Dictionary definitions of the word pride include, “A sense of one’s own proper dignity or value; self-respect” and “Pleasure or satisfaction taken in an achievement, possession, or association”. Pride can be a powerful emotion and one whose association can be taught and learned. Humans do not have an in-born love of a particular sports team, nor to the piece of cloth that comes to symbolize a nation in the form of its flag. Yet these symbols of national, regional or communal pride can evoke outpourings of passion as evidenced by the hysteria caused at some sporting events, the emotions stirred by rousing renditions of national anthems — particularly when ones “tribal” affiliations are perceived to be threatened by another’s, or by an external source.
An example of this was seen in July 1969, when the Salvadoran army launched an attack against Honduras, as existing tensions between these two nations were inflamed by rioting during the second North American qualifying round for the 1970 FIFA World Cup!!! An assault on one’s pride is in effect an assault on one’s “self respect”; and self respect is a powerful motivator for action.
For almost two decades Rare has used local pride as an emotive key to build and foster community support for environmental conservation. Rare’s Pride program strives to build community awareness as to the importance and uniqueness of the natural resources that local people “own”, how the sustained management of these are vital to individual and community well being, and the internal and external threats that they face. Coral reefs serve as feeding and breeding grounds for vital fish stocks, as well as bulwarks for coastal protection and a resource for garnering much needed eco-tourism dollars, yet they are threatened by dynamite and cyanide fishing. Forests are vital for watershed protection, to prevent landslides and protect against erosion, while providing potentially a sustainable source of products from medicines to fuel wood. Yet, according to the FAO nearly 200 million hectares of forest were destroyed between 1980 and 1995.
The FAO analysis concludes that the leading causes of deforestation are the extension [photopress:Brad_Pohnpei_1_2.jpg,thumb,alignleft]of subsistence farming (more common in Africa and Asia), and government-backed conversion of forests to other land uses such as large-scale ranching (most common in Latin America and also Asia). Poverty, joblessness, and inequitable land distribution, which force many landless peasants to invade the forest for lack of other economic means, continue to drive forest clearance for subsistence farming in many regions. But apathy and lack of community support for enforcement of existing laws has a role to play too.
Just as we can be proud of our nation, our community and our family, we can also be [photopress:Jules_Grenada_1.jpg,thumb,alignleft]proud of an individual. Last week my colleagues and I felt enormously proud of a small group of conservation practitioners that returned to the University of Kent to report back on their “Rare campaigns”. Brad, Sak, Michel, Melania, and Jules have spent the past year building environmental Pride in Micronesia, Laos, Gabon, the Philippines and Grenada respectively.
They had not had an easy time, yet their passion and dedication to conservation had kept them going against incredible odds. Melania has faced death threats because she has rallied people to stand up and report environmental infractions, Jules’ home and community was devastated by not one, but two, hurricanes; Michel is working in an isolated area where access is difficult and hunting bushmeat traditions entrenched.
These campaign managers had returned to the University to report back on their work. As they stood in front of the assembled audience – which included other campaign [photopress:Malania_Philippines_1.jpg,thumb,alignleft]managers, University and Rare staff, as well as representatives from their embassies – each in my mind stood 3 inches taller than when I had first met them two years earlier. Brad has raised awareness of, and support for, the protection of Pohnpei’s coastal environment, especially its mangroves, coral reefs, and marine protected areas. He has also developed a community-based organic sponge farming enterprise, and helped build support for the declaration of And Atoll in Pohnpei as a Biosphere Reserve.
Sak has made conservation so popular that he got the local population to embrace marine conservation as well as terrestrial protection. He succeeded in getting a fish [photopress:Michel_Gabon_1.jpg,thumb,alignleft]conservation area designated, which will help the local economy develop sustainable fisheries. While research has shown that Michel is slowly moving attitudes toward bushmeat in the communities within which he works – a survey conducted near the end of his campaign revealed 35% of respondents saying it was “important” to eat bush meat, down from 80% at the beginning of the campaign – a dramatic reduction.
Conservation is not just about fluffy animals and beautiful places. It is about people. [photopress:Sak_Laos_1.jpg,thumb,alignleft]Conservation’s most intractable problems are caused by people. They can, and will only be, solved by people working both as individuals and collectively recognizing that conservation is no esoteric concept, but rather a critical step in their own sustainable development. The world needs more dynamic spokespeople to stand in defense of the environment, to build and foster a pride and an understanding of it. More people like Brad, Sak, Michel, Melania, and Jules.
As Rare’s Senior Director for Pride (Megan Hill) rose to thank these wonderful people for their dedication, her voice choked and a small tear appeared. It is easy for us to sit in the comparative luxury of our offices and sitting rooms talking of the need to conserve, it is another to be doing this in far-flung, remote underdeveloped nation states, where the road to success is paved with many barriers. I think Megan spoke for many of us when she said these individuals were our “heroes” and that we were really proud of them.