Helvetas has helped make an issue of biodiversity in Macedonia by drafting a national nature conservation strategy and a project to protect a biodiverse natural and cultivated landscape in the Bregalnica River catchment area in eastern Macedonia.
Biodiversity is at risk in most regions of the earth because the human race needs more and more mineral resources and clears forests for agriculture to feed itself and especially its livestock. In peripheral regions of Europe, biodiversity faces a risk coming from a different angle. When farmers migrate from a centuries-old agricultural landscape, the human-made landscape, including dry stone walls, rough pasture, forest borders, extensive agriculture, hedges and meadows, is also lost. And with it the flora and fauna that inhabit this landscape.
Macedonia is a small country, and yet it contains 70 to 90% of all plant species on the European continent. Until just a few years ago, however, protecting biodiversity was a priority only for a handful of experts. In the Bregalnica River catchment area, for example, a particularly biodiverse region of the country, only a few tiny parcels of land were singled out for species protection.
Helvetas has helped make preserving nature and species a nationwide issue and to approach nature conservation at a landscape scale. In the first phase of the program, Helvetas supported national actors in drafting a national nature conservation strategy, a Biodiversity gap analysis and a land use plan. During a visit to the Entlebuch Biosphere at the foot of the Alps, participants from Macedonia experienced a model of integrated conservation first-hand. As in Entlebuch, the conservation program in Macedonia is to encompass natural as well as cultivated landscapes. A biosphere can only be preserved, however, if its inhabitants can still derive their livelihood there. Soft tourism and the sale of wholesome foods from the region can even improve family incomes. In the second phase of the program, we created a tabletop role playing game to model 3 different scenarios for developing protected areas. With this game we triggered discussions among decision-makers, who eventually selected and started implementing one scenario for a large scale protected landscape.
Our conservation program in Macedonia is a Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) mandate whose first phase was implemented by Helvetas and Farmahem, a local partner. Farmahem is handling the second phase alone, for which we provide advice, analyses and monitoring.