Building a successful model to demonstrate that the link between nature conservation and sustainable rural development in regions of high natural value can be a win-win situation in Bulgaria - for local people, for businesses and for the environment - is the main objective of a new Bulgarian-Swiss project. The project was presented officially on December 6, 2012 in the presence of the Ambassador of Switzerland, Her Excellency Regina Escher, and the Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Food, Mrs. Svetlana Boyanova.
Entitled "Linking Nature Protection and Sustainable Rural Development", the four-year project will be jointly implemented by four Swiss and seven Bulgarian partners including the Ministry of Agriculture and Food in nine Natura 2000 zones in the Western and Central Balkan Range.
The project is financed by the Bulgarian-Swiss Cooperation Program as part of the Reform Fund Linked to Civil Society Participation. Its overall value is CHF 4,790,000 out of which CHF 590,000 is co-financing by the Bulgarian partners.
Bulgaria is among the EU member states with the highest percentage of preserved Natura 2000 areas included in the Pan-European network. This rich heritage must be preserved for all and benefit local communities to ensure they continue to manage their nature sustainably.
The project has three important dimensions:
Promoting and implementing ecosystem services and ensuring that the real value of preserved nature is recognized and paid for.
Establishing a better business environment for farmers and local businesses so that ecologically produced goods and services get higher prices through improved quality and marketing and their incomes increase by at least 15%.
Support civil society to ensure effective, long-term and sustainable use of natural resources.
The project aims at:
- Introducing at least three eco-system payment schemes, that will help protect at least 15,000 hectares of essential natural habitats;
- Opening farmer markets in Sofia, Montana, Troyan and Karlovo (direct sales);
- Supporting farm processing of high quality and organic farm products for at least 30 farms;
- Supporting 5 model businesses, based on the use and preservation of natural resources;
- Protecting all 27 Bulgarian rare breeds through establishing of a DNA laboratory for genetic research and control of Bulgarian breeds, contributing to the genetic purity of the local animal breeds,
- At least 5000 children and young people will visit the children's Open Air Nature Academy that will be established following a contemporary model for interactive environmental outdoor and indoor education;
- The Annual Biodiversity Awards will popularize the good examples in nature conservation and development of nature-friendly livelihood;
- The project achievements will be presented to at least 75,000 people during the national and regional events;
- The project will act as a catalyst of civil society initiatives.
The success of the project will be a proof that regions of high natural value can attract investments of the type "2 in 1": ensuring sustainable development and nature conservation. The achievements will be a stimulating example and a model to be followed in other regions in Bulgaria demonstrating in practice that Natura 2000 is not an obstacle to business nor a set of complex rules, but a real opportunity to offer products and services of a high quality and environmental value. These values are increasingly demanded by Bulgarian and European consumers.
This project builds upon over 15 years of Swiss - Bulgaria partnerships in the field of sustainable management of natural resources.