National Parks - Benefits for Local Communities

Armen Grigoryan,
Biodiversity Conservation Center

Russian natural parks became more or less not involved in local community life although other land users and owners are doing their business now within park boundaries.
It should be especially noted that current federal funding is absolutely not enough for natural parks and without close participation of local and regional authorities, private business, and local population holistic and aiming to the future development of national parks, as well as fulfilling the tasks which promoted appearance of the national parks, often become practically impossible.

Do national parks have alternative possibilities to get deserving funding and keep their integrity as a managed object? Do they have opportunities to develop without opposition with the local population and local and regional authorities? Are national parks for local and regional authorities only federal units that just make impossible using reach natural resources and, therefore, do not allow solving hot local social and economic problems? Could and should national parks become initiative centers of sustainable development in their regions?

To get answers to these hot questions and to outline main directions for national parks activity was the task of the big BCC projects 'Strategy of Russian national parks management' which was developed in collaboration with the British conservation association RHS and with financial support from the Great Britain Department for International Development (DFID).

With a low employment level and poverty of the local population, nature management restrictions on the territory of national parks and reserves without providing alternative livelihood sources provoke environmentally unfriendly using of natural resources and do not promote natural heritage conservation and social conditions improvement.

According to the federal legislation, tasks of protected area administrations do not include solving socio-economic problems on their territories. The major task of protected areas was and still is nature protection with special services, as well as scientific researches.

The main idea of the BCC project is that administrations of national parks and biosphere reserves are driving forces for solving socio-economic problems in ecologically friendly manner and, therefore, they become growth and formation centers for the model of sustainable socio-economic development and also centers of new approaches to nature conservation.

For doing that, BCC tested mechanisms of local population sustainable livelihood (PSL program) and, using them, formed partnership models for protected areas, on one hand, and local people and other stakeholders, on the other.

The following protected areas were selected as model territories for PSL program testing: national parks'Ugra' (Kaluga region) and 'Smolyenskoye Poosyerye' (Smolyensk region) and biosphere reserves 'Katunsky' (Republic of Altai) and Tsentralno-Lesnoy (Tvyer region). The national parks obtained the biosphere reserve status as a result of the project. The main organizational phase of the program took place in 2000-2002 but the developed sustainable livelihood mechanisms still work successfully.

The number and content of sustainable livelihood projects depended on local conditions. The following projects were implemented on the model territories:

  • Organizing institutional mechanisms of local population micro-crediting on all model territories (the basic livelihood project). BCC provided the sum equal five thousand US dollars (in rubles) to each of model territories;
  • Tender for the right to lease sites, objects, and tourist routes on the protected area territory;
  • Development of rural 'green' tourism in protected areas (guest service);
  • Revival of local crafts;
  • Using a protected area logo for marketing local products;
  • Development of fishing tourism in protected areas;
  • Projects of special trainings for local coordinators.

The PSL program was implemented step by step. Its core part on the model territories was the development of the micro-crediting mechanism.

In the national park 'Ugra', the micro-crediting institutional mechanism was developed on the basis of the State fund for small business support of Kaluga region (SFSBS). An open competition was announced in mass-media calling for business-projects from people living in the park and its buffer zone. Rural meetings were conducted with training programs for potential borrowers. The main using of credits was development of ecologically friendly agriculture and guest service in private homes. The credits are returned on schedule, no funds were lost. The income of the PSL program participants in the national park 'Ugra' has increased by about 30%.

In the national park 'Smolyenskoye Poosyerye', the micro-crediting program was developed on the basis of Demidovsky district administration. Consultations for local population were conducted, the learning program of basic business planning was implemented. Over the four years, fund resources were completely used (turned around) more than four times, credits were fully returned, and the return schedule was broken only in two cases but it was compensated later. Financed 30 proposals to the amount of 573 000 Rubles (equal twenty thousand US dollars). The main using of credits was visitors service, ecologically friendly agriculture, and crafts.

In the 'Tsentralno-Lesnoy' biosphere reserve, the micro-crediting mechanism was developed on the basis of Nelidovsky district administration. Five credits were issued (agriculture, poultry, guest house organizing). This model area was used to work out the insurance mechanism for agricultural risks. Although the micro-crediting program in the reserve does not develop fast enough (for a number of reasons), it should be noted that it has a potential of self-developing on the basis of examples of the first borrowers.

