A search for the best for-profit social innovation solutions from around the world to conserve tropical forest biodiversity has been undertaken by the Tropical Forest Challenge. It is an exciting, global award managed by Ennovent on behalf of WWF Switzerland. Launched in 2012, the Challenge has two awards categories; company and start-up; the two respective winners are Runa for company and Planting Empowerment for start-up.
Tropical rainforests now only cover only six per cent of the earth’s surface, yet remain at the heart of global biodiversity and ecosystems. They are described as the ‘lungs of our planet’ because these forests provide the essential service of continuously recycling carbon dioxide into oxygen; more than 20 per cent of the world’s oxygen is produced in the Amazon Rainforest. Tropical forests also provide important resources to the communities who live in their midst and are a rich source of fruits, medicinal plants and herbs, which are critical for the income generation abilities of local communitiesand also the survival of mankind as a whole.
WWF Switzerland’s mission is to stop the global destruction of the environment and to build a future in where people live in harmoniously with nature. With this in mind, the organisation launched the Tropical Forest Challenge, using the Ennovent network to crowd source relevant solutions through social media and partners. Ennovent helps to grow sustainable social innovations for low-income markets. The Challenge attracted a high volume of entrants and more than 2,300 votes were gathered from the public to choose the most high impact application. Each application went through a rigorous and independent assessment of panels supported by distinguished experts to find the worthy winners of each category:
Runa, the company winner, is an amazing social innovation organisation based in Ecuador. It is creating a market in the U.S. for guayusa, a rich tasting, naturally caffeinated tea sustainably grown by indigenous farmers. Prior to Runa, many smallholder farmers had no other option than to maintain intense agricultural production, owing to the loss of land and limited access to markets, which further depleted the Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest. Runa has created change since it began in 2009. It has generated over $100,000 of direct income for over 2,000 farming families—an impressive average farmer income increase of 30 per cent—and has planted over 200,000 trees. Planting Empowerment, the start-up winner, is focused on developing mixed native species agroforestry projects that provide alternative income streams to slash and burn agriculture for smallholder farmers in Panama, encouraging tropical forest conservation. It leases plots from small landholders to encourage long-term land tenure and stewardship of natural resources, also providing hands-on forestry management skills and traditional classroom knowledge. Planting Empowerment has planted more than 27,500 trees and has ensured that farmers are earning 45 per cent more than previously.
These two Tropical Forest Challenge winners show that by leaving the rainforests intact and harvesting their many products, they have more global economic value than if they were cut down!
Photo Credit: Wikipedia