Equator Prize Winner from Afghanistan Brings Back Pride and Hope

The Rural Green Environment Organization emerges as one of the 21 organizations to receive Equator Prize 2015 at a high-level awards ceremony in Paris, France. Photo: UN / Eqautor Prize

Badakhshan, 20 January 2016 – Ahmad Seyar woke up early one morning in late September, performed his prayers and went back to bed. Then he picked up his phone, scrolled through his emails and read “Congrats on winning the Equator Prize” – a message from Helen Clark, the head of UNDP.

Suddenly, he was wide awake. “It gave me a kind of pleasure I can’t explain,” he says.

The prestigious UN prize recognizes Seyar’s work in preserving biodiversity in northeastern Badakhshan, where he runs the Rural Green Environment Organization (RGEO), a nonprofit that works with local communities to protect 2,000 km2 of mountain forest along the Kishim river in Tagrab District.

The forest is home to wild animals, including deer, snow leopards, jackals, tigers, various birds and rare plants, and a variety of natural pistachio trees and vines. It also provides an income for local residents.

RGEO has been funded by two grants from UNDP and the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme. This has allowed the NGO to build a 500-metre fence to safeguard the forest from marauding livestock, plant 4,000 saplings and build 20 water reservoirs to improve irrigation. It has also helped locals graft 8,000 vines, each of which already produces 7kg of grapes.

These activities have created more than 6,000 jobs in 90 villages.

In September, RGEO was selected for the Equator Prize from nearly 1,500 nominations from 126 countries. In November, Seyar and RGEO’s gender officer, Farkhunda Seddiqi, travelled to Paris for the UN Climate Change Conference, where they and other winners received their prize. They also got the chance to show the world how Afghanistan is beating the odds to fight climate change.

Sediqqi was interviewed by BBC, Al Jazeera, Voice of America and the French print media while in Paris. “I shared our story on how challenging it has been to work in an area with an active insurgency,” she recalls.

Seyar and Seddiqi also had a chance to learn from environmental activists from around the world and to pitch their ideas for Afghanistan to more funders, allowing RGEO to build on the success already achieved with UNDP.

“I am now preparing a proposal for a dry fruit processing project for women in Badakhshan,” says Sediqqi.

In the meantime, RGEO is expanding its reforestation activities to three more mountain districts. 

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