Conservationist Victor Zambrano, who has dedicated his life to the restoration of natural forests in the Madre de Dios region of Peru’s southeastern Amazon, is the 2016 winner of the National Geographic Society/Buffett Award for Leadership in Latin American Conservation. Makala Jasper, chief executive officer of the Mpingo Conservation & Development Initiative, a Tanzanian nonprofit committed to improving the well-being of rural communities as well as the forests upon which they rely, is this year’s recipient of the National Geographic Society/Buffett Award for Leadership in African Conservation.
Zambrano and Jasper will receive their $25,000 awards at the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, June 16, during National Geographic’s annual Explorers Week, when National Geographic explorers, grantees and others affiliated with the Society gather to share findings from their research and fieldwork and take part in panel discussions.
Established through a gift from The Howard G. Buffett Foundation in 2002 to celebrate and recognize unsung conservation heroes working in the field, the National Geographic Society/Buffett Award for Leadership in Conservation is given each year to two outstanding conservationists, one in Latin America and one in Africa. The award acknowledges the winners’ remarkable work and lifetime contributions that further the understanding and practice of conservation in their countries.
“It is an honor to participate with National Geographic in recognizing the achievements of these two remarkable visionaries who are making such a positive difference to conservation in their countries. Both are inspirational mentors and role models in their communities,” said Howard G. Buffett, chairman and chief executive officer of The Howard G. Buffett Foundation.
“This year’s awardees exemplify the spirit of the National Geographic Society/Buffett Award for Leadership in Conservation,” said Gary E. Knell, president and chief executive officer of the National Geographic Society. “They are powerful examples of how dedicated and passionate individuals can improve the world for all living things.”
Born in Madre de Dios, Zambrano learned the customs of the local people at an early age. After leaving for high school in Lima and a subsequent 24-year military career, Zambrano retired and returned to his birthplace, settling along the Tambopata River in a region scientists consider to be the global epicenter of biodiversity. Sadly, he found the area under significant pressure from illegal gold mining, construction of the Amazon’s first transcontinental highway, oil and gas exploration, illegal timber harvesting and human migration.
Upon his return in 1987, Zambrano located his family’s land and began the arduous process of reforesting it, singlehandedly planting more than 19,000 trees, and over 120 species of them, in a 34-hectare area. In 2013, after many years of work, Zambrano legally obtained the land and gained long-term protection for it. Today, the area is known as the K’erenda Homet Private Conservation Concession, in honor of his youngest daughter.
Over the years, Zambrano established, advised and trained a number of local organizations, including the Agrarian Federation of Madre de Dios, a group of 5,000 families practicing sound agricultural processes. Zambrano is also recognized as the creator of the first agroforestry initiatives in the region as well as the Indigenous and Peasant Forestry Coordination of Peru. In 2014, in recognition of his efforts, Zambrano received the prestigious Carlos Ponce Conservation Award in Peru.
In addition, Zambrano championed creation of the Alliance to Protect the Tambopata National Reserve, bringing together indigenous people, environmental organizations and agrarian associations to protect the Madre de Dios region from the severe habitat destruction and biodiversity loss caused by gold mining. His efforts contributed to a significant reduction of gold mining, improving the overall well-being of the local communities while drawing the national government’s attention to the perils of illegal gold mining.
Jasper, a skilled forester and dedicated conservationist, pioneered community-based forest management in southeastern Tanzania through the work of the Mpingo Conservation & Development Initiative (MCDI). Founded in 2004, MCDI currently supports more than 55,000 men, women and children in 35 communities, empowering local people to take control of and sustainably manage their forests while providing economic benefits and improving livelihoods.
Among its many accomplishments, MCDI helped its 35 involved communities to secure user rights to 350,000 hectares of forest. On average, the communities have set aside 32 percent of their forestland for sustainable management. MCDI also led the first-ever commercial timber harvest of a community-managed natural forest in Tanzania, resulting in a more than 100-fold increase in local earnings per cubic meter. In addition, MCDI received the first — and to date only — Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification for a community-managed natural forest in Africa, enabling the supported communities to earn more than US$315,000 in FSC-certified timber sales.
Communities use their sustainable timber profits to meet their development needs. Some examples include:
- Building schools and supporting facilities, including a house for a primary school teacher;
- Constructing a solar-powered local marketplace and a midwife’s house;
- Subsidizing nearly 200 local expectant mothers to ensure they receive proper health care;
- Purchasing school uniforms for more than 300 primary school students; and
- Providing health insurance to more than 200 elders so that they have free access to medical care.
In recognition of his long-term commitment to community-centered conservation in Tanzania, Jasper recently received the Whitley Fund for Nature 2016 Whitley Award, donated by the World Wildlife Fund-United Kingdom, at a ceremony at The Royal Geographical Society in London.
National Geographic Society/Buffett Award recipients are chosen from nominations submitted to the National Geographic Society’s Committee for Research and Exploration, which screens the nominations through a peer-review process.
“This year’s awardees are recognized for their outstanding leadership and the vital role they play in managing and protecting the natural resources in their regions. They are exemplary conservation advocates who often battle difficult odds with courage and commitment,” said Peter Raven, chairman of the National Geographic Society Committee for Research and Exploration.
Howard G. Buffett is chairman and chief executive officer of The Howard G. Buffett Foundation, which focuses on humanitarian and conservation issues. A farmer, businessman and widely published author and photographer, Buffett is a member of the Commission on Presidential Debates and serves as a UN Goodwill Ambassador Against Hunger on behalf of the World Food Programme. He has traveled to more than 130 countries, documenting the challenges of preserving biodiversity while providing adequate resources to meet the needs of a growing global population. He has been recognized globally for his commitment to food security, conservation and journalistic freedom. He has written eight books on conservation, wildlife and the human condition.