Vox today launched a detailed reporting initiative on biodiversity. Down to Earth: The Biodiversity Crisis Explained will probe the science, politics and economics surrounding the critical threats to natural ecosystems and wild species that are now accelerating at unprecedented pace. It aims to convey to a wide audience what the biodiversity crisis is, why it matters and how we can begin to think and act in ways that match the magnitude of effort required to address it.
Down to Earth is the latest in a series of BAND Foundation-supported initiatives seeking to elevate the profile of biodiversity loss as an issue requiring urgent public attention, effective policy responses and increased funding. BAND also provides grants currently to The Guardian, bioGraphic, Mongabay, and the Food & Environment Reporting Network. A common thread is to underscore not just the key threats to biodiversity – i.e., those posed by climate change, habitat destruction, direct exploitation, invasive species, disease, etc. – but also the solutions that can help turn the tide and the remarkable people dedicated to bringing them about.
Epilepsy presents an urgent global public health challenge, especially so in Africa. On a continent where more than 10 million people live with the disease, less than 20% receive effective treatment. However, with medication costing as little as $5/year, two-thirds of Africans with epilepsy could be seizure-free.
The World Health Organization has identified epilepsy as a public health imperative, recently issuing resolutions that call on low-income countries to extend treatment and provide better care. While most African nations have been slow to take up this call, community-based and epilepsy-focused organizations are mobilizing to demand change.
Funded by The BAND Foundation, the Advocate’s Toolkit for Making Epilepsy a Priority in Africa was developed in partnership with the International Bureau for Epilepsy (IBE) and its African affiliates. It offers step-by-step guidance on how to develop advocacy plans addressing the key drivers of Africa’s epilepsy crisis – lack of access to medication, limited provider knowledge of epilepsy diagnosis and treatment, community misunderstanding of the disease and its causes, and the deep stigma and discrimination that people with epilepsy experience. The toolkit is practical in its approach and uses case studies, real-life examples and problem-solving strategies to equip advocates with the skills and support to amplify their voices.
“This toolkit is a first-of-its-kind resource to empower advocates with the practical knowledge needed to narrow Africa’s epilepsy treatment gap. Through its wide dissemination and use, we hope it will help people living with epilepsy, community members, health care providers and policymakers take important steps against this devastating disease.”
–Gardiner Lapham, BAND Foundation Board of Directors
“This is the most important work we should be doing, fighting epilepsy stigma at all levels, from the highest office to the very remote village in Africa.”
–Dr. Joyce Banda, former President of Malawi and champion of epilepsy advocacy.
Investing in community-based organizations in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania to achieve lasting, locally-driven results in one of the world’s most iconic conservation landscapes.
Spanning over 10 million acres, the contiguous grassland ecosystems of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania contain some of the largest wildlife concentrations left on earth. Despite the presence of some of Africa’s best known and most important protected areas, such as the Serengeti-Maasai Mara, Mount Kilimanjaro, and Amboseli, most of the land in this region belongs to and is managed by Maasai pastoralists and other local communities, whose land use practices have shaped this area for hundreds of years and will continue to do so in the future.
In the face of growing threats – land conversion to farming, fencing and blockage of wildlife migration routes, human/wildlife conflict and poaching – a major challenge is to align conservation actions with local interests. Strengthening and scaling effective community-based conservation models, led by high-performing local organizations working at the grassroots, is essential.
The Maasai Landscape Conservation Fund (MLCF) is a new collaborative initiative designed to accelerate the impact of community-based conservation in this critical region. The fund provides a mechanism for donors to pool their resources and strategically invest in leading local organizations that are delivering effective conservation solutions. Managed by Maliasili and in collaboration with the BAND Foundation and the Liz Claiborne & Art Ortenberg Foundation (LCAOF), and with additional support from JP Morgan Chase and the Acacia Conservation Fund, the fund will invest at least $3 million over the next three years.
“Community-based solutions are key to the future of conservation efforts in East Africa, and these approaches rely on talented and committed local African conservation leaders,” said Kent Wommack, Executive Director of LCAOF, which has committed $1 million over the next three years to the fund.
“By working together, conservation funders can move greater resources more effectively to outstanding local organizations that deliver results at the community level,” added Nicholas Lapham, President of the BAND Foundation, which has also made a $1 million three-year commitment the fund’s establishment.
The initiative has recently made its initial grants to the Southern Rift Landowners Association (SORALO) and Honeyguide, to strengthen their efforts to secure community land rights, sustain open landscapes, and build the capabilities of community management bodies in line with their organizational missions and strategies.
Bats have been much in the news of late because they harbor a range of viruses similar in type to the one now ravaging human populations. In this important video, Dr. Winifred Frick, Chief Scientist for Bat Conservation International (BCI), discusses the links between bats and disease, explains why bats are not at fault in the current crisis and underscores the importance of conserving wild bat populations.
The BAND Foundation has supported bat conservation and BCI for many years. We have funded efforts to better understand and halt the spread of a deadly fungal pathogen that has decimated U.S. bat populations and most recently have provided a grant to help conserve one of the world’s rarest bats, the Mexican long-nosed, through a partnership aimed at restoring agaves – the bats’ primary food source and a hugely important plant culturally and economically to local communities throughout central and northern Mexico.
Bats play a critical and beneficial role globally, particularly in regards to agriculture. Insectivorous species eat enormous quantities of insect pests, thereby limiting crop damage and reducing the need for costly and environmentally damaging pesticides. They are also essential as pollinators and seed dispersers, especially in the tropics. Beyond the direct benefits they provide, bats are an exquisite and diverse family of animals with over 1,300 species that have evolved over tens of millions of years to fill a wide range of ecological niches.
This series, which will run for the next several months, will focus on a deadly pathogen, known commonly as Bsal, which has devastated salamander populations in Europe and threatens to do the same here in the United States. The show is hosted by Mike DiGirolamo, a journalist and actor living in Tennessee.
The U.S. is the global epicenter of salamander diversity. One of the most abundant creatures in America’s forests – especially along the Appalachian spine – salamanders are essential to the food chain and to overall forest health. They come in a wonder of sizes, shapes and colors and are a defining, if little noticed, feature of our native landscapes.
In addition to funding Mongabay’s reporting, BAND has supported critical research on Bsal to try to better understand how the pathogen spreads and what steps can be taken to prevent its introduction to the U.S. and respond rapidly should those steps fail.
Epilepsy is a complex disease with significant and underappreciated global health impacts. The epilepsy challenge is especially acute in Africa where lack of access to routine treatment and cultural stigmas are systemic problems. The BAND Foundation is working to tackle epilepsy in Africa through a series of grants aimed at raising awareness and demonstrating solutions. In this episode of Seizing Life – a weekly podcast produced by Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy (CURE) – BAND Foundation trustee and former CURE Board Chair Gardiner Lapham discusses BAND’s efforts.
Living on the landscape with lions and other large predators can impose significant costs on local communities. When lions prey on livestock, people sometimes retaliate by killing lions. Human/wildlife conflict is one of the leading factors contributing to the 50% decline in lion populations across Africa over the past two decades.
The Ruaha Carnivore Project (RCP), a BAND Foundation grantee, works with local communities around Tanzania’s Ruaha National Park – a lion stronghold – to build support for lion conservation, including by promoting practices that mitigate livestock losses to predators and by providing financial benefits to villages that maintain healthy wildlife populations on their land. Four RCP staff have recently been recognized by a WildAid campaign featuring the men and women working on the front lines across Africa to protect lions. In addition to the video above, you can learn about RCP’s other “unsung heroes” here and here.
When most people think of American grasslands, they imagine the vast open prairies of the Great Plains. Few recognize that some of the most varied and important grassland habitat actually occurred in the Southeast. Contrary to popular lore, the Southeast was not an unbroken forest stretching from the Atlantic coast to the Mississippi River. Rather it included a stunning and biodiverse mosaic of grassland types, including savannas, balds, glades, fens, marshes, bogs and even prairie.
These Southeast grasslands have lost nearly 90% of their original extent. Conserving and restoring what remains is the mission of the Southeastern Grasslands Initiative, a BAND grantee. Grasslands are one of the world’s most threatened ecosystems yet are often overlooked as a critical reservoir of biodiversity, a vital carbon sink and an essential resource for local and indigenous communities. BAND also supports grasslands conservation in Kenya, Tanzania and Mongolia.
The Maasai Mara ecosystem is one of the world’s most important conservation landscapes. It is also home to the Maasai people whose pastoralist traditions have allowed wildlife to coexist with humans and livestock for centuries. Today, this ecosystem is severely threatened by expanding agricultural production; by subdivision and fencing; and by increasingly unpredictable climate patterns. A key solution is the development of wildlife conservancies.
Conservancies consist of hundreds of individually owned parcels of land pooled together and leased out to tourism operators. Landowners receive direct payments for renting their land while retaining the right to graze their livestock. As such, conservancies provide a unique platform for unlocking economic value for local communities. Likewise, conservancies offer tremendous hope for maintaining and restoring critical habitat outside of national protected areas, many of which are simply too small or isolated to provide a sustainable future for wildlife.
The Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancies Association is the umbrella organization for the Mara’s 15 wildlife conservancies and an important recipient of BAND Foundation support.
Video Highlights How Community-Managed Wildlife Areas In Tanzania Serve as Grass Banks for Local Communities
Grazing is the lifeblood of Maasai culture in northern Tanzania, and its currency is grass. Population pressure, agricultural expansion, infrastructure development and land subdivision are placing enormous pressure on savanna grassland resources in this landscape. Likewise, these same threats are endangering the region’s wildlife, which require access to community lands as critical migratory corridors and dispersal areas linked to their strongholds in iconic national parks like Tarangire and Lake Manyara.
Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) are communal lands, frequently bordering national parks, that serve as grass banks for both livestock and wildlife. With BAND Foundation support, Honeyguide is working to ensure that these areas fulfill their promise to benefit both people and nature.