Source: Unsplash

Joining Hands: The Decade of Action on the SDGs

Community-based approaches, like bamboo development projects, hold great potential to move us forward for achieving the UN SDGs.

The year 2020 was a year that will go down in the annals for its significance on many fronts. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic impacted several key sectors, primarily health and education, and the economies of virtually all countries on the globe. The uncertainty related to the progress of the pandemic impacted the planning and goal setting of organizations worldwide. For many, the plans and targets set at the beginning of the year were rendered obsolete by the end. One objective that remained relevant amid the uncertainty presented by the pandemic was the commemoration of the year 2020 as the beginning of the ‘Decade of Action’ on the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The United Nations SDGs // Source: UN

The SDGs, adopted in 2015, outline seventeen interconnected goals that acknowledge that efforts to end poverty must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health, education, reduce inequality and tackle the challenges of climate change. Assessment of the first five years of SDGs implementation suggest that the world is off track to realize the set objectives by the 2030 target. Meanwhile, extreme weather events, wildfires and related environmental challenges, particularly, over the past few decades necessitate accelerated action if a planetary catastrophe is to be avoided. Given these ongoing and persistent challenges, the UN in September 2019 called on all sectors of society (global, national, local and individuals) to mobilize for a ‘Decade of Action’ on the SDGs. This call emphasizes the need for cross-sectoral coordination and collaboration in the implementation of the SDGs with a call for faster and more ambitious responses to stimulate environmental, social and economic transformation. Maintaining focus on the SDGs implies a holistic approach to development that focuses not only on the wellbeing of humans but also safeguards the planet upon which human lives depend. Actions to accelerate progress on the SDGs are even more urgent now because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic which threatens to derail SDGs implementation.

Non-state actors, specifically community-based organizations promoting conservation, are relevant stakeholders with activities that contribute to the objectives of the SDGs. Organizations promoting sustainable development present an opportunity to pursue a path of green recovery from the negative impacts on the economy and the planet.

Community-based organizations reflect a change in focus from these top-down approaches to the bottom-up, where local goals tend to focus on regaining autonomy and control over natural resources and improving social and economic wellbeing. Community-based programs are generally based on the premise that local people have greater interest in the sustainable use of natural resource than outside actors, and thus can be more cognizant of the intricacies of local ecological processes and practices. While it is important not to essentialize or homogenize ideas of ‘community’ and ‘conservation’ without regard for local contexts, finding innovative solutions to complex environmental and development issues often requires outside expertise and training in collaboration with local knowledge. In this way, community-based organizations can help to ensure a holistic and cautioned approach to development. This approach is unique in that it often considers differing worldviews that may reflect alternative definitions of conservation and development, local systems of land tenure, and the gendered divisions of labour in economic activities, to ensure that rural communities really do benefit from these initiatives. Community-based approaches highlight the importance of local context and agency, and that there is no one size fits all approach to achieving SDG objectives.

Bamboo provides a prime example of a resource that has been increasingly promoted as contributing to sustainable futures, as it is sought-after in diverse industries of the growing global “green economy” as an alternative to timber due to its fast-growing and structurally durable properties. Bamboo is considered a resource that—when grown and harvested following sustainable management practices—can achieve positive environmental, social, and economic outcomes. Ecosystem services provided by bamboo include carbon storage and sequestration, soil and water regulation, and biodiversity conservation.

Bamboo forest // Source: Unsplash

In many bamboo habitat countries, the resource plays an important role in cultural heritage and provides socio-economic benefits through supplementary income for the rural poor. Due to these components, bamboo is promoted to contribute to at least seven of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) including: no poverty (SDG 1); affordable and clean energy (SDG 7); sustainable cities and communities (SDG 11); responsible consumption and production (SDG 12); climate action (SDG 13); life on land (SDG 15); and partnerships for the SDG goals (SDG 17).

Credit: Tamara L. Britton and Eunice A. Annan-Aggrey

Community-based bamboo development projects are taking place all over the world, ranging from bamboo charcoal projects as an economically viable alternative to wood charcoal in Madagascar; community-based bamboo nurseries in the Philippines; bamboo disaster relief building projects, construction and bamboo management training programs in Ecuador and Nicaragua; community-based bamboo processing factories in China; and community-based management of natural bamboo forests in Laos.

Due to small budgets, community-based projects like these often cannot compete with the wide scale promotion and ambitious claims made by larger-scale development initiatives. However, in practice, many community-based programs often have a greater long-term impact on community wellbeing and autonomy. Thus, there is a research gap to be addressed on the contribution of smaller-scale grassroots conservation movements and researchers from Global South countries regarding SDG objectives.  

Credit: Tamara L. Britton and Eunice A. Annan-Aggrey

In a post-pandemic world, if SDG targets are to be met amidst an increasingly uncertain economic future, it is crucial that conservation and development projects invest in building resilient communities through agroecological solutions and strengthening environmental stewardship to ensure that the rural poor are not completely dependent on external markets for their livelihoods.

The UN Decade of Action is a clarion call for an ‘all hands on deck’ approach to keep the wheels of development turning.

The SDGs include an ambitious target to combat climate change. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed vulnerabilities of the economic systems upon which development is hinged. Thus, the need for integrated development that encompasses socio-economic and environmental progress is relevant now more than ever. The UN Decade of Action is a clarion call for an ‘all hands on deck’ approach to keep the wheels of development turning. Community-based organizations are rising to the task. Indeed, integrated solutions and green alternatives chart a course that holds optimism for a greener, more inclusive future.

This article is part of our March 2021 Western Student Editorial Series – a series that showcases the works of students in the Collaborative Specialization in Environment and Sustainability program. Read more articles from this series here!

Eunice is a PhD Candidate with the Department of Geography and Environment and she is also in the collaborative program in Environment and Sustainability. She holds a BSc in Renewable Natural Resource Management and a Master’s degree in Development Management. Her research interests include the Sustainable Development Goals, gender equality, climate change, and local governance. Outside academia, Eunice likes to spend time cooking and reading.

Tamara is a PhD candidate at the University of Western Ontario in the Department of Anthropology & Centre for Environmental Sustainability, member of the Regenerative Industry Think Tank (RITT), affiliated member of the UBC Bamboo Research Group, and co-founder of the MonoMico Project. She holds a MA from the University of Western Ontario in Anthropology and Environmental Sustainability, and a MA in Immigration and Settlement Studies from Ryerson University. Her PhD research interests include: Sustainable bamboo management practices, human-primate-environmental interactions and conservation implications in agroforestry ecosystems in coastal Ecuador. Tamara enjoys hiking, yoga and spending time at her family cottage in her spare time.