Young Nigerien water expert wins top UN Environmental prize
30 November 2017 – UN Environment today made Niger’s Mariama Mamane a Young Champion of the Earth for her work on a three-in-one solution to some of Africa’s biggest environmental problems: a project that uses the water hyacinth, which chokes waterways across the continent, to create sustainable energy and environmentally friendly fertilizers.
Mariama, 27, who lives in Burkina Faso, is one of six winners – each representing a region of the world – awarded the new prize by UN Environment and polymer-producing giant Covestro. The award gives seed funding and mentorship to outstanding individuals, between the ages of 18 and 30, who have big ideas to protect or restore the environment.
“We must find nature-based solutions to meet the challenges of the planet,” Mariama said. “I decided to spend my time and energy on this project because the transformation of the water hyacinth brings an elegant solution to the problem of the proliferation of this plant.
“This award strengthens my conviction in my project, JACIGREEN, and creates opportunities to bring together experts, investors and opinion leaders to boost its realization.”
Mariama graduated in biodiversity and environmental management from Abdou Moumouni University in 2013, then joined the International Institute for Water and Environmental Engineering to start an engineering degree in water and the environment.
She is now putting her skills to use in finding an innovative eco-solution to the problem of the water hyacinth, which, without controlled management, can be devastating for the environment. This invasive alien species grows rapidly in the waterways of the Niger River, Lake Victoria and many other water bodies across the continent.
Although not inherently harmful, initially purifying the waterway in which it grows, water hyacinth becomes a problem once it reaches a certain maturity. It can suffocate aquatic life, reduce access to fishing grounds, lower drinking water quality and help malaria-carrying mosquitoes breed.
JACIGREEN aims to introduce a plant-based purification mechanism to help manage fresh water sustainably and improve access to drinking water. It will simultaneously implement a system to produce organic
fertilizer (via anaerobic composting) – thus reducing the use of toxic pesticides – and electricity (from biogas recovered from the water hyacinth transformation process).
The latter will contribute to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’s goal on universal access to clean energy by 2030. According to the African Development Bank, 645 million African currently lack access to electricity.
UN Environment head Erik Solheim said, “From boosting food crops in the Pacific to sustainable fashion solutions in North America, it’s a delight to announce the first Young Champions of the Earth. The breadth of innovation and ambition shown by the inaugural winners is nothing short of exceptional, and proof that we must continue to channel support to the world's younger generation for the solutions we need to secure a sustainable future.”
Patrick Thomas, Covestro CEO, said, “At Covestro, we feel strongly about giving young people opportunities to make positive changes that directly affect them and their own communities. Young Champions of the Earth has allowed this to happen via some amazing and exceptionally diverse ideas, which help the environment and benefit the world we live in.
“Our employees have also embraced the competition by becoming mentors to our Young Champions, which tells us that securing a sustainable future is highly important for them personally and professionally. We are really pushing boundaries with this and will continue to support the great work of UN Environment.”
About Young Champions of the Earth
UN Environment and Covestro introduced the Young Champions of the Earth competition this year to accompany its long-running Champions of the Earth award, which recognizes outstanding environmental leaders from government, civil society and the private sector. This new, young competition recognizes the importance of supporting the innovation of the world’s newer generation to find lasting environmental solutions to the issues increasingly affecting them.
Selected from more than 600 applicants, the six inaugural Young Champions represent each global region (Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, North America, and West Asia). Regional winners will be announced throughout November.
What do the Young Champions receive?
Each winner receives the following:
- US$15,000 in seed funding;
- Attendance at the United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi, December 2017, and the United Nations General Assembly in New York, September 2018;
- An introduction to the world’s environment ministers at the Champions of the Earth Gala Dinner in Nairobi, December 2017;
- Publicity and recognition through online and global media;
- Access to high-profile mentors and customized training in communications, project planning, financial management and more.
- Participation in an intensive, one-week entrepreneurship course in Europe in the first quarter of 2018.
About UN Environment
UN Environment is the leading global voice on the environment. It provides leadership and encourages partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations. UN Environment works with governments, the private sector, the civil society and with other UN entities and international organizations across the world.
With 2016 sales of EUR 11.9 billion, Covestro is among the world’s largest polymer companies. Business activities are focused on the manufacture of high-tech polymer materials and the development of innovative solutions for products used in many areas of daily life. The main segments served are the automotive, electrical and electronics, construction and sports and leisure industries. Covestro, formerly Bayer MaterialScience, has 30 production sites worldwide and employs approximately 15,600 people (calculated as full-time equivalents) at the end of 2016.
For more information, please contact:
Robert Few, Head of News and Media, UN Environment, +254 715 618 081, firstname.lastname@example.org