Honouring forest heroes and champions

10 April 2013 | News story

Five seemingly ordinary people who have done extraordinary work for their communities and forests are being recognized as 'Forest Heroes' at a special 'Forests for People' ceremony taking place today in Istanbul. The awards are being presented as 197 member States meet at the 10th session of the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF).

In addition to the Forests Heroes from Brazil, Rwanda, Thailand, Turkey, and the United States, winners of the International Forest Short Film Festival and the International Forest Photograph competition will also receive awards. The winning filmmakers are from Belgium, Peru, South Africa, United Kingdom, and the United States and the photographers hail from Indonesia, Italy, Spain, Turkey and Ukraine.


Nearly 600 entries from 68 countries competed to win these prestigious awards. IUCN is part of the international jury, consisting of renowned practitioners and senior United Nations experts who have selected winners in each category. IUCN is also a partner in the UNFF.

Wu Hongbo, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said “The winners of these awards are remarkable individuals who have been working to make a difference through community activities, film, or photography. Their stories serve as inspiration to us all. Any meaningful debate on forests is drawn from the lessons we learn from people-centred approaches and community, and national-level action. The fate of forests truly rests in the hands of people.”

Jan McAlpine, Director of the United Nations Forum on Forests Secretariat, said this year’s awardees represent a “truly amazing group of individuals who have devoted their lives to nurturing communities and forests”. She added, “Through their eyes we see that there are creative pathways to realizing that we are an integral part of forests, and forests are a vital part of us all. Their stories are our shining inspiration and they our heroes.”

“The astounding exploits of an exceptional few, in giving a voice to the forests we need and depend upon, can inspire all of us to go that extra mile in protecting and restoring our forested landscapes,” says jury member Daniel Shaw, Communications Officer with IUCN's Forest Programme.

For the International Forest Short Film Festival, the United Nations Forum on Forests Secretariat partnered with the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival to honour creative efforts of filmmakers who visually capture how forests inspire, shelter, nurture and contribute to our lives. This year’s Film Festival is for short films of five minutes or less. The very first screening of the winning films will take place at the special awards event.

“More than any point in our history, media today connects us to each other in a fashion that is more personal, more immediate, and more powerful than ever before — almost instantly, around the entire planet,” says Lisa Samford, Executive Director of the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival.

The winning photographs of the first International Forest Photograph Contest, initiated “to celebrate the power of visual imagery in capturing the extraordinary and unique connection between people and forests,” were taken by Atakan Baykal of Turkey, Eka Fendiaspara of Indonesia, Riccardo Gangale of Italy, Olga Lavrushko of Ukraine, Prasetyo Nurramdhan of Indonesia, and Pablo Pro of Spain.

The Forest Heroes include Dr. Rose Mukankomeje, who has devoted her life to the protection and restoration of Rwandan forests and has pioneered a unique home grown solution — Umuganda —which ensures that the growth of forests in Rwanda supports livelihoods and benefits the rural poor.

Also receiving a Hero Award is 92 year-old Hayrettin Karaca of Turkey, a successful textile businessman, who became aware of the dangers of environmental degradation as he travelled about the country. He went on to found TEMA, one of Turkey’s largest environmental non-governmental organizations.

Preecha Siri, a Hero from Thailand, has helped guide his community into a model ecosystem management village by successfully integrating wet terrace fields, rotational farming, beekeeping, native tea and bamboo farming along with forest conservation .

At the age of 17, Almir Narayamoga Surui was elected chief of his Paiter-Surui tribe in the Amazon, Brazil, and for more than 20 years he has fought to safeguard both his tribe and the Amazon rainforest. He is spearheading the creation of a “50-year plan” that encompasses large-scale conservation efforts, reforestation projects and developing economic alternatives for his tribe that do not negatively impact forests.

And Dr. Ariel Lugo, a scientist from Puerto Rico in the United States, has published over 470 scientific articles, and has worked to conserve forests and improve communities around the world. His most recent project helps to prevent violence and promote healthy childhood development by encouraging the participation of youth in planting seasonal organic products and native trees.

The winners of the Film Festival include Rowan Pybus of South Africa, Paul Rosolie of the United States, Elio Alonso Vasquez Miranda of Peru, Sébastien Pins of Belgium, and Dan Childs and Nick Werber of the United Kingdom.

The special awards event is being webcast live from the venue of the United Nations Forum on Forests, on Wednesday, 10 April, from 6:15-7:45 p.m., at the Lutfi Kirdar Conference Centre, Istanbul. 

For more information, contact:
Dan Shepard, United Nations Department of Public Information, e-mail shepard@un.org, tel.: +1 646 675 3286; or Ahmet Parla, ahmet.parla@unic.org, tel.: +90 533 500 1497