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 more and more land 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 man-made biotope, including dry stone walls, rough pasture, forest borders, hedges and meadows, is also lost. And with it the flora and fauna that inhabit this biotope.
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 here. 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. In the first phase of the program, we drafted a national nature conservation strategy. Now it is a matter of breaking the national strategy down into regional and local levels. For the Bregalnica catchment, Helvetas has drawn up a land-use plan and a strategy to promote tourism inspired by the Swiss approach to UNESCO Biosphere Reserves.
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. So environmentally friendly farming and the development of value-added chains are cornerstones of our program in Macedonia to ensure that nature and landscapes are treasured and protected as a valuable resource.
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.