Forest Wins Prize for Sustainable Tourism
Forests can be easily taken for granted in a treed nation like Canada. In Jordan, a country on the frontline of climate change, only 0.1% of land is covered by trees and visits to the forest are a novelty for citizens. Now, as drought and rising temperatures are on the rise, desertification threatens and development encroaches upon the natural environment. One of only a few national reserves that protect trees, the Ajloun Forest Reserve is 12km2, of which 10% is private land including six villages and farms of olives, grapes, and almonds. The forest is mainly evergreen oak in a Mediterranean climate. Although it is protected by the Royal Society for Conservation of Nature, this status is rare, and a prized location in an otherwise dry and dusty country.
The Jordan Valley Links (JVL) project partnered with the Ajloun Forest Reserve (AFR) to bolster its programming on several fronts. Mainly, JVL is helping to extend engagements with local villagers for greater positive impact on the forest environment. Locals are trained on the value of protecting the environment and on how to increase their livelihoods through community-based tourism, and will build their artisanal, guiding, hospitality, and management skills. Over 3000 people, especially women and youth, will benefit directly and indirectly from the project.
As a result of their commitment to the natural world, AFR won a place on the Top 100 Sustainable Tourism Award in 2018. This international prize recognizes tourist destinations for their sustainability, women's economic empowerment, building design, ecofriendly practices, and quality service delivery, among others. The award has already propelled the forest to new heights for both local and international visitors. Visit rates are already up from the increased visibility, thanks to the prize announcement.
Although AFR won the award ahead of their deep engagement with MEDA, manager Othman Altawalbeh says that "The MEDA partnership helped us to move forward to push the government to support us." MEDA’s support has helped them to maintain their quality of service to continue to satisfy their visitors by ensuring resources and technical assistance for continued training and engagement for community members and businesses, and in supporting the development of an organizational-level Environmental Management Plan for RSCN.
By supporting this model of environmental conservation, MEDA is helping the country recognize and value its natural treasures. Already the credibility from the award has helped them to garner a grant from the Government of Jordan for more renewable energy capacity. Next steps include branching out to adventure tourism, building more cabins, setting up online booking, and promoting its name in marketing campaigns, all of which will lead to more visitors and a great appreciation and protection for Jordan's natural environment. Through this partnership, the JVL project has demonstrated how an economic empowerment project can contribute to Jordan's growth--green and all!