Celebrating World Environment Day

Piece and video by Tasha Goldberg

World Environment Day is a global invitation to unite through celebrating the environment. To honor this day, success stories become flags to be waved high, helping the world safely believe that it is possible to develop sustainably and nourish the environment. Evidence of Hope: Island Resilience and Vanuatu’s Solar Mama are two short films that document how the extraordinary courage of ordinary women can change the world.

Evidence of Hope: Island Resilience

Evidence of Hope is an effort to build a bridge and explore sustainable environments, translating intellectual concepts into human experience. It is a celebration of what is working and a testament that the world is full of people adapting to climate change who are resilient to global challenges. Hope holds us in uncertain times and connects to the change we want to see in the world.

Environmental health is challenged by the global food system. Global agriculture consumes 70% of the worlds fresh water, contributes nearly 1/3 of GHGs, and accounts for 75% of global deforestation. However, sustainably grown food has the potential to stimulate a cascade of positive social and environmental benefits, helping to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals. The questions become, who can help unlock this potential, who can look into the serious challenges and create solutions?

Source: Tasha Goldberg

Women! Women feed the world. Over 80% of farmers in non-industrialized countries are female. Empowering and investing in rural women has been shown to significantly increase productivity, reduce hunger and malnutrition and improve rural livelihoods. And not only for women, but for everyone” according to FAO.

Two short films featured from Evidence of Hope deliver stories of leadership from the islands of Vanuatu. Rural women have become champions for clean energy and food security, illustrating how the empowerment of women is a seed that nourishes a community's sustainable development and resilience.

Evidence of Hope: Solar Mamas

Vanuatu is one of the world’s least developed countries and the most at-risk country for natural hazards. In Vanuatu, rural women are largely responsible for securing food for their families, as well as providing surplus to markets to feed national food security. Many villages in Vanuatu, along with nearly one billion in the world, live without access to electricity. Access to affordable and reliable energy links to economic opportunities and resilience, as embedded in Sustainable Development Goal 7.

Facing the complexity of these challenges, Vanuatu has empowered rural grandmothers to become champions for themselves, their communities and to become role models for the entire world. These women, the “Solar Mamas”, are farming grandmothers from rural villages, supported by the GEF Small Grant Programme and UN Development Programme. Three grandmothers from Epau village in Vanuatu travelled to India to join over 2000 grandmothers from around the world to study at the Barefoot College, receiving training to become solar engineers.

Without requiring any previous education the elders learned to build, install and maintain solar technology while being exposed to a co-curriculum programme of self-awareness and leadership skills. This investment in women has triggered a ripple of benefits way beyond environmental impact.

Source: Nicky Kauatonga

Epau’s Solar Mamas returned home able to deliver clean energy solutions to over 100 families. The skills they earned have increased their livelihoods, simultaneously supporting community development by replacing the costly, and carbon-intensive kerosene and diesel previously used. The farmers, mostly women, use solar power to package food for the market, increasing their income and contributing to national food security.

Island Leadership in Resilience

Source: Tasha Goldberg

Vanuatu’s Solar Mamas demonstrate that investing in the empowerment of rural female farmers resulted in increased resilience to climate change for the entire community. When the cyclone of 2015 hit the island of Efate, improved resilience was revealed by how communities recovered. Despite damaged solar equipment, the knowledge earned by the Solar Mamas was applied to install new solar power for the village.

In addition to resilience, the innovation of applying technology to build solar dryers to preserve food has become an invaluable tool. Preserved food lasts up to 18 months, providing a resource for schools and families in case of disaster. The surplus is sold for an additional source of income for village households, adding to national food security.

Lea Nimoho - Source: Tasha Goldberg

Environmental Consultant for SGP, Leah Nimoho, is one of Vanuatu’s strongest advocates for sustainable programming, bridging resources to local initiatives. She developed over 80 programmes that address climate adaptation and resilience. When Ms Nimoho came across the opportunity to help three women from Epau village become Solar Mamas, she saw a clear opportunity to empower women as agents of change for all of Vanuatu.

“As a woman, I see that there are opportunities for change and to change local livelihoods. Women should be given the opportunity to take the lead in development. The Solar Mamas have helped these women have confidence in themselves with the new technical skills they acquired. Now, they are making a change in their village.” 

Ms Nimoho indicated that the next phase of development is to create an education center in Epau Village. The grandmothers have the passion to train young women and young children and the children around them have the curiosity to learn. From one generation to the next, we will pass this on”.

The Solar Mamas, according to Ms Nimoho, “are champions in the village, showing other women that they too can be champions for all of Vanuatu. They are bringing not only women’s empowerment, but also environmental benefits and increased food security — reducing the island’s vulnerability to climate change”.

For more innovative ways to feed the world, check out this piece on Agroforestery by James Foster.

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