Ecotourism Done Right: Spotlight on Goldman Prize winners who are using tourist dollars to empower local communities and protect the environment

August 5, 2015

Last week we told readers what to look out for when shopping around for an environmentally friendly vacation. We flagged greenwashing and green grabbing as troublesome tactics used by the travel industry to lure travelers. This week we are spotlighting examples of Goldman Prize winners who are engaged in authentic, sustainable ecotourism activities that benefit local communities and protect the environment.

First on our list is Jadwiga Lopata, 2002 Goldman Prize winner from Poland. Lopata was awarded the Prize for creating an ecotourism program that promotes the environmental, economic and health advantages of small family farms over large-scale factory agriculture. She has also been highly active in the campaign to keep GMO crops out of Poland.

In the years since winning the Prize, Lopata has continued to work to promote sustainable living. In 2002, using funds from her Goldman Prize award money, she expanded the ECOCENTRE ICPCC – an organization she founded with her son Chris in 2000. The ECOCENTRE ICPPC offers a series of workshops and holidays that offer guests the opportunity to experience a sustainable, country lifestyle firsthand.

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The ECOCENTRE is situated on a 1.7 hectare working farm that grows a variety of organic vegetables, fruits and herbs. The farm breeds sheep and chicken, and provides habitat to ducks, rabbits, cats, hedgehogs, frogs, squirrels and birds. Meals are exclusively vegetarian, organic, nutritious, “very tasty and beautifully presented.” The hostess’ specialties are beans with herbs, baked pumpkin with nuts and fruits, and sugar free desserts.

According to the ECOCENTER ICPPC website: “Here you can experience living in an ecological house made from clay and straw, and heated and supplied with energy from the sun and wind. You can also participate in various educational events promoting green technologies and harmonious lifestyle compatible with nature.”

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Lopata is also working with other farms in the Polish countryside to replicate her work on a larger scale. In 2013 she created “Solar Poland,” a network of sustainable farm stays offering eco-agrotourism:

“In the project Solar Poland you will find farms that are committed to the production of fine foods (organic and traditional) as well as to taking a caring attitude to the environment, through maximizing the economic and ecological use of renewable energy sources in their homes and businesses… By staying at a Solar Poland farmhouse you will play your part in supporting a clean and green future – helping to make Polish countryside an even more pleasant environment for us and for future generations.”

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Another Prize winner working to engage the public in ecofriendly activities is Ignace Schops, 2006 Goldman Prize winner from Belgium. Schops was awarded the Prize for his role in establishing Belgium’s first national park, Hoge Kempen, protecting one of the largest open green spaces in the country.

Today, the park contains over 6,000 hectares and attracts tens of thousands of visitors every year- generating revenue for the government and providing hundreds of local jobs. Schops proved that preserving the environment can be profitable: “A recent study by Cambridge University concluded that every year 8 billion visits take place in protected areas worldwide, representing US $600 billion.”

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Schops and his team at Regionaal Landschap Kempen and Maasland (RLKM) developed the “(Re)connection Model,” which seeks to reconnect society with nature. Park visitors enjoy hiking and cycling trails, incredible views and other recreational activities that immerse them in nature. One of the most beloved attractions at Hoge Kempen is the barefoot trail, which invites walkers to “reconnect” with nature by trekking through puddles, mud, dirt and grass with only their bare feet!

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Margaret Jacobsohn and Garth Owen-Smith were awarded the Prize in 1993 for their work in Namibia assisting rural communities to link social and economic development to the conservation of the region’s spectacular wildlife and other natural resources.

More than twenty years after winning the Prize, Owen-Smith and Jacobsohn are still working in community-based conservation. But the small pioneering project that won them their joint award is now a national program that has put Namibia on the map in international conservation circles. Today more than 80 Namibian communities – one in eight Namibians – are actively managing and benefitting from their wildlife through legally registered conservancies, covering more than 20% of the country. Wildlife is thriving and ordinary rural Namibians are directly benefitting from living with wild animals that provide income to their conservancies, jobs, game meat and diversification of their local economies. The program is now government-led, with more than 15 non-governmental organizations involved.

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Making sure these projects are sustainable is currently a major focus of Jacobsohn and Owen-Smith, as they are trustees and directors of an upmarket safari company called Conservancy Safaris Namibia (CSN). The company is owned by nearly 2,000 semi-nomadic Himba herders in the remote and vast north-western corner of Namibia. These community conservancies are managing black rhino, desert adapted elephant, lions and other predators as well as giraffe, kudu, oryx, zebra and springbok.

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To learn move, visit Conservancy Safaris Namibia’s website: www.kcs-namibia.com.na

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