Amazing and wonderful, Hammer Simwinga - Delia and Mark Owens' protege in North Luangwa - has received one of the most prestigious awards in the world, The Goldman Environmental Prize. Hammer is so deserving of this honor. Of course, the real winners here are the people and wildlife of North Luangwa. Hammer's expanding program for human development is also an expanding buffer of protection for the wildlife that continues to stabilize and expand outside the boundaries of North Luangwa National Park.
The Goldman Environmental Prize allows individuals to continue winning environmental victories against the odds and inspires ordinary people to take extraordinary actions to protect the world. The Goldman Prize was created in 1990 by civic leaders and philanthropists Richard N. Goldman and his late wife, Rhoda H. Goldman and is awarded each year to environmental heroes from six continental regions. Endorsed by more than 100 Heads of State and often referred to as the Nobel Prize for the environment, the prize rewards grassroots activists for their outstanding work in protecting the environment and campaigning to preserve vulnerable natural habitats. Frequently described as voices in the wilderness, Goldman Prize winners have often taken great personal risks to safeguard the environment. The 2007 Goldman Environmental Prize of US $750,000 (shared equally between the six winners - one from each of the inhabited continents) was presented in San Francisco, California on Monday 23 April 2007.
The Goldman Environmental Prize winners are selected by an international jury from confidential nominations submitted by a worldwide network of environmental organizations and individuals. Prize winners participate in a 10-day tour of San Francisco and Washington, D.C., for an awards ceremony and presentation, news conferences, media briefings, and meetings with political, public policy and environmental leaders. This year's other winners are from Canada, Iceland, Ireland, Mongolia, and Peru. A recent survey of past Goldman Prize recipients has shown that their combined work has benefited an estimated 102 million people worldwide.
A video featuring the 6 winners entitled, Global Focus III, The New Environmentalists, will be shown on PBS and the Sundance Channel during the coming year.
For more information: http://www.goldmanprize.org
2007 Goldman Environmental Prize Recipient for Africa
"Without a salary, outside funding or transport for almost a year he kept his programs alive by visiting remote villages on foot, bicycle or catching lifts. He has helped locals realize the precious nature of their wildlife heritage and the fragile balance that can so easily be destroyed. He is a modern day hero."
"Once in a very great while a man or woman is born who transcends his or her time or place and inhabits a sort of timeless soul and mind. Simwinga is one of these rare people. He saw what needed to be done for his people and acted with courage to ensure a self-sufficiency that is sorely lacking in much of Africa."
Transforming Communities through Sustainable Development
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 helping 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, Puku and 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, The North Luangwa Wildlife Conservation and Community Development Programme (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.
"Simwinga has recognised that women are the backbone of a community. By empowering them, he has helped villages grow strong…Empowered villages do not breed poachers."
"As an African, Simwinga knows how to communicate with Africans…With Simwinga running this project, the people and wildlife of the North Luangwa area have the best chance of a balanced, enduring future."
"Simwinga is the most worthy person I've ever known on so many levels. He would ride on a motorbike for 18 hours in the rain to make sure a farmer knows how to handle his new fish farms when the deluge comes."
Conservation of wildlife communities is not possible in the long term without simultaneously meeting the basic needs of local human communities…