How have benefits that accrued from international ecotourism to remote villages in the tropics, (ie ecotourism revenue from “high income economies” to the backwoods of the “Global South”) been destroyed by the lockdown response to a Coronavirus pandemic over the past year and a half?
I’m talking here primarily about grass roots private ecotourism initiatives in situ.
Imagine some folk living in a rustic hamlet, at the end of a very rough track on the edge of a large forest, full of wildlife, on a mountain side somewhere in the tropics.
The villagers cut and clear patches of the forest every year. They must do this to grow some cereals, produce bananas and such like, mainly for their subsistence, they also hunt & they trap and they gather herbs and wood …but only what they need.
Then with improvements in the condition of the road tourists start to come. It’s the intrepid hard core birders who come first. They come to see the “Glorious Mountain Forest Fowl” that lives deep in the forest, high up on the mountain. Even these tough guys need fresh clean water, a decent place to sleep, some fresh food and above all local guides. Village men to show them the narrow hunting trails that might take them up & down the mountain. In fact, being city folk, they actually need the hunters to help them find this very shy and secretive bird, a bird whose call has never been recorded.
For a few years all goes well.It’s a great success. The family makes a little lodge and industriously provide the visiting birders with everything they need. A sister-in-law and another neighbour’s family soon do the same. It’s necessary to accommodate the increasing number of tour groups, and their local guides and drivers, who are now coming to the village.
Mammal watchers also come to see the “Happy Monkey” and there are mountain forest trekkers, and ecologists and foreign students from universities that are so far away, they come too.
Then Bang! It’s 2020 and it’s Covid Time.So all those Tourist-filled Flights from far way stop coming, for this is a mountain in an “unhealthily Red”, and relatively powerless, country ‘down there’ in the tropics.
What on Earth can the village families do now to sustain themselves?
They cannot ‘go back’ to their old ways of subsistence farming, to what’s been called swidden agriculture, that’s “slash & burn” to some. Because the population of the village has grown since the better road and the tourists arrived.
Without alternatives though, they have to. Some even decide that they must start to catch and sell the Glorious Mountain Forest Fowl itself. Sell some of the birds to smart dealers from city, guys who have been offering a lot of money to get their hands on a pair. No worries, it’s for captive breeding, they say! So the villagers agree. What else can they do to keep the new school and clinic open?
But instead of good news the villagers soon learn that the birds are being killed, and their skins and bones are being smuggled out of the country, for scientific and medicinal reasons, neither of which can the villagers even barely begin to imagine … let alone to understand.
By the time a few tourists finally begin to trickle back in 2023 the “always-giving” Glorious Mountain Forest Fowl … that had sustained and improved life in the village for those several years, earning the money to fund that little school, provide a teacher’s salary and a health centre with a well trained nurse, it even enabled the establishment of an indigenous tree nursery … this bird, the bird that metaphorically laid those golden eggs, “has gone extinct”. It is no more. And as for the village? It’s better not to say.
Is this happening? Or what’s going to happen? Increasingly likely in our top down world, our once supposedly free and democratic world, a world that’s quickly turning upside down?
Let me know your thoughts and any contacts and there in the south.
James A. Wolstencroft