High Nature Value man-made landscapes
Bulgaria’s Balkan Mountain region contains nature areas of exceptional value. These areas are man-made: in other words, they depend on human intervention. In most cases this entails extensive farming. However, the region is ranked as one of the poorest in the EU and faces high unemployment rates and raging populations, leading to depopulation and abandonment of traditional farming.
Radostina Tzenova from the Bulgarian Biodiversity Foundation: “Farms are small and cannot invest to meet EU requirements or create value chains for their products. They lack the capacity to make the most of the opportunities of EU funds, despite the benefits for biodiversity their farming provides. When the farmers do not ‘manage’ the landscape, it deteriorates. We needed to take action.”
Coalition to establish ecosystem oriented businesses
The Bulgarian Biodiversity Foundation joined forces with WWF Danube-Carpathian Programme Bulgaria, the Foundation for Organic Agriculture, Bioselena, the Association of Parks in Bulgaria and the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds. The project, supported by the Bulgarian-Swiss Cooperation, aimed at three things:
- Promoting and implementing ecosystem services and ensuring that the real value of preserved nature is recognized and paid for;
- Establishing a better business environment for farmers and local businesses so that ecologically produced goods and services get higher prices through improved quality and marketing and their income increase by at least 15%;
- Support civil society to ensure effective, long-term and sustainable use of natural resources.
Radostina: “Our coalition worked directly with farmers, micro enterprises and small enterprises like wild berry and herb processing farms, wildlife tourism and bee-keeping businesses. These entrepreneurs have in common that rely heavily on the rich natural resources in six Natura 2000 sites in the Balkan region. We set up four innovative schemes to pay these businesses directly for the environmental benefits they help maintain, so-called Payment for Ecosystem Services schemes.”
Twenty-five happy farmers
Hristo Vassilev, a young farmer who joined the project, owns a dairy farm in the Western Balkan. “After trying my luck abroad, I came back to Bulgaria to start a farming business. My farm is situated in an area with lots of nature. I manage 80 ha of pastures in the mountain near Vratza and my cows are their eight months a year”. The project helped Hristo improve his direct sales and he now uses a label ‘from the farm’. Hristo: “It was good to join the project. I better understand my responsibility as a farmer to protect Bulgarian nature. I also appreciated meeting other farmers who are in the same situation as I. We can learn from each other”. Besides Hristo, the project assisted about 25 other HNV farmers and helped 13 farms register for direct sales. Radostina agrees with Hristo: “Establishing a network of engaged stakeholders – from farmers to the authorities – is essential for the success of such a project. While the different groups might not share views on everything, the project has enabled them to work together”.
Natura 2000 award
The project is a success. It has been awarded with the Natura 2000 prize for showcasing socio-economic benefits. The jury: “The idea that it is the environment versus the economy is clearly out of date. In an area with such economic stresses, the environment alone is never going to be seen as the highest priority. The project activities have clearly shown how maintaining beneficial economic activities, such as High Nature Value farming, protects nature and people in remote areas”.
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