decimated the wild elephant population and left villagers living in extreme poverty, Hammerskjoeld Simwinga – known as Hammer – is utilizing innovative sustainable community development strategies to restore wildlife and transform this poverty-stricken area.

Heading up the North Luangwa Wildlife Conservation and Community Development Programme (NLWCCDP), Simwinga protects the biodiversity of the North Luangwa National Park while simultaneously improving village life in the region through micro-lending, education, rural health programs and women’s empowerment.

Simwinga began working in the region with the US-funded North Luangwa Conservation Project in 1994, when local economies relied heavily on income from poaching. He helped villagers form “wildlife clubs” that used small business loans to provide basic goods, services and legal jobs as alternatives to working for the poachers. Each wildlife club was run as a free enterprise; village entrepreneurs were expected to repay their start-up loans.

Through the wildlife clubs, villagers opened small general stores and grinding mills, offering employment to millers, mechanics and bookkeepers. The program also assisted subsistence farmers with seed loans, transportation and technical assistance to help them grow protein-rich crops with better yields so they did not have to depend on meat from wild animals. Simwinga tied the entire project to protection of the wildlife, thus supplanting an illicit economy based on poaching with a legal one.

Simwinga’s tireless efforts have led to a dramatic transformation of the region. Income has increased one hundred-fold among the villagers and family food stocks have doubled. As a result, illegal elephant poaching is now 98 percent controlled and bush meat poaching is minimal. Wildlife has returned to the area, including elephants, hippos, Cape buffalos, and puku. Even critically endangered black rhinos have been reintroduced in the North Luangwa National Park by the Frankfurt Zoological Society.

The program now reaches more than 35,000 people and serves as a model for other sustainable development programs throughout the African continent.

Government Interference and Continuing Need for Support

Simwinga began his community development work with the North Luangwa Conservation Project (NLCP), a US-funded organization founded in 1986 by Dr. Delia and Mark Owens that trained local game scouts and worked with villages to rehabilitate and conserve the 6,200-square-kilometer North Luangwa National Park. In the 1980s the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) set regulations on, but did not ban, trade in ivory, resulting in years of massive elephant poaching in Africa; half of Africa’s 1.2 million wild elephants were killed between 1979 and 1989 and North Luangwa’s elephant population dropped from 17,000 to 1,300.

As the successes of NLCP’s work became apparent in the mid-1990s, powerful government officials and others capitalizing on poaching saw their profits dwindle with the slowdown in the illicit ivory and meat trade. In 1996, Zambian government officials arrived in Mpika and seized the NLCP offices; the entire project came to a halt. Within weeks the project was reopened but after a year of uncertainty, NLCP was turned over to a new management organization. They were unable to fund all of NLCP’s initiatives and quickly dropped support for all village development programs.

But Simwinga was undeterred. He worked tirelessly to keep the community development program moving forward, funding the project partially through loan payments from villagers. For almost a year he worked alone with the communities, regularly walking 30 kilometers between villages. Slowly he pulled together a substantial Zambian non-government organization, NLWCCDP, and attracted small funding to keep the work alive. His challenge now is to manage the ever-growing demand for the project in neighboring regions and bolster financial support from the international community.

In 2007, Time Magazine named Simwinga one of their “Heroes of the Environment.”

Hammerskjoeld Simwinga is a recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize. For more information see the Goldman Prize website.

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