People Provide Missing Piece in Biodiversity Puzzle


Two of photographer Antonio Briceño's diptych portraits from Rwanda. Photos via Art Works for Change.

The head of a cooperative of honey harvesters, a park guide, and a doctor who uses a garden of medicinal plants to treat asthma and other ailments are among the key "puzzle pieces" in preserving Rwanda's biodiversity while providing its people with sufficient sustenance. They are also the subjects of portraits by Venezuelan photographer/biologist Antonio Briceño celebrating successes and highlighting continuing challenges in the country that hosted this year's World Environment Day.In line with the WED theme focusing on "the central importance to humanity of the globe's wealth of species and ecosystems," the nonprofit group Art Works for Change brought Briceño to Rwanda to photograph the land and the people, which the artist paired in diptychs showing individuals and the ecosystems they rely on. Each landscape has a piece missing from it -- a puzzle piece the human subject symbolically holds in his or her hand.

Online Exhibit of Innovative Projects
The exhibit of Briceño's work, "Millions of Pieces, Only One Puzzle," debuted online June 1 on the United Nations Environment Programme and Art Works for Change websites, and will be featured in the business magazine Fast Company. It will also tour museums around the world starting next year as part of a larger exhibit, "Nature's Toolbox: Biodiversity, Art & Invention."

Whether the resource is water, plants, or wood, protecting it can often help ease the lives of local residents as well. Projects working to preserve the forest by increasing the use of alternative fuels -- such as methane gas produced from organic waste -- for heat also help relieve women of the burden of gathering firewood from many miles away. Ex-poachers who have shifted from hunting to tourism earn money as guides that is used to build water tanks and schools, and to support sustainable agricultural projects.

Harvesting Honey While Protecting the Forest
Another program teaching modern and traditional techniques that do not involve burning the forest to keep bees away while harvesting honey. The bees feed on flowers that are abundant in a nearby national park and then produce the honey in combs planted around the area where it can be easily gathered.

As photograph Briceño stated: "Despite its dramatic history and the problems it faces, [Rwanda] is investing in a green economy and policies in which both humans and nature can benefit from each other, where they are confident that respect for and preservation of nature will provide for the best health and wealth of its population."

More about World Environment Day:
80 Ways To Celebrate World Environment Day
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Turkey Report: Little to Cheer on World Enviro Day
World Environment Day and an Interview with UNEP's Achim Steiner
United Nations: World Environment Day 2006
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Organic Portraits at World Environment Day

Tags: Africa | Arts | Conservation | Deforestation | Developing Nations | Exhibits | Green Jobs | Honey | Photography | Rwanda

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