Nature is Calling

Using South-South Cooperation to replicate nature-based solutions

To celebrate this year’s International Biodiversity Day and its theme ‘Solutions are in Nature’, we are featuring nature-based solutions that have been shared among communities through South-South cooperation (SSC) and supported by the Small Grants Programme.

These shared solutions increase local communities’ livelihood opportunities, help protect the environment, increase access to health and education, and inspire social inclusion across borders.

Inspiring Action

"South-South cooperation is a powerful tool as we advance, together, towards the Sustainable Development Goals and fulfill the promise to leave no one behind."
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres

The Small Grants Programme (SGP), funded by the Global Environment Facility and implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), recognizes the importance of SSC and triangular cooperation at the local level, and their role in accelerating the achievement of the SDGs and has supported over 200 SSC exchanges.

By developing seaweed farming in response to declining fisheries in Belize and Colombia, and via sister projects such as building and maintaining energy efficient stoves in Tanzania and Kenya, and introducing of micro-hydro electrical plants in Haiti, community exchanges demonstrate the value and effectiveness of South-South solutions at the local level.

As a result of these efforts, SGP has been recognized as the South-South Cooperation Partner of the Month in May 2020 by South-South Galaxy, the Knowledge Sharing and Partnership Brokering Platform hosted by the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation.

Seaweed farming, a sustainable enterprise for fishers in Belize, Colombia, and Saint Lucia

Belize’s coastline has a wealth of globally-significant marine biodiversity, and is home to seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The coastline features a network of marine protected areas (MPAs) that comprise the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System.

However, rapid and uncontrolled coastal development has resulted in increased habitat loss in Belize’s coastal zone.

It is estimated that about 75-80 per cent of all coastal land in Belize has been purchased for the development of tourism and residential areas, posing a serious threat to mangroves, coastal wetlands, and other coastal ecosystems.

The Placencia Producers Cooperative Society Limited (PPCSL) was formed in Belize in 1962 to coordinate local fishers’ occupational activities and increase incomes. In 2004, St. Lucian fishers visited their Belizean counterparts to learn about their seaweed cultivation initiative as a supplemental livelihood alternative. A few of the PPCSL fishers, having used seaweed historically as an alternative source of income on a small scale, inspired the St. Lucian fishers, who decided to follow in their footsteps.

In 2009, PPCSL got support from the GEF Small Grants Programme, implemented by UNDP through its Community Management of Protected Areas Conservation Programme (COMPACT), a partnership programme between GEF SGP and the UN Foundation, to start a pilot project on commercial seaweed cultivation in Placencia.

A Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the Belize Fisheries Department, Southern Environmental Association, and the Placencia Producers Cooperative Society Limited for a 2.5km2 Special Development Zone within the Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve, which was intended for seaweed cultivation expansion. A seaweed cultivation manual and seaweed curriculum were also developed.

This led to the establishment of a long-term partnership with a private investor called Coral Caye Limited to replicate, upscale, and mainstream the seaweed industry in Belize. Coral Caye Ltd. is currently constructing the 450+ m2 processing facility near Independence Village in the Stann Creek District to create value-added products for use and sale by the PPCSL. Together, the partners continue to develop improved methodologies for seaweed cultivation and additional revenue streams, which they continue to share in exchanges with interested parties.

Another south-south cooperation exchange was conducted to train fishers from Colombia in seaweed cultivation, harvesting, and processing techniques at Placencia Producers Cooperative Society Limited farms located in the Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve, as well as Laughing Bird Caye National Park sites near Placencia Village, Belize. To facilitate the South-South exchange, the GEF Small Grants Programme in Belize coordinated with representatives of the Colombian Government, who sponsored the exchange.

As a result of this exchange between Colombia and Belize, the Colombian fishers have put the training they received to use in their own country, where they are involved in a pilot project – ‘Algae Cultivation Pilot Project and Development of Products Based on its Derivatives’, with Coralina, Utadeo, and Fish and Farm C-Enterprise. Through established seaweed farms, they have generated value-added products such as a recently launched, highly nutritious drink called Seaweed Punch. They are now involved in promoting seaweed cultivation as a viable economic livelihood.

Women Solar Engineers Light the World

Since 2008, the GEF Small Grants Programme has been working with Barefoot College to support Women Solar Engineers projects across Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean. In this collaborative effort, Barefoot College offers six-months of training to the women on their campus in Tilonia, India, while SGP provides technical and financial support to electrify their villages and maintain the equipment in the long run.

