First Biosphere Reserve in Georgia

Protected areas (PAs) exist in Georgia for over a century, and the first one to receive the PA status was the Lagodekhi Nature Reserve. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) data of 2019, Georgia has 87 protected areas falling under five different IUCN categories, namely: 14 state reserves, 12 national parks, 40 natural monuments, 20 sanctuaries and a protected landscape, altogether about 9.95% of the country’s territory.

The region of Kakheti hosts a number of protected areas, including those of Vashlovani, Lagodekhi, Tusheti, Batsara-Babaneuri, Mariamjvari and Chachuna. Yet Kakheti is famous not only for the biodiversity, but also for its agro diversity and lots of historical and cultural sites and traditions.

It is exactly for this reason that the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture, NGOs and local municipalities focused their initiative of creating the first Georgian biosphere reserve on Kakheti after the studies showed that the region was best-suited for that.

Soon, the biosphere reserve status will also be granted to the whole region of Tusheti, to a part of the Pankisi Gorge and to several villages in the Telavi and Dedoplistskaro Municipalities.

The biosphere reserve in Dedoplistskaro is being created under the EU-funded project “Establishment of Vashlovani Biosphere Reserve in Kakheti region as model for inclusive and sustainable growth “.

What is a Biosphere Reserve?

Biosphere reserves are designed to promote a balanced relationship between communities and the environment, and the status of a biosphere reserve can be assigned to areas by UNESCO.

Biosphere reserves are inland or marine ecosystems that are frequently established under UNESCO’s “Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme” intended to showcase innovative methods for conservation and sustainable development.

Today the World Network of Biosphere Reserves spans over a total surface of 6,812,000 km2 in 124 countries, and there are about 257 million people living in Biosphere Reserves worldwide.

Link: https://cutt.ly/OgcE1Xd

“Once it was clear that Kakheti was a suitable region for establishing a biosphere reserve there, it was very important to inform and raise awareness of the local communities about what a biosphere reserve was, how it differed from existing protected areas in Georgia and what added value biosphere reserves would bring to the region’s sustainable socio-economic development,” says Ms. Lali Tevzadze, Biodiversity and Sustainable Natural Resources Programme Manager at the Caucasus Regional Environmental Center (RECC). “The idea of establishing a biosphere reserve in Georgia has existed for quite a while. At different times the representatives of the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture, local municipalities, the National Tourism Agency and other stakeholders had visited various biosphere reserves in Europe to get acquainted with international best practices and had seen many examples of how representatives of different agencies worked together under the Biosphere Reserve umbrella in order to benefit from the sustainable socio-economic development and to conserve biodiversity of the region; how humans coexisted with the environment by observing  centuries-old traditions, which is basically the essence of the biosphere reserve,” says Ms. Tevzadze.

It should be noted that there are no biosphere reserves created yet not only in  Georgia but in any other country of the South Caucasus. Project partners, the Dedoplistskaro Municipality and RECC expect Georgia to be the first country in the region to establish biosphere reserves in two regions simultaneously: three Alazani Biosphere Reserves in Tusheti and the Dedoplistskaro Biosphere Reserve in the municipality of Dedoplistskaro.

A biosphere reserve consists of three zones, including:

  • The core area that serves the main aim of biodiversity conservation; it is usually a reserve or a strictly protected zone of another PA category.
  • The buffer zone created around the core area and is an area open for sustainable and traditional agriculture, ecotourism, eco-education and training, scientific research, monitoring
  • The transition zone where settlements are allowed and communities may engage in sustainable social, cultural and economic activities.

The following three functions are pursued through the Biosphere Reserves’ three main zones, i.e. the zoning mechanism:

  1. Conservation function: preserving of genetic resources, biodiversity, ecosystems and  landscapes
  2. Development function: support to the sustainable socio-economic development
  3. Scientific and technical function: the function achieved through demonstration projects, research, monitoring, environmental education and capacity building for the purposes of conservation and sustainable development

Examples of various biosphere reserves in Europe show how they provide the for benefit local communities and promote tourism; agricultural products grown in Biosphere Reserves are branded at the market as bio-products and are several times more expensive than products grown elsewhere. There is a growing demand worldwide for products grown in the ecologically clean environment,” says Lali Tevzadze.

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