Establishment of Colchic forest protected area: from opposition to advocacy and expansion

Irakli Dzneladze
Published: 18 July 2020
Last edited: 18 July 2020
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Summary

A significant part of Georgia’s Ajara region is covered with the globally unique colchic type of forests (relic temperate rainforest). Machakhela National Park (NP), which lies between Mtirala NP and the Turkish border,  was established in 2012 to enhance the biogeographic coverage and connectivity of this forest by adding an additional link in the chain of the 3 existing Protected Areas (PA) (Kintrishi and Mtirala in Georgia and Jamili in Turkey).

 

Based on a set (blocks) of integrated activities, the UNDP-supported and GEF-financed “Achara Protected Areas project" has developed a solution that has helped to convert a mainly  “paper park” into a functional PA, and changed the attitude of the local population from mistrust and opposition to now being supportive of conservation and sustainable landuse / livelihood development in the Machakhela valley.

Classifications

Region
East Europe
Scale of implementation
Local
National
Subnational
Ecosystem
Forest ecosystems
Temperate deciduous forest
Theme
Adaptation
Biodiversity mainstreaming
Ecosystem services
Protected and conserved areas governance
Protected and conserved areas management planning
Sustainable livelihoods
Challenges
Loss of Biodiversity
Lack of alternative income opportunities
Lack of technical capacity
Lack of public and decision maker’s awareness
Poor governance and participation
Sustainable development goals
SDG 11 – Sustainable cities and communities
SDG 15 – Life on land
SDG 17 – Partnerships for the goals
Aichi targets
Target 1: Awareness of biodiversity increased
Target 2: Biodiversity values integrated
Target 11: Protected and conserved areas
Target 14: Ecosystem services

Location

Adjara, Georgia
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Challenges

  • The NP had no capacity to achieve conservation goals: no clearly defined boundaries, zoning, trained staff, office, equipment or management/operational plans
  • Opposition by local communities to the establishment of NP and to any actions in the valley, perceived as restricting existing landuse & livelihoods
  • Some areas of high biodiversity value weren't included into the territory of the NP
  • Poorly developed community structures and limited collective vision about future development
  • High dependence on fuelwood for heating, resulting in pressure and damage to forest through poor extraction practices; risk, time and expense for households
  • Significant human-wildlife conflicts causing damage & losses to households; lack of data and means by which they could get support for addressing the issue
  • Limited income opportunities, absence of tourism infrastructure, low numbers of tourists, inexperience of potential service providers about suitable tourism service

Beneficiaries

  • Agency of Protected Areas of Georgia
  • Administration of Machakhela National Park
  • Khelvachauri Municipality, Adjara Autonomous Republic, Georgia
  • Machakhela National Park support zone community
  • Mtirala and Machakhela Protected Areas Friends Association

How do the building blocks interact?

  • Capacity building that combines and integrates trainings relevant to a variety of stakeholders is an effective way to broaden understanding and awareness of all parties and to build a wide basis of local capacities and knowledge
  • Support zone community mobilization has increased their capacity to mobilize and cooperate to achieve mutual social and development goals
  • Development assistance resulted in increased possibility and capacity for communities to develop and benefit from tourism opportunities and improve livelihoods from sustainable natural resource use
  • To support PA and local community cooperation, a self-sustaining NGO aiming to support the long-term development and collaboration of PAs and communities has been established and functioning
  • Addressing specific issues related to the PA establishment such as boundary demarcation involving local communities, introduction of fuelwood alternatives and solutions to human wildlife conflict have increased trust and support to PAs
  • Introduction of suitable management system in the support zone will ensure that all the high value biodiversity and cultural landscape of the valley is covered by a viable management system

Impacts

  • Increased PA coverage of the colchic temperate rain forest in Georgia
  • Capacity of Ajara Colchic Forest Protected Areas strengthened and management effectiveness increased
  • Entire biodiversity and cultural landscape of the Machakheli valley is covered by a viable management system
  • Awareness and understanding of local communities and authorities is increased and they are now supportive and committed to the existence of the protected areas
  • Fuel wood Issues - alternative fuels provide new approaches to reduce dependence and consumption of fuel wood that are tested and being replicated by local households
  • Human / wildlife conflict: extent of issue better understood, new or previously untried approaches for reducing damages to the property of local households by wildlife (bears, wild boar, etc) demonstrated and being replicated
  • Increased capacity of communities to mobilize and cooperate to achieve mutual social and development goals
  • Increased possibility and capacity for NP and local communities to develop and benefit from tourism opportunities
  • Increased opportunities for local communities to improve livelihoods from sustainable natural resource use
  • A self-sustaining non-governmental organization with mandate and objective of supporting the long-term development and collaboration of PAs and the adjacent communities established and functioning

Story

Located in the south western Georgia, Machakheli valley is distinguished with its nature, history and local traditions. in early 1990s, after Georgia’s independence, the countrywide economic and political downturn had its negative consequences on the valley too. After the collapse of largely subsidized collective farming, local residents had virtually no means to survive in the area. Only resource that was abundant was timber in the largely intact forests. Severe energy crisis and high demand on fuelwood pushed locals to get engaged in illegal and unsustainable wood extraction. Due to its proximity to Batumi urban area, forest from Machakheli and neighbouring valleys became the primary source of timber and heating for urban residents to survive cold and wet winter conditions, while providing income for locals. On the other hand, unsustainable wood extraction had damaged the forest and its biodiversity. After mid 2000s, with improved power and gas supply and introduction of new forestry regulations and enforcement mechanisms , locals couldn’t be engaged in wood extraction anymore. In addition, most of the forested areas of the valley was designated as a NP to ensure expansion and connectivity of existing PAs established for protection of unique Colchic forest ecosystem.

 

Left without primary source of income and fearing that PA would limit usage of land and forest resources, locals started to protest. Establishment of PA administration and introduction of regulations has sparked further discontent of locals who demanded abolishment of the NP. When project started in 2014, along with supporting the newly established PA administration, it had to address the primary concerns of the local community.

 

Main building blocks of applied solution are:

  • Capacity building of PA’s and local stakeholders
  • Community mobilization and engagement in PA planning and management 
  • Tourism development assistance 
  • Support PA and community cooperation through a local NGO
  • Addressing PA related concerns of communities
  • Introduce suitable management system in the support zone of the PA

Implementaton of the solution has changed local attitude so that from being opponent to the NP, residents have become advocates of the nature conservation and sustainable development. They now support further expansion of the PA in the valley so it can cover its main feature - River Machakhela, as well as the remaining forest and settlements.

Contributed by

goradze_37426's picture

Irakli Goradze

Other contributors

UNDP project technical adviser; freelance consultant