As a result, more than 70 women have been empowered and achieved better social status by bringing renewable energy to over 50 villages worldwide, benefitting more than 20,000 people. Similar initiatives have been replicated in neighbouring villages and scaled-up by other national and donor programmes.

The exchanges are transformational, not only via their direct results, but also in creating long-lasting bonds and partnerships across communities and countries.

Fostering organic agriculture across the ocean

The countries of the Pacific are facing the effects of climate change, ecosystem degradation, and loss of biodiversity due to the unsustainable use of both land and marine resources.

As a result of mismanaged agriculture, land degradation is rampant and food production is decreasing. At the same time, the agricultural sector is under pressure to feed a bigger population on the same amount of land, and dependence on imported food is increasing.

One solution to intensifying production is the introduction of agrochemicals and fertilisers to farming. These methods have unfortunate side-effects, such as leaching into the environment and affecting both ecosystems and human health.

The Pacific Organic and Ethical Trade Community (POETCom) - a network of organic producers across the Pacific Islands - identified the promotion of organic agriculture as a key step to solving these issues. Organic agriculture has the potential to make a significant and positive impact on the sustainable development of Small Island Developing States, while strengthening ecosystem services and increasing resilience to climate change.

The Pacific faces enormous challenges in terms of food security with increased land degradation due to poor agricultural practices and chemicals. And the situation is aggravated by climate change.
Karen Mapusua, Coordinator of POETCom

With this in mind, in May 2015, participants from Cuba, El Salvador, Fiji, Guatemala, and the Solomon Islands met in Havana, Cuba to learn from Cuban farmers about low-cost and proven ecological farming practices that are easily adaptable and transferrable to the Pacific as solutions to the pressing issue of food security and the environmental concerns shared by many small island states.

The exchange included four farmer-leaders of local organisations in Fiji and the Solomon Islands, as well the coordinator of POETcom, joined by participants from the SGP, UNDP, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, the Alexander Humboldt Institute for Basic Research in Tropical Agriculture, and the Cuban Ministry of Agriculture. The main topics discussed included organic fertilizer production using crop residues and excreta from worm culture and composting; local seed production and conservation; plantlet production; agro-ecological pest and disease management; use of semi-protected and multiple cropping systems; and intercropping.

To coordinate the exchange, POETCom selected the Zai Na Tina Organic Demonstration and Research Farm (ZNT) from the Solomon Islands and Tei Tei Taveuni (TTT) from Fiji. These farmer organisations are community-based leaders in their respective countries. ZNT runs a commercial organic vegetable farm and an internship programme allowing young farmers to reside on the farm and undertake theoretical and practical training in organic farming.

TTT is a farmer’s organization from the island of Taveuni in Fiji, which in recent years has suffered from extreme soil degradation due to poor farming practices. TTT was formed by farmers to learn how to protect their soils, island and livelihoods. They have worked with schools and established a resource centre for farmers.

Following the exchange, upon their return to Fiji, TTT used the knowledge they gained during the exchange with the assistance of a Cuban technician, to experiment with local worms for vermiculture. The organisation also initiated an exploration of different irrigation methods, including solar powered water pumps, on two demonstration farms.

TTT is working to establish 15 demonstration farms across Taveuni Island, and streamlining the lessons they learned in this SSc exchange in the farms’ management practices. This includes companion planting, vermiculture, composting, seed saving, agroforestry, and intercropping of fruit trees to ensure a stable yield and continuous income for the farmers. TTT is also exploring ways of incorporating agrotourism in their demonstration farms.

Similarly, in the Solomon Islands, ZNT implemented lessons learned by building well-planned raised beds and box beds following specifications from their course in Cuba. This has been effective in preventing the soil erosion that regularly occurs during heavy rainfalls in the Solomon Islands and is a high-yield climate change adaptation technique.

ZNT has also modified their farm management practices to include systematic composting, with consideration of both the quality and nutrient density of the compost. This has greatly improved farmers’ access to compost. Companion planting has also been implemented, and Marigold and Sweet Basil are now routinely planted in the beds as natural insect repellents. This is believed to have completely eradicated the presence of African snails in their farms. They are also bio-prospecting for suitable, local earthworms they can use for vermiculture, as biosecurity restrictions prevent the use of imported earthworms for this purpose.