In the 'Katunsky' biosphere reserve, the institutional micro-crediting mechanism was developed on the basis of the reserve. A training program was implemented. Five micro-loans were issued, all of them were used for producing and packing of organic local products, first of all mountain honey. Borrowers established a non-governmental association of honey producers, other local apiarists participating in its activity. The credits were completely returned. An average income increase of micro-crediting project participants was about 30%. The number of people whose income increased as a result of their projects implementation totals 16 persons (including borrowers family members and their employees).

A tender for the right to lease sites, objects, and tourist routes was tested in the national park 'Ugra'. It was the first case in Russia when an open competition was announced in a protected area for a long-term lease of objects and sites within park and buffer zone boundaries. BCC developed all documents necessary for the tender and made agreements with land owners and users. The tender was approved by the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources. Tender informational support was provided by the Kaluga region chamber of commerce and BCC.

In national parks 'Ugra' and 'Smolyenskoye Poosyerye', projects on fishing tourism development were implemented. Involving local people in tourist service became an important activity. Fishing tours were developed and presented at a fishing exhibition in Moscow.

Practical testing of 'green' tourism projects (guest service) was conducted in national parks 'Ugra' and 'Smolyenskoye Poosyerye'. Tourist companies, public organizations, various authorities, and district administrations were involved in the projects. The information about private home staying was put together in special booklets.

In the national park 'Smolyenskoye Poosyerye', a non-governmental association of home owners was established, their service is well marketed. The number of available and involved in the guest service homes of local people totals 26. In 'Ugra' national park, 38 guest homes were found in two districts, they were described and classified. Some home owners were contracted by the national park for short-term visitor staying. The national park along with BCC has analyzed the project experience and issued a manual for potential guest home owners on tax, legal, and insurance problems of tourist hosting in private guest homes.

Increase of visitor numbers in protected areas gives rise to souvenir consumption. It is meaningful to satisfy this demand by local crafts revival. In the biosphere reserve 'Katunsky' and national park 'Smolyenskoye Poosyerye', appropriate non-commercial partnerships were established which became the centers uniting local craftsmen, helping them in training, instrument and equipment supply, and in marketing their products.

To increase local people income taking into consideration the potential of the biosphere reserve 'Katunsky' as an ecologically clean territory, a project on marketing local agriculture products (first of all mountain honey) using the reserve logo was implemented. The reserve 'Katunsky' trade mark was officially registered and the product (mountain honey) comes to the markets of Moscow, St.-Petersburg, and Novosibirsk marked with the reserve logo. In 2002, honey with the reserve logo was awarded a medal for the best Russian good at the exhibition 'Regions of Russia' (Exhibition of National Economy Achievements).

All PSL program participants specially outline its great importance for creating a positive image of model national parks and biosphere reserves in local communities.

The developed institutional mechanisms of micro-loans continue their successful functioning and have all possibilities for sustainable development in the future especially given that local resources are becoming involved in the support of local micro-loans funds. This work is the most active in national parks 'Ugra' and 'Smolyenskoye Poosyerye'.

The commissions (councils) established for direct management of micro-loan projects include not only protected areas administrations but also local authorities, public organizations, and local communities representatives. These commissions already discuss broader problems related with the perspectives of protected areas development within the framework of regional socio-economic development.

One of indirect evidences of the fact that integrated approaches of the PSL program are correct is establishing a public organization "Club of friends of the national park 'Smolyenskoye Poosyerye'" initiated by the Demidovsky district administration (Smolyensk region). A similar friends club was established in the 'Katunsky' biosphere reserve (Republic of Altai). PSL program participants, therefore, express their willingness to extend their participation in the protected area life and not to lose productive mutual contacts.

The questioning of the PSL program participants conducted by the Biodiversity Conservation Center and analysis of opinions of protected areas heads and local authorities have shown that the BCC PSL programs are very effective for establishing productive relationships between protected areas and local communities. As estimated, their effect was often bigger than the effect of traditional ecological education programs.

Now the Biodiversity Conservation Center receives requests from national parks and biosphere reserves for practical assistance in implementation of PSL programs on their territories.

Sours: Prirodno-resursnye vedomosti newspaper, # 15-16, April 2004, p.16.

The paper in Russian

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