Empowering communities to defend their human rights and conserve Argentina’s Dry Chaco Forest
Micaela Camino has won a Whitley Award from UK wildlife conservation charity the Whitley Fund for Nature. She is teaching human rights law to communities living in the Dry Chaco forest to resist the rapid deforestation for industrial agriculture that threatens their home and the pig-like Chacoan peccary – on track to become extinct within 30 years without Micaela’s intervention.
“We urgently need to act at the grassroots. No greenwashing is going to make a difference, we need real action based on real knowledge.”
The Dry Chaco is the largest sub-tropical dry forest in the world but faces one of the highest deforestation rates, with 25% logged in two decades. It is home to the indigenous Wichí and the Criollo people who are being forced off their land by corporations, with additional ramifications for wildlife that relies on the forest.
With her Whitley Award, Camino will collaborate with local people to solve these interlinked ecological and social crises, including equipping them with knowledge of their human rights to resist unlawful deforestation.
Whitley Awards are world-leading prizes for wildlife conservation. On Wednesday, 27 April they were presented by WFN Patron, HRH The Princess Royal, to six grassroots conservationists pioneering solutions to the biodiversity crisis, live streamed to YouTube. With one million species at risk of extinction and warnings of inextricable links between biodiversity loss and climate change, Whitley Award winners will use the funding to accelerate their breakthrough work to reverse declines in species from Sumatran rhinos to red pandas in Nepal.
Spanning 650,000 km2 across Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, and Brazil, the Chaco Forest includes savannas, grasslands, forest, ancient river basins and palm-groves. International companies are fast expanding soy and beef production for export, displacing local people and often violating Argentinian law.
The Endangered Chacoan peccary is unique to the region and perfectly adapted to its conditions – unable to survive on land cleared for industrial agriculture. It is an essential source of protein when hunted sustainably by local people, and maintains the forest by dispersing seeds.
“The Chacoan peccary is so well adapted to the Chaco region, it needs native forests to survive. We have less than 30 years to act, or face losing its unique evolutionary history, the nutrition it sustainably supplies to thousands of families, and its role as ecosystem engineer.”
Camino’s Whitley Award-winning project will combine conservation action with social empowerment: she will collaborate with local people on conservation plans for 35,000km2 of forest while giving them the tools to stand up to corporate land grabs. Her work will conserve the biological and cultural richness of a globally important but undervalued ecosystem.
“The forests are home to indigenous communities and criollo families with unique ecological knowledge. They are intimately linked to the land and can show us the world from a different perspective.”
Danni Parks, WFN Director, said: “Micaela is an inspiring force for environmental and social justice. I am delighted that, through her, this Whitley Award will help hundreds of people in the Argentinian Dry Chaco to defend their human rights and continue stewarding this little-known region. In doing so, they stand to save an Endangered, endemic species from near certain extinction.”
WFN also recognised Whitley Award alumnus, Dr Charudutt Mishra, with its top prize – the Whitley Gold Award. A snow leopard conservationist working across the big cat’s range of 12 countries including India, Afghanistan, China and Russia, Mishra’s pioneering approach to community-led conservation has been named an outstanding global practice by the UN Biodiversity Conference. With ‘fortress conservation’ having displaced an estimated 130 million people worldwide, community-based conservation that champions the co-existence of people and wildlife offers a transformative solution to the biodiversity crisis. The Whitley Gold Award will enable Mishra to train conservationists on every continent in equitable approaches.
NOTES TO EDITORS
- Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN) is a UK registered charity supporting grassroots conservation leaders in the Global South. Over 29 years it has channelled £19 million to more than 200 conservationists in 80 countries.
- A pioneer in the sector, WFN was one of the first charities to direct funding to locally-led projects. Its rigorous application process identifies inspiring individuals who combine the latest science with community-based action, to benefit wildlife, landscapes, and people.
- WFN’s flagship prizes – Whitley Awards – are presented by Patron, HRH The Princess Royal, at a prestigious annual ceremony in London. Winners receive funding, training and media profile including films narrated by charity Trustee, Sir David Attenborough.
- The 2022 Whitley Awards took place on Wednesday 27 April at the Royal Geographical Society, live streamed to YouTube. The 2022 Whitley Award winners are:
- Emmanuel Amoah, Ghana
Tales from the riverbank: safeguarding the last stronghold of West African slender-snouted crocodile
- Micaela Camino, Argentina
Empowering communities to defend their human rights and conserve Argentina’s Dry Chaco
- Pablo Hoffmann, Brazil
Rooting for the future: nurturing wild plant diversity in the Araucaria Forest region
- Sonam Lama, Nepal
People and red pandas: mutually beneficial conservation in the Himalayas
- Estrela Matilde, São Tomé and Príncipe
Stemming the tide of plastic pollution: an island-wide effort to save sea turtles
- Dedy Yansyah, Indonesia
Last stand for the Sumatran rhino: looking out for Leuser’s ecosystem engineers
- Whitley Award winners join an international alumni network eligible for WFN Continuation Funding, allowing successful conservation solutions to be scaled up. Projects receive up to £100,000 over two years and include nature-based solutions that jointly address the climate and biodiversity crises.
- Every year, a Whitley Award alumnus is chosen to receive the Whitley Gold Award, worth £100,000, in recognition of their outstanding contribution to the conservation sector. Joining the Judging Panel, the Whitley Gold Award recipient also acts as a mentor to Whitley Award winners. The 2022 Whitley Gold Award winner is world-leading snow leopard conservationist, Charudutt Mishra.
FOR HIGH-RES IMAGES, INTERVIEWS AND INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Amy Forshaw, Head of Communications at Whitley Fund for Nature
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