Nobel for ecology recognizes courageous farmers: awards in Guatemala and Slovenia

May 31 2017, 05:19 | by Livia Montagnoli

Two different stories with a common goal: reclaiming the right to be farmers. Two exhausting battles to defend the agricultural sector against multinationals and institutions. Rodrigo Tot and Uros Macerl are the winners of the Goldman Environmental Prize.

The Goldman Environmental Prize is one of the most prestigious awards of its type, and is thought of as the Nobel for ecology. Each year, since 1990, the prize has recognized the commitment of the most deserving environmental activists. Often the spotlight focuses on unexpected personalities from surprising social backgrounds, who merit recognition for the charisma and tenacity they have demonstrated in difficult situations where they must face the power of multinationals and the corruption of local administrators.

Rodrigo Tot

Such is the case of Rodrigo Tot, named for a Goldman 2017 in a ceremony in San Francisco. The Guatemalan farmer belongs to the Mayan community Q'eqchi, who live in the mountains of El Estor in the district of Izabal, 300 kilometers from the capital, Guatemala City. Here, for more than three decades (he is now 59), Tot has defended 60 campesinos whose land and property was expropriated to serve the interests of mineral businesses that require the zone’s gold and nickel. His campaign cost him dearly. In 2012, one of his four children was killed during a raid designed to intimidate him, a tragic event that is hardly unusual in many countries of South America, where many activists’ battles end in violence. Today, Tot’s battle for his community continues. In 2001, the Constitutional Court recognized his property rights, but the government has still not applied the sentence. This farmer represents the reality of many in his zone who have seen their rights to their land denied.

Uros Macerl

On the other side of the world, in Slovenia, Goldman recognized the constancy of Uros Macerl, an organic farmer in the region of Trbovlje, in central Slovenia. His family farm, which belonged to his grandfather, has been affected by the industrial pollution of a cement factory running on petroleum coke that has damaged the quality of the air, soil and water. From 2009 to 2015, Macerl undertook a legal battle against the institutions that gave the industry authorization to burn dangerous industrial refuse. The intervention of the European Court of Justice, called on by the persistent farmer, brought Macerl victory. The court called on Slovenia to recognize its responsibilities and respect the European Union’s standards regarding pollution. The world is one, and the determination of a single farmer can contribute to save it.

by Livia Montagnoli

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