links about us archives search home
SustainabiliTankSustainabilitank menu graphic

Follow us on Twitter


Posted on on September 29th, 2011
by Pincas Jawetz (


The increasing demand for ecotourism can play a vital role in saving endangered forests, a United Nations-backed partnership said today, while also warning of the potential damaging effects if its expansion is not effectively managed.

According to the findings of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF), which consists of 14 international organizations and secretariats, including the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the benefits of ecotourism flowing to local businesses are dramatically higher than those from mass tourism, providing an incentive to local communities to take care of their environment.

“Ecotourism has a far greater potential for contributing to income and livelihoods in poor rural communities than what is realized,” said FAO’s Edgar Kaeslin, a forestry officer in wildlife and protected area management.

The CPF found that standard all-inclusive package tours typically deliver just 20 per cent of revenue to local companies, while the rest is captured by airlines, hotels and large tour companies. Local ecotourism operations, however, can return as much as 95 per cent of earnings into the local economy.

The CPF also noted that ecotourism can motivate local communities to maintain and protect forests and wildlife as they see their income directly linked to the preservation of their environment.

However, it warned that ecotourism could damage forests if it grows too quickly and its expansion is mismanaged.

According to a news release by FAO, ecotourism is one of the fastest segments of tourism worldwide, growing at a pace of more than 20 per cent annually – two or three times faster than the tourism industry overall, and failure to limit tourists can permanently damage fragile ecosystems.

This rapid growth can have negative effects, as there is the risk that powerful players in the travel industry may seek to dominate and squeeze out smaller local operators, resulting in the disruption of local economies and ecosystems.

The CPF stressed that to avoid this, training for local people is essential to ensure they can compete successfully for desirable ecotourism jobs.

“It is crucial that local people are fully involved in the activities and receive sufficient benefits,” Mr. Kaeslin said.

Several sustainable ecotourism programmes such as the Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP) have already had successful results. By involving the local communities in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the gorilla population is rising in numbers.

“There is no question that is a direct result of the careful commitment to responsible tourism in East Africa that respects the gorillas and their habitat,” said GRASP coordinator Doug Cress.

* * *


Conserving key forests in Indonesia could generate billions of dollars in revenue, up to three times more than felling them for palm oil plantations, under a United Nations carbon reduction plan that would also secure water supplies and protect critically endangered orangutan apes, according to a report issued today.

Under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), governments are negotiating a mechanism to provide payments for reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and other activities (REDD+), creating incentives for developing countries to cut global warming gasses from forested lands by putting a financial value for the carbon stored in forests.

Overall forest degradation through agricultural expansion, conversion to pastureland, infrastructure development, destructive logging and fires currently account for nearly 18 per cent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, more than the entire global transport sector and second only to the energy sector.

Many coastal peat-rich forests in Sumatra, where dense populations of the last 6,600 Sumatran orangutans survive, may be worth up to $22,000 a hectare at current carbon prices, compared with less than $7,400 a hectare when cleared for palm oil plantations, according to the report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) under its Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP), which Indonesia requested.

“Prioritizing investments in sustainable forestry including REDD+ projects can, as this report demonstrates, deliver multiple Green Economy benefits and not just in respect to climate, orangutan conservation and employment in natural resource management,” UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said.

He noted that here had been a reported 50 per cent decline in water discharges in as many as 80 per cent of rivers due to deforestation in the Aceh and North Sumatra regions, with serious implications for agriculture and food security including rice production and human health.

The report recommends designating new forested areas for REDD+, taking into account the multiple benefits for carbon storage, orangutan habitat conservation and the protection of ecosystem services, while expanding palm oil plantations on land with low current use value and avoiding agricultural and timber concessions where conservation value is high.

The forested peatlands of Sumatra are among the most efficient carbon stores of any terrestrial ecosystem. In the last two decades, 380,000 hectares of Sumatran forests were lost to illegal logging each year, with an annual loss in carbon value estimated at more than $1 billion.

Nearly half of Sumatra’s forests disappeared between 1985 and 2007 and in the last decade, close to 80 per cent of the deforestation in the peatlands was driven by the expansion of oil palm plantations, while over 20 per cent was due to other uses, such as candlenut or coffee production.

Fewer than 6,600 Sumatran orangutans exist in the wild today, down from an estimated 85,000 in 1900, a 92 per cent drop. If this rate were to continue, the Sumatran orangutan could become the first of the great apes living today to go extinct in the wild, with local populations in parts of Sumatra disappearing as early as 2015.

Be Sociable, Share!

Leave a comment for this article