WASHINGTON (Nov. 3, 2006)–A leading Nicaraguan environmentalist and a sustainable farmer and water conservationist from Zimbabwe are this year’s winners of the prestigious National Geographic Society/Buffett Award for Leadership in Conservation. Jaime Incer, president of the Fundación Nicaraguense de Desarrollo Sostenible, is the recipient of the award for leadership in Latin American conservation, and Zephaniah Maseko, founder of the Zvishavane Water Project, wins the award for leadership in African conservation.
They will receive their $25,000 prizes at a ceremony at the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C., on Monday, Nov. 6. Established through a gift from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, the awards acknowledge the winners’ outstanding work and lifetime contributions that further the understanding and practice of conservation in their countries.
Incer is being recognized for founding and leading the conservation movement in Nicaragua from a time when the country had virtually no trained scientists or scientific infrastructure. Over a distinguished career in academia, government and nongovernmental organizations, he has developed schools and curricula in the natural sciences, established national parks and other protected areas, and inspired a new generation of conservationists and life scientists in Nicaragua and throughout Central America.
In 1974 Incer founded Nicaragua’s first School of Natural Resources at Universidad Centroamericana, where he was dean of the faculty. The following year he helped establish Nicaragua’s first national park, Parque Nacional Volcán Masaya. As Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources from 1990 to 1994, he established two biosphere reserves, helped implement the Mesoamerican biological corridor and worked to set up a network of preserves that now protects 18 percent of Nicaragua’s territory. In recent years Incer has helped found nongovernmental organizations to manage two of Nicaragua’s important protected areas, Volcán Mombacho and Cerro Musún. The management strategies for both reserves are considered models of sustainable conservation.
For more than 50 years Maseko has been a farmer in Zimbabwe’s Zvishavane district, one of the most arid and resource-poor parts of southern Africa. Through his ingenuity and despite political challenges, including several jail terms, torture and house arrest by the former government, he has devised and propagated irrigation techniques that have enabled subsistence farmers on marginal lands to prosper as they conserve water resources and practice sustainable farming.
Maseko’s lifelong dedication to soil nutrition and water conservation has generated innovative land husbandry well regarded by agroecologists. He studied rainfall patterns and experimented with terraces, reservoirs, catchments, canals, infiltration pits, ponds and dams. His methods retained the scarce rainfall and raised the local water table. Through his methods the barren land can be coaxed to yield abundant harvests of grain, fruit, vegetables — and water. In 1986 Maseko founded the Zvishavane Water Project, one of Zimbabwe’s first indigenous NGOs. The project’s goals are to educate others about water harvesting and conservation, promote sustainable farming and increase farm income. Maseko, now 79 years old, continues to spread his knowledge and skills through on-site visits and exchanges with arid farming communities throughout southern and eastern Africa.
National Geographic Society/Buffett Award winners are chosen from nominations submitted to the National Geographic Society’s Conservation Trust, which screens the nominations through a peer review process.
“This year’s awardees are being recognized and honored for their outstanding leadership and their vital role in managing and protecting the natural resources in their regions. They are inspirational conservation advocates, who serve as role models and mentors in their communities,” said Thomas Lovejoy, chairman of the Conservation Trust.
Dedicated to conservation of the world’s biological and cultural heritage, the Conservation Trust supports innovative solutions to issues of global concern and encourages model projects that engage and inform their areas’ local populations.
Howard Buffett is an agriculturalist, businessman and widely published photographer. In addition to serving as president of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, which focuses on humanitarian, conservation and education issues, he is president of BuffettImages, chairman of the Nature Conservation Trust and a member of the Commission on Presidential Debates.
Buffett has authored and published more than a half dozen books on conservation, wildlife and the human condition. He serves or has served on the boards of the National Geographic Council of Advisors, the Cougar Fund, World Wildlife Fund National Council, Platte River Whooping Crane Trust Advisory Committee, the Illinois and Nebraska chapters of the Nature Conservancy, Ecotrust and Africa Foundation.