Forests are vulnerable and can easily be taken for granted in countries like Canada that are rich in this natural resource. In Jordan, a country experiencing the impact of climate change and deforestation through desertification, only 0.1% of its land is covered by forests. Forests are considered a novelty in Jordan; every year, thousands of tourists visit the country’s forests.
However, Jordan’s forests are under threat. As temperatures soar, drought and desertification are encroaching on the country’s forest reserves. This is in addition to the urban pressures brought on by population growth, urban sprawl and lack of awareness about environmental challenges.
One of only a few national reserves that protect trees is the Ajloun Forest Reserve. Covering just over 12km2, the reserve is small – its protection is paramount. Additionally, of the 12km2, 10% is private land that supports six villages that rely on olive, grape, and almond farming. Although the forest is protected by MEDA-partner, Royal Society for Conservation of Nature (RSCN), this status is rare, and is considered a conservation success in an otherwise environmentally vulnerable country.
MEDA’s Jordan Valley Links (JVL) project partnered with the Ajloun Forest Reserve (AFR) to bolster its programming on several fronts. Mainly, JVL is helping to strengthen communication and connections between local villagers and the forest reserve 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 3,000 people, especially women and youth, will benefit directly and indirectly from the project.
As a result of their forest protection and commitment to sustainability, AFR was awarded 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 reserve to new heights for both local and international visitors.
The award is a reflection of decades of long work, and MEDA, being a relatively new partner, is proud to support the forest as their success continues to grow. "The MEDA partnership helped us to move forward to push the government to support us," says the AFR Manager, Othman Altawalbeh says. Altawalbeh also mentions that through MEDA’s support, the reserve has maintained their quality of service by ensuring that resources and technical assistance for continued training and engagement for community members and businesses are provided. MEDA is also supporting the development of an organizational-level Environmental Management Plan for RSCN.
By supporting this model of environmental conservation, MEDA is supporting the country as they begin to recognize and steward its natural treasures. The reserve has already seen a difference in government participation and support. The award has given them credibility with the Jordanian government and recently, the reserve received a grant from the government to increase their 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 empowering local economies can contribute to Jordan’s economic growth while fostering environmental sustainability and conservation efforts.