ZNT is now preparing its demonstration farm for Educational Tours. ZNT has signed a contract with the Solomon Islands Government to build a Farm Stay for eco-tourists and has been awarded SBD 250,000 (approximately USD 32,000) in government funding.

This project received the first prize in the South-South Cooperation for Sustainable Development ‘S3 Award’, organised by UNDP in 2016. Cuba’s cooperation initiative was one of the four winners of the contest, in which 33 projects from 19 Latin American countries participated. The award aimed to showcase and recognise best practices in SSc from around the world, to promote more (and better) initiatives.

Mangrove conservation and climate change resilience

In 1992, the people living in Baan Bang La village, Thailand saw that the mangrove forests they rely on for their livelihoods were under threat by investors who were interested in developing the land to further their own economic interests.

In response to this, and as a means to protect the mangroves, the community established the Community Mangrove Forest Conservation of Baan Bang La.

Baan Bang La successfully opposed the takeover attempt by outside investors and were able to establish their right as stewards of the mangrove. In turn, they were able to protect against trespassing.

Together, they took on the responsibility of sustainably managing the mangroves as a model community forest.

In 2004, the community-managed mangrove forest worked as a natural seawall and protected Baan Bang La and its inhabitants from the Boxing Day mega tsunami that devastated Thailand and numerous other countries in SE Asia.

Since then, the community has been active in promoting the protection and restoration of the mangrove forests of Thailand, using their own model community forest as an example of good practice.

Bang Khun Thian, Thailand, Photo courtesy of Waranont Joe, Unsplash

Bang Khun Thian, Thailand, Photo courtesy of Waranont Joe, Unsplash

As a result of the community’s work in mangrove conservation, the Phuket Sea Otter – a local small-clawed sea otter – has returned to the area, after having been displaced for many years by habitat destruction, fisheries, and tourism.

The mangroves are now under community-based management, and strict laws and regulations are in place to safeguard natural resources. Zoning laws are now in place, delineating parcels into one of three categories: strictly conservation zone, community utilities zone (where the locals can harvest small, branchy wood for charcoal production, fishing activities, or small housing), and reforested zone. In each of these zones, the local community must meet certain requirements for management, such as if one tree is felled, five must be replanted.

In 2017, the project was awarded the Equator Initiative Prize in recognition of the community’s efforts to protect and conserve their priceless ecosystems.

To disseminate this solution, the Japan Foundation hosted an exchange under the ‘Hope and Dreams for Disaster and Environmental Education + Creativity – HANDs Project’, with support from SGP. This bi-annual exchange programme aims to nurture a sense of community and coexistence among the peoples of Asia by supporting youth from India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, the Philippines, and Thailand to find creative solutions to social and environmental issues.

As part of the HANDs Project, the youths visited the SGP project in Baan Bang La to learn about the mangrove forest that saved the community in 2004.

Fifty community members and local authorities’ representatives, 40 HANDs fellows and their teams, and the Japan Foundation’s coordinator and senior advisors, as well as advisors of HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn's Special Task Force, came together to learn about the Bang La Community Mangrove Forest, and join in a community dialogue on sustainable mangrove forest management and their experiences in resilience against the tsunami and other disasters, e.g. storm surge, sea-level rise, flash floods, and forest encroachment.

Small Grants= Big Impacts

SGP has been providing technical and financial support to civil society organisations (CSOs) and communities in over 125 countries for the past 25 years.

SGP promotes innovation and social inclusion, and fosters the development of solutions that produce global environmental benefits and address key sustainable development issues.

Through these efforts, SGP helps countries to meet their commitments under key environmental conventions. By working directly with vulnerable communities, including indigenous peoples, women, youth, and persons with disabilities, SGP facilitates peer-to-peer learning and mentoring among CSOs and local communities, and promotes their participation in decision-making processes.

For details on the overall Small Grants Programme:

Saint Lucia, Photo courtesy of Nick Fewings, Unsplash

Saint Lucia, Photo courtesy of Nick Fewings, Unsplash

Text by Ana Maria Currea, Andrea Egan / Photos courtesy of SGP Belize, Colombia, and Saint Lucia, Cuba, El Salvador, Fiji, Guatemala, Solomon Islands, Thailand / Additional photos courtesy of Barefoot College and Unsplash photographers as noted.

Location: Belize, Colombia, and Saint Lucia, Cuba, El Salvador, Fiji, Guatemala, Solomon Islands, Thailand