Ten Faces of EOCA: 2. Funded Project The Mountain Institute

During 2016, EOCA is celebrating being 10 years old!  Ten years of the European outdoor industry funding conservation work in the great outdoors.  In that time, the Association has funded work in over 36 different countries around the world, making a real difference to threatened habitats, species and landscapes.

As part of EOCA’s celebration of its tenth year, a series called ‘Ten Faces of EOCA’ will feature on our website throughout the year.  These ten faces will be people who have been key to the success of the Association, or people who represent key partners of the Association.  It may even be the face of a species that has benefited from the Associations work!  Its going to be tough to choose only 10!

In this feature, we are delighted to introduce the second ‘Face of EOCA’, one of our funded projects.  The Mountain Institute’s (TMI) project Kanchenjunga to Makalu: conserving Himalayan landscapes is a project that was funded between 2014-16 and has just been completed.  TMI is committed to conserving mountain environments, empowering mountain communities and sustaining mountain cultures around the world.

The world’s mountain regions are often neglected and isolated places, yet knowing that many climbers, trekkers and other outdoor enthusiasts care deeply about the people and ecosystems in such remote areas, TMI decided to apply to EOCA for funding, feeling that it was a natural fit between the Institute’s work and the objectives of the Association’s funding.  Having the support of the outdoor industry and sharing a common audience meant a lot to TMI as the project progressed.

The landscape corridor between the world’s third and fifth tallest mountains, Kanchenjunga and Makalu, contains some of Nepal’s best ‘off the beaten track’ trekking. The area is rich in biodiversity, including concentrations of threatened and endangered species such as the snow leopard, red panda and Asiatic black bear. Extreme poverty and a lack of economic alternatives are forcing local communities to overharvest commercially valuable medicinal plants, overgraze grasslands and illegally fell timber for foreign markets.  The project aimed to work with families along the trekking route to develop tourist homestays; train local farmers to cultivate medicinal and aromatic plants to reduce pressure on wild populations of these species and provide sustainable livelihood opportunities; introduce low pollution fuel efficient cook stoves to local families to reduce pressure on scarce wood resources, and reforest degraded mountain slopes with Himalayan Yew trees.

Despite political unrest slowing down work initially, the project progressed well.  Lodge / homestay management and plant cultivation training were undertaken, fuel efficient stoves and back boilers were distributed and fuel wood consumption was reduced in some places by up to 75% .  Then in May 2015, devastating earthquakes and aftershocks hit Nepal, having a catastrophic impact on more than half the country.  The direct impact in the EOCA project area was relatively low, but monsoon, innumerable landslides and flash floods ruptured earthquake-weakened slopes and caused human casualties, displaced communities and damaged micro-hydropower projects, schools, homes and agricultural lands. 

TMI asked EOCA if it could reallocate the remaining project funds to provide relief in earthquake-affected project areas, which the EOCA board was quick to agree to in such an urgent crisis.  As a small organisation EOCA has the ability to be flexible, and has permitted changes in methods and ideas in various projects as they have gone along and realized that things could be more effective with a few small alterations.  Obviously in this case, the needs were rather more different not to mention extremely urgent – so thoughts of helping the immediate aftermath were more important that ‘sticking to the plan’.  

The Mountain Institute summed up the experience of working as a funded project of EOCA: “The public vote which we won in order to gain the funding came as an extra bonus to us due to the huge amount of extra publicity that was generated both locally and internationally about TMI and the work we are doing with our partners on the ground in Nepal.  We were surprised but very pleased with the degree to which the EOCA representatives took interest in our project and our results and were thrilled to have the support of the outdoor industry for our work. Overall, despite several unexpected twists along the way, the project was a great success and a key piece of funding for TMI”. 

Please follow the link here to hear Dr Meeta Pradhan, Himalayan Programme Director of TMI in Nepal talk about the funding from EOCA and the Kanchenjunga to Makalu project.