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    Lighting Ladakh: Using tourism to overcome crisis


    International Trade Forum - Issue 1/2009

    © Giles Kershaw Ladakh landscape
    Click here to see the slide show

    In an area once threatened By conflicting struggles of conservation and livelihood, farmers in the indian Himalayas have learned to make the most of local potential.

    There are times when a moment of crisis can be turned into an opportunity. A perfect example has been running in rural Ladakh since 2002: a homestay programme that's using local potential to sustain communities and conservation alike. Pioneered by the Snow Leopard Conservancy India Trust, Himalayan Homestays was designed in response to the increasing threat to the survival of snow leopards from struggling Ladakhi farmers.

    These farmers worked arduously for subsistence, and benefited little from the increasing amount of tourism in their region. Their livelihood was threatened further by the growing amount of livestock being eaten by snow leopards; predators were reportedly taking 12.4% of livestock, resulting in an annual loss of US$23,250. Retributive killing of snow leopards was rife.

    A need to curtail this killing sparked the inception of the Snow Leopard Conservancy India Trust, which led a series of brainstorming sessions with villagers, resulting in the idea that tourism could be a viable option to help supplement livelihoods. Building on local strengths, villagers decided that a homestay programme would be the best way to utilize their resources to earn an additional income. Not only would this help to reimburse the cost of any livestock losses to the snow leopard, but it would also provide investment for local infrastructure and services such as garbage management and forestation. The homestays were specifically designed to help maintain and share the traditional Ladakhi way of life and its values, provide traditional food and be based on eco-friendly concepts, while requiring small amounts of investment for renovation.

    In the programme's initial year, 17 visitors were hosted by four families in Rumbak; by 2007 the figures had risen to 700 visitors hosted by over 100 families spread across 20 villages. All the villages are located in or close to prime snow leopard habitats of the Hemis National Park, Sham, Zanskar and Spiti. In little more than six years, Himalayan Homestays has transformed attitudes towards the snow leopard, from pest to invaluable tourism asset that is worth more alive than dead. With an annual average earning of $500 per family, the programme has provided incentives for people to create livestock-free grazing reserves for wild prey such as blue sheep and the threatened Tibetan argali.

    Programmes like this not only improve rural livelihoods through access to the previously inaccessible tourism market, but also provide tourists with a unique, authentic and inexpensive way of experiencing and connecting with a local culture, with the added benefit of knowing they are making an important contribution to the local community. A recent market survey conducted by the trust showed that of over 500 visitors trekking through Hemis National Park, 60% preferred homestays to tented accommodation or guesthouses, showing a keen interest in local food and the dry compost toilets.

    The programme received support of around $10,000 annually for a period of five years before it became both financially and organizationally sustainable. Its success is due to the involvement of private entrepreneurs and the strong partnerships between them, local communities and the facilitating non-governmental organization. Without a viable business for communities, such conservation achievements would not