First biosphere reserves in Georgia

Mountain village Dartlo in the planned biosphere reserve in Kakheti. Photo: Succow Stiftung /Sophie Hirschelmann

Alongside climate action, the protection and conservation of the planet’s biological diversity is one of the major challenges of our time. While the Caucasus has a rich and varied biodiversity, many of the species and ecosystems in the region are now under threat. In Georgia, the rapid onset of desertification and soil degradation are becoming serious problems. Agricultural communities in Georgia are particularly affected by these issues, since agriculture and trade in agricultural products comprise their main source of income. Scientists forecast that the temperature fluctuations caused by climate change and changes seen in patterns of precipitation will both intensify in the future, further accelerating these processes until an irreversible tipping point is ultimately reached.

Model regions for sustainable development

All over the world, UNESCO biosphere reserves are model regions for sustainable development that enable the creation of practical approaches to biodiversity conservation and adaptation to the effects of climate change. The goal of integrated management pursued in these reserves promotes the regional incorporation of social, economic and ecological interests as well as cultural identity. As a result, biosphere reserves in Georgia can work to conserve biological diversity and ecosystems as well as historical cultural landscapes.

The Georgian government has used a number of initiatives to clearly indicate its support for a biosphere reserve. Some twenty years ago, a national ‘Act for a System of Protected Areas’ was adopted that highlighted their relevance and laid the groundwork for the designation of a biosphere reserve in Georgia. 

Next steps: biosphere reserve nomination 

The project ‘Capacity Development for Climate Policy in Southeastern and Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia’ from International Climate Initiative (IKI) is supporting the Georgian government’s plans for the creation of a biosphere reserve. For a number of years now, the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) has been funding work to set up a biosphere reserve in Kakheti. Building on the in-depth and extensive preparatory work completed by the Michael Succow Foundation, which started in 2015, the project is now working on the detailed nomination of the ‘Three Alazani Rivers’ region as a UNESCO biosphere reserve.

In early December 2020, a meeting took place between senior stakeholders in the project at the behest of the Georgian Ministry of Environment Protection and Agriculture. The event was used to discuss the results of initiatives and activities completed to date, and to set out the next stages in planning. Examples include the development of a zoning and management plan, training modules for capacity development and a draft logo for the protected area – with participative processes being used to secure agreement from key actors involved and community populations. In early 2021, the nomination dossier for UNESCO will be submitted to the Georgian government, so that the latter can then forward it to the UNESCO Commission in autumn. At the same time, an EU-funded project is drawing up plans for the creation of a second biosphere reserve in Vashlovani. The two proposed biosphere reserves are close neighbours in geographic terms and connected by the centuries-old transhumance migration corridor. The reserves will work closely together to preserve the historical cultural landscape, and traditions such as grazing and the seasonal herding of sheep to pasture. 

Close regional cooperation

Since cooperation is close between the communities and the two potential biosphere reserves, agricultural unions, civil society and university and implementation partners, this has already given rise to synergy effects at the planning stage.

Alongside representatives of the Georgian and German governments, this most recent meeting on biosphere reserves in the Kakheti region was attended by the implementing organisations as well as representatives of NGOs and the Georgian regions in which the biosphere reserves are to be established. The high level of interest and motivation shown by participants underlines the importance of involving all stakeholders throughout the life of the project, so as to ensure the long-term success of the biosphere reserve as a local and regional resource.

Everyone involved now hopes that this exemplary teamwork and engagement on the part of all project partners will soon bear fruit in the form of the official nomination of the ‘Three Alazani Rivers’ region as a UNESCO biosphere reserve.