Ecotourism May Benefit India’s Environment, Economy

Mountain View
The Indian state of Uttarakhand has ample natural resources for ecotourism.
Photo by Grey cells via Flickr

Recent assessments of the state of the environment in 32 states across India indicate that the country’s rising economic prosperity is putting the environment under stress, the Hindustan Times reports. Experts cite tourism as a leading cause of the environmental degradation in some areas. But “ecotourism,” if properly implemented, has the potential to benefit both the economy and the environment, according to Manoj Bhatt, president and executive director of RACHNA (Research, Advocacy and Communication in Himalayan Areas), a nongovernmental organization based in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand.

India’s tourism industry experienced a 20 percent earnings increase in 2005, but this “has not translated into jobs for areas like the Himalayas,” notes Bhatt. Despite the region’s world-renowned scenery and wilderness, tourism in Uttarakhand “remains a highly seasonal activity, served through a poor infrastructure and with unsustainable practices.” The lack of jobs has spurred migration away from the area, creating a shortage of workers available to effectively care for and protect the local environment, according to Bhatt.

With a strong emphasis on local self-governance, RACHNA seeks to protect Himalayan ecosystems though community-owned projects and work plans. “Conservation-based businesses such as ecotourism and allied services like organic farming and food processing [have] a good potential of generating quality jobs and income in…[the] Himalayas,” Bhatt notes. His organization trains local people to gather and interpret environmental data and to assess the effectiveness of various conservation efforts. This allows community members to “synthesize science with indigenous wisdom,” Bhatt says. RACHNA also encourages youth involvement to help ensure long-term success.

Worldwatch Institute researcher Zoe Chafe agrees that conservation projects that are developed and managed by the community can be more successful in the long term. “If well-designed, ecotourism is one form of small-scale industry that can conserve local ecosystems and help keep indigenous knowledge alive in rural areas,” she notes. “It can provide an alternative to urban migration and provide a viable financial option for those who wish to work closer to their rural homes.” The best ecotourism project, according to Chafe, is one that includes “the local community in design and execution, truly preserves (and hopefully enhances) the local environment, aspires towards local ownership, showcases innovative environmental practices, and sources food and supplies from the local area.”

This story was produced by Eye on Earth, a joint project of the Worldwatch Institute and the blue moon fund. View the complete archive of Eye on Earth stories, or contact Staff Writer Alana Herro at aherro [AT] worldwatch [DOT] org with your questions, comments, and story ideas.