New York, 26 October 2016 - The UNDP Equator Initiative and UNDP-implemented GEF Small Grants Programme (SGP) hosted a Brown Bag Lunch exploring the work of Equator Prize 2014 winner Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program (TKCP). An innovative partnership between scientists and indigenous communities in Papua New Guinea (PNG), TKCP is a prime example of localized action to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The event featured Jamison Ervin, Manager of UNDP’s Global Biodiversity Programme, Tehmina Akhtar, Deputy Global Manager of SGP, and Lisa Dabek, Founder and Director of Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program and Senior Conservation Scientist at the Woodland Park Zoo.
Ervin opened the event by emphasizing the importance of local action to meet the Sustainable Development Goals in PNG. The island nation contains 7% of global biodiversity – including an estimated 15,000 to 25,000 plant species, many of which are endemic. This biological diversity is echoed by cultural diversity, with nearly 1,000 indigenous groups who speak over 850 languages, accounting for nearly 12% of languages on earth. Conservation in this landscape is challenging. PNG’s inaccessible terrain make it one of the most remote places on earth, local cultures are incredibly complex, and the country is plagued by illegal logging and mining.
Many UNDP member countries share this trend of high biological and cultural diversity, and the consequent threats to biodiversity and community welfare from extractive industries. In PNG, however, 97% of the land is owned by indigenous communities based on customary tenure, creating a unique situation for achieving sustainable development. With this high rate of local land tenure, and the fact that over 85% of the population depends directly on the collection and use of natural resources for their survival, any development or conservation agenda must engage and empower local communities in order to be successful.
Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program has done exactly that. Dabek described the organization’s work on the Huon Peninsula in Eastern PNG – a region characterized by steep, inaccessible terrain spanning from sea level to 4,100 meters, incredibly complex local cultures shared through oral tradition, and limited public services. Over the past 20 years, TKCP has performed the first scientific inventories of the area – including extensive studies on the endangered Matschie's tree kangaroo (Dendrolagus matschiei) – and partnered with 50 villages speaking seven different languages. TKCP embraces a model of integrated conservation and development across a living landscape – linking health, education, livelihoods, and conservation to support subsistence farmers and hunters who steward vast areas of forest.
Among its many achievements, TKCP manages the first community conservation area in the country – which spans 78,729 hectares – protecting endemic species including the tree kangaroo. The organization has also partnered with the private sector and the government on a conservation livelihoods program, which has brought in more than US$75,000 for local farmers. The organization’s work delivers benefits across the 2030 agenda, promoting:
This initiative is deeply rooted in the unique cultural and ecological context of the Huon Peninsula. Simply, this is what makes it successful, why it has succeeded in PNG where so many other initiatives started by international conservation NGOs have failed. This initiative may be small-scale, but it has dramatically impacted local quality of life and biodiversity conservation.
Both SGP and the Equator Initiative recognize local efforts that provide a holistic approach to address economic, ecological, and social challenges. Over the past 20 years, the Equator Initiative has recognized 208 Equator Prize winners and SGP given out over 20,000 grants. Akhtar described the work of SGP in this area: “At SGP we believe that small-scale efforts are important because they are rooted and grounded. Communities are there for the long haul. Their problems are their own and they own both these problems and solutions.” Akhtar noted that experience from across SGP’s portfolio indicates that community grants are capable of producing multiple benefits: economic development and social empowerment go hand in hand with environmental conservation. Successful SGP grants, such as that awarded to TKCP, lead to broader adoption of sustainable approaches over time in grantee communities and neighboring communities, replication of demonstrated results, scaling up through involvement of government and CSO partners, and market change towards more sustainable practices.
As evidence from TKCP and numerous other Equator Prize winners and SGP grantees shows, tangible change occurs at the local level. But how do we ensure local level efforts are connected to national and international sustainable policies and programs? The Equator Initiative and SGP operate in this space, shining a light on local initiatives to create a bridge between the local actions, national policies and programs, and international policy goals and targets.
TKCP, for example, has been able to use SGP funding and the spotlight provided by the Equator Prize to develop projects that reflect local realities and to liaise with local, district, provincial, and national level governments as well as with other NGOs and intergovernmental organizations. These multi-sectoral partnerships provide a means to ensure that national policies and programs reflect realities on the ground. The organization has just received funding from the GEF for a five-year project with the PNG government to scale up their model to positively affect conservation and development across the country. ‘Scaling up’ in this sense does not refer to replicating the same actions in a cookie-cutter style across a country or region, but to influencing key actors to create an enabling policy environment that provides local organizations with the means to execute projects that work towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
To achieve the ambitious 2030 agenda, we must build linkages between locally grounded action, national policies, and international priorities. The Equator Initiative and SGP operate in this space, supporting groups such as TKCP to promote the sustainable use of biodiversity in order to deliver development benefits.