Joint effort to revamp the Simien National Park

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – Hubert H. Humphrey once said, “The impersonal hand of government can never replace the helping hand of a neighbour.” Though, one may interpret this saying in a variety of ways, it clearly tells the significance of a neighbour in one’s life. Of course, people who live in a nearby can have indispensable role either in time of difficulty or happiness. This is enhanced by the Ethiopian proverb that goes “Far better a neighbour that is near than a brother far off.” The analogy is that nobody can be more aware of the reality of parks on the ground beyond the local community who lives in the immediate vicinity.

Tourism in Ethiopia is showing gradual growth and nowadays it is making contributions to supporting and accelerating national developments more than ever ; especially to meet the growth and transformation plan. In this regard, effectively utilizing the parks as major tourist destination sites would be of great importance as the country have parks which are registered in World Heritage List.

Nevertheless, as various sources indicate, due to lack or absence of integrated park development with the nearby local community, utilizing them to be sources of income have been left with no due emphasis for many years. However, recently a practice that could be taken as a model has been uncovered with the launch of a new project called Simien Community Tourism Project (SIMCOT), which intends to create an opportunity for the local community to participate in the development process of Simien National Park in particular and tourism development of the country in general.

World Heritage Site 

The Simien National Park is one of the country’s tourist destinations registered as the World Heritage Site since 1978. According to various travel journals and documented testimonies of global travelers in Ethiopia, the landscape of the Simien National Park is one of the most thrilling in the world. Dr. Endalkachew Teshome, who is an instructor at the Gondar University, has recently conducted research on the park and says the Simien National Park has more than 500 plant species and 23 mammals among the mammals 4 of them are endemic to Ethiopia.

Other sources also indicate that the park forms part of the Afroalpine Centre of Plant Diversity and the Eastern Afromontane biodiversity hotspot, and it is home to a number of globally threatened species. Among others, the park is home to some extremely rare animals such as the gelada baboon, Simien fox and Walia Iibex, a goat species found nowhere else in the world. Walia ibex on the north scarp of the massif are endemic to the Simen Mountains, with most of the population occurring in the park. Simen Fox are endemic to Ethiopia, and other mammals include the hamadryas baboon, colobus monkey, leopard, caracal, wild cat, spotted hyena, jackal and several large herbivores, including bushbuck, common duiker and klipspringer. The 400 bird species include lammergeyer, Verreaux’s eagle, kestrel, lanner falcon and augur buzzard. 63 bird species, including seven endemics are registered .

Although some decades have passed since the Park was registered by UNESCO and is depicted to have ample potential for tourism, sources show that it has not yet been exploited properly due to a number of challenges. Even worse, in 1996, the park was added to the list of World Heritages that were in danger due to the continued agricultural land expansion in the park area. Activities like cultivation, mining, woodcutting, hunting and construction of permanent as well as semi-permanent structures have been threatening to the extent of absolute depletion of the resources within the park.

Safeguarding the Environment

According to Simien National Park Head Sisay Mequanent UNESCO has set four actions to be taken on the park in order to save the park from various dangers. These are safeguarding from environmental degradation by the local community, increasing endemic wildlife particularly Walia Ibex and Simien Fox, boundary expansion and demarcation.

As part of this effort, it is a recent memory that a little over 30,000 people residing in 13 villages within the park were resettled outside of the park. This took place following the regional government’s resettlement programme though some 250 residents have not yet left in one village.

To compensate those resettled residents the regional government is promoting various alternative sources of income in their new residential areas. Tourism has become one of the alternative income sources and it is bearing fruit thanks to the support from the Austrian Development Cooperation (ADC). In addition to this, ADC has organized a number of awareness creation workshops to minimize, if possible even to eliminate, illegal hunting and other environmental pressures on the park from the local community.

According to Simien National Park Office Statistics, 8,622 tourists have visited the park within the last six months of which 653 were local visitors. However, the figure less by 129 tourists as compared to the same period last year. As the better situations have made tourists to stay for prolonged period than before, the park’s income increased by 19,208.

In the meantime another supplementary project called Simien Community Tourism Project (SIMCOT) was recently launched. The project is run by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and aims at further strengthening the community’s benefit from the tourism sector; conserve the natural heritage of the park via increased public participation as well as exploit other alternative tourist attractions.

According to the Chief Adviser of the project, Dr. Noriaki Nishiyama, the project was launched following the government’s request for technical support in the sector. Dr. Noriaki underlined that the launching of the project will have multifaceted benefits by ensuring sustainable tourism development to local communities through public private-partnership. Among others, the project is improving and increasing eco-tourism facilities, without impairing the park’s natural and scenic values, and it would be focused to create additional revenue for the community.

In this regard, the project aims to utilize the meanings and values of original regional resources of nature, history and culture as tourism resources. In so doing, Dr. Noriaki says New points of view such as ‘intangible heritage’ and ‘cultural landscape’ will be introduced.” In relation to this, “The agricultural village landscape as well as performance cultures such as funeral, marriage, festivals, and games in Simien National Park and surrounding areas will be screened and utilized as tourism resources” she said.
To sum up, the effort to revitalize the Simien National Park has already started to bear tangible fruit both in terms of protecting the natural heritage and making the community benefit from its tourist resources. The participation of development partners in such a way could be taken as a model to other joint development ventures either in tourism or in other sectors. There should be similar efforts in the country’s other untapped tourist destinations to enable the country gain the necessary benefits.

Source: Ethiopian Herald



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