By Katrina Marland
Last year, the United Nations designated 2011 as the International Year of Forests. Now, with the year over, the UN Forum on Forests Secretariat is working to determine the winners of its first-ever Forest Heroes Awards. The UN received 90 nominations for the award from 41 countries around the world. Ultimately, there will be only five winners: one for each geographic region (Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America and North America). So far they’ve narrowed the field down to 15 finalists across those regions, and one of them is a friend of ours.
For each project that American Forests takes on, we partner with a local group. Paul Mzeka is the founder of one of these groups: Apiculture and Nature Conservation Organization (ANCO). In Mzeka’s home country of Cameroon, unsustainable land management has led to deforestation and land degradation. This group promotes conservation and sustainable land management in a way that will also reduce rural poverty. Many of their projects focus particularly on beekeeping as an environmentally sustainable way to generate an income for rural families. They reach out to rural farmers to provide training and equipment and have dozens of successful projects to their name, with more than 6,000 bee farmers trained.
In recent years, ANCO has broadened the scope of its work to include tree planting. These projects help to protect local watersheds, conserve the rural community forests that so many rely on and provide a new area of income through tree nurseries and training in agroforestry. In partnership with ANCO, we have planted thousands of trees to restore forests to several rural communities in Cameroon. Our most recent project with them planted 50,000 trees to reforest almost 250 acres of the community forest for the Nkor Village to improve local watershed health. Before the planting, deforestation had led to severe water shortages. The project also taught local villagers how to create and maintain a nursery, giving them a source of income as well as a self-sufficient way to manage their own forests. Including the projects they have undertaken with us, ANCO, under Mzeka’s guidance, has planted 685,000 trees! Whether the UN awards him the title or not, in my book that achievement makes Mzeka a true forest hero.
Winners of the Forest Heroes Awards will be announced on February 9 at the closing ceremony for the International Year of Forests. Click here to learn more about the other remarkable men and women who have been nominated.