Last year Betty Vassilievi, farmer in the village of Gorno Pole in the Eastern Rhodopi Mountains of Bulgaria, announced that she and her husband Nikki planned to expand their bed and breakfast facilities to four rooms, a dining room and a kitchen. “We have also broadened our activity programme for the tourists with horse riding, nature walks and boat trips. Another important aspect of our sustainable B&B is that we grow our own organic food and maintain a herd of Rhodope Shorthorn cattle.”
Three years ago the New Thracian Gold project started in the beautiful Eastern Rhodopes with its high nature values and up to then rather limited economic opportunities. The foundations Ark (nature management ) and Avalon (organic farming) are supporting the local population with the:
- Reintroduction of local endangered grazers to preserve the characteristic half-open landscapes, precondition for a wide variety of wild flora and fauna;
- Development of organic farming, beneficial to the preservation of the natural landscape, while at the same time providing a better margin for the farmers and attracting tourists to the region;
- Support for sustainable tourist activities, aiming at the group of tourists who like rugged surroundings, stunning nature and a good organic meal.
Within a couple of years this approach will start to prove its value. Young couples like Betty and Nikki have found an alternative way to add to their income as farmers. As a result they will be less tempted to move to the city (with possible uncertain economic perspectives), and will continue their extensive farming practices, which in turn are essential for the preservation of this unique mountain area. The downward spiral of depopulation, land abandonment, forest encroachment and decrease of biodiversity can be reversed. After a number of years the region will be able to sustain itself through this new economic concept where organic farming, nature conservation and sustainable tourism work in synergy to the benefit of its inhabitants and the local economy. In the region where the Thracians used to forge their beautiful golden jewelry many centuries ago, now seeds of a different but sustainable prosperity are being sown.
In developing economies all over the world there are regions where agricultural production is limited and nature values are high. In many of these regions similar concepts can be developed.
Avalon has been an active member of IFOAM since its establishment in 1991. It services a network of 180 organisations in over thirty countries. With these partners it has implemented over a hundred small and large projects on the cutting edge of organic farming and nature conservation. Avalon strongly believes that new alliances need to be forged to further strengthen the organic movement. It wants to contribute to a real paradigm shift on food and agriculture both in policy and practice. Alliances where values converge can contribute to this paradigm shift. Organisations for nature conservation, biodiversity, health, food security, environment, climate solutions, animal rights, slow/local/urban food, fair trade and gender issues are all logical potential allies. In this light organic farming is not a goal in itself, but will prove to be an important instrument towards this much needed multi-value paradigm shift.