All Photography by Paula Cox. Julienne Dolphin Wilding Contact

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Eco Tourism

'Eco tourism' is responsible travel to fragile, pristine, and usually protected areas that strives to be low impact and (often) small scale. It educates the traveler; provides funds for conservation; directly benefit the economic development and political empowerment of local communities; and foster respect for different cultures and for human rights. For many countries ecotourism is not simply a marginal activity to finance protection of the environment, but is a major industry of the national economy. In Madagascar ecotourism represents a significant portion of the gross domestic product and economic activity. One definition of ecotourism is “the practice of low-impact, educational, ecologically and culturally sensitive travel that benefits local communities and host countries” (Honey, 1999).

Feedback Madagascar has been involved in the development of various community ecotourism projects. These tourist opportunities are in line with Feedback's philosophy as they not only allow tourists access to beautiful countryside but also allows an opportunity to experience the Malagasy way of life first hand, they ensure that whilst doing so the tourist also gives back to the community by partaking in a sustainable, locally managed project that supports the local community you are visiting. A rural community 39km southeast of Ambalavao, Ambohimahamasina (literally “at the sacred mountain”) is home to Madagascar’s most sacred mountain ‘Ambondrombe’ It is believed that the spirits of all dead people reside on this mountain. There are fixed rates for guides as well as meals and accommodation at the homestay. We stayed the night in Ambohimahamasina and got up early to pay our tourist fee at the ‘commune’ office; these funds are managed by a local committee to improve amenities and benefit local communities.

The trek started with a walk through the rice paddy countryside on to the steep path through forest to the top of the 'Itaolana', the little brother of the Ambondrombe mountain. Our guide was the keeper of the sacred mountain on reaching the top he said prayers and gave thanks to the ancestors who were thirsty for a sip of rum no less! Our lunch was delicious and still hot! Rice and vegetables followed by pineapples grown by our guide. The views across what’s left of the rain forest in the area are breath-taking. Going down the mountain we were met with a thunder storm and got soaked to the bone whilst experiencing the extraordinary light that transformed the countryside in an instant. Eco tourists are housed within the villages and our trail arrived at the basket weavers homestay with full board and lodging, we were made comfortable in the main room of the house where all the family property was on display. We admired the bright yellow men’s tailored jacket which hung on the wall whist we sipped the local rum to dry our damp bones. The family was happy to provide an excellent celebration dinner which was beautifully laid out on the floor upon an array of colourful hand woven matting that the village specialises in. We visited the weaving workshops the next day, you can see the Andoharano basket weavers village which is part on Feedback Madagascar ecotourism trail here Basket Weavers Village Slide Show

Silk Route Trails for Tourists + Homestay:
The discerning tourist can also explore the traditional silk industry in the beautiful Betsileo countryside of Manandriana. Tours can be organised to the village of Soatanana, 38km southeast of Ambositra (tarmac road for 30km). This is a village specialized in spinning and weaving of wild silk, using traditional methods. This region is home to the greatest surface area of tapia forest in Madagascar. You can see the silk weavers village which is part of Feedback Madagascar ecotourism trail here The Silk Weavers Slide Show

The scheme creates economic opportunities for the local communities and provides direct financial benefits for conservation with a focus more on the marketing the local craft product. There is a very desperate need in Madagascar for responsible tourism that includes programmes that minimise the negative aspects of conventional tourism on what's left of the fragile environment and enhance the cultural integrity of local people.
For more treks organised by Feedback Madagascar see their web site

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