Oxfam America partner Green Watershed in China's Yunnan Province has beat out dozens of NGOs, small businesses, and local governments to win a prestigious award.
The environmental organization was one of 10 winners in a contest sponsored by Beijing's Economic Observer and Shell Corporation, which recognized groups that designed exemplary sustainable development projects in China.
An appraisal committee of economists, policy makers, NGO leaders, entrepreneurs, and environmentalists, selected the winners from a field of more than 100 contestants.
Green Watershed, an Oxfam America partner since 2000, won praise from the judges for their work in villages around the Lashi Lake. There, government conservation programs and dam developments threaten the livelihoods of local farmers and fishers, many of them ethnic minorities in China.
Based on their research and interviews with villagers, Green Watershed designed a project, which helped the people of Lashi Lake protect their environmental resources and make a living. Now former timber harvesters are growing potatoes, former fishers are nursing fruit trees and Chinese yams, and Yi and Naxi women are attending schools in their villages, learning to read, write and teach others innovative agriculture techniques.
Li Yue-Chun, 55, a Naxi woman, whose family was the first in her village to begin planting fruit trees and Chinese yams, said she now has hope her community will survive.
"Because of the riverway improvements, my land will never be threatened," she said.
Green Watershed is also working to form self-sufficient watershed committees in Lashi villages, which allow local people to advise their government representatives what kinds of plans would work best for them.
"The Lashi project is like a pilot for the whole of China," said Warwick Browne, Lead Regional Program Officer for Oxfam America's Mekong River Basin Management Program. "It represents what watershed management can be."
Dr. Yu Xiaogang, the director of Green Watershed, said the judges recognized the Lashi project because it demonstrated two key requirements. It could be replicated with just a modest amount of funding. And it involved the village's participation.
"They said this is a very alien concept in China—a process that involves the people participating in watershed management," Dr. Yu said.
Green Watershed received 10,000 Yuan (about $1,200) for the March 2005 prize.