The Goldman Environmental Prize was awarded to six grassroots environmental heroes from around the world in San Francisco last Monday night. Three of the six 2010 winners are working directly in food-related areas.
Lynn Henning's 300-acre corn and soybean farm in Lenawee County, Michigan, has twelve meat production operations within ten miles. Fed up with the air and water pollution from the CAFOs, she started collecting samples from waterways that were downstream of the CAFOs. Working with the Michigan Chapter of the Sierra Club, first as a volunteer and then as a staff member, she developed comprehensive water monitoring schemes and then took to the air, using aerial photography to document pollution from CAFOs. She submitted her findings to state environmental officials, which eventually leading to fines against several operations. Some of her monitoring methods have been adopted by the U.S. EPA for use in their CAFO investigations. Like several of the other award winners, she and her family have been harassed and intimidated because of Henning's anti-pollution efforts.
Humberto Ríos Labrada of Cuba is being honored for his work to promote crop diversity and reduction of chemical use in agriculture. While a doctoral student in agricultural sciences, Rios ran across small farms that were using old techniques like crop rotation, planting diversity and other ecological practices. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, trade embargoes and a lackluster economy cutting off Cuba's supply of petrochemicals, Rios recognized that these small farmers could help Cuba grow more food. As a member of the National Institute of Agricultural Sciences, he set up agrobiodiversity learning centers to train farmers in ecological farming methods and promoted planting diversity through events like "seed fairs." Thanks in part to Rios's work, food production and crop diversity in Cuba has increased.
Randall Arauz of Costa Rica won his award for his efforts to reduce the barbaric and ecologically destructive practice of shark finning.* In the mid-2000s, he secretly recorded video of an illegal finning operation, publicized the video, and led a national campaign against shark finning. Those efforts and additional campaigns led to a strengthening of Costa Rican laws against shark finning and subsequent closing of loopholes. In recent years, Arauz has continued his advocacy for sharks, representing Costa Rica at international conservation meetings. Arauz is currently president of Programa Restauracion de Tortugas Marinas (PRETOMA). While in San Francisco, Arauz was a guest on KQED's Forum program, talking with the show's host and taking calls and e-mails from the public (the program is available for download or streaming).
Before or after the awards ceremony in San Francisco's War Memorial Opera House, it would have been fitting for Mr. Arauz, officials from the Goldman Prize and various government dignitaries to take a short trip to Chinatown, a place where you can buy shark fins right now, according to KQED's Quest. The San Francisco government has a tradition of getting involved in big issues — the recent meatless Monday policy and urban agriculture plan are two that come to mind right now — so it would be excellent if the city took bold action to protect sharks by banning the sale or possession of shark fin within city limits. The state of Hawaii is a model here, as their legislature is considering SB2169, which would ban the possession, distribution or sale of shark fins (visit the Shark Safe Network's blog for details and how you can help).
Additional Information: The other three winners were Malgorzata Górska, who helped protect Poland’s Rospuda Valley; Tuy Sereivathana of Cambodia, a "mediator" of elephant-human conflicts; and Thuli Brilliance Makama of Swaziland, who fights against forced evictions and violence against those who live next to conservation areas. Photos of all six prize winners can be found on the Goldman Prize website; links to articles about the prize in newspapers and other media are collected in the Goldman Prize's press room.
* As a top predator, sharks play a critical role in marine ecosystems. The New York Times had a piece in 2007 about a study that showed how overfishing of sharks in the Atlantic led to a crash of the bay scallop fishery. Some of the favorite prey of large sharks — smaller sharks, rays and skates — eat scallops, so as shark populations have declined, the population of sharks' prey has gone out of balance, leading to reduced scallop numbers.