St Andrews Prize for the Environment

One of the most interesting things I get to do is be a Trustee of the St Andrews Prize for the Environment. At the end of April, the prize, a joint venture between the eponymous university and Aberdeen based oil company ConocoPhillips, celebrated its 15th anniversary by selecting Blue Ventures Conservation for an innovative project in Madagascar.

Population-Health-Environment: an integrated approach to conservation

When Dr Vic Mohan, a GP from Exeter, signed up as a medical advisor to divers working with Blue Ventures Conservation in Madagascar he found that the local Vezo fishing people needed his skills more than the divers. On enquiring further, it turned out that 90% wanted family planning information and materials more than anything else.

The winning initiative demonstrated the multiple benefits from linking human and environmental well-being – the best route to sustainable solutions. Local communities design and run the project themselves, using a community enterprise model called Safidy (meaning ‘freedom to choose’ in Madagasy) to address the interconnected challenges of poor health, unmet family planning needs, gender inequality, food insecurity, environmental degradation and vulnerability to climate change in a holistic way. After only 6 years, fertility rates are down by 40%.and, with the prospect of fewer mouths to feed, fishermen are keener to participate in protecting marine reserves and to use temporary closures that allow the fish stocks to recover. Women are better able to participate in both harvesting and fishery management. The octopus fishery in South West Madagascar is now seeking Marine Stewardship Council certification as a sustainable fishery.

The USD$150,000 prize will be used to extend the model, and increase training and education. Read more about the prize and watch out for the opening of the next round of entries.

Taboo Topic

But why is this sort of initiative more of an exception than a rule? A question that was asked at a recent Windsor Consultation. The clue lies in the title of a briefing paper I wrote for the event – A Tale of Sex and Money. Even though you wouldn’t know it from the tabloid newspapers we humans are, by and large, squeamish when it comes to the processes that lead to life (procreation) and death (decay). And as far as economists are concerned, the more people the more the economy grows – even though resources have to be spread ever more thinly.

In the Madagascar communities taking part in the Blue Ventures Safidy initiative, 84% recognise the links between reproductive health, family size and food security because it is part of their daily experience. Not so for shoppers in the supermarkets of Europe or the US. Nor, it seems, for the scientists contributing to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report who cite population and economic growth as the two main drivers of CO2 emissions from fossil fuel use. Economic growth (consumption) is responsible for a big rise in emissions over the decade to 2010, but ALL the gains from increased energy efficiency have been wiped out by increases in population. Yet when it comes to policy recommendations, there is not one mention of the role family planning could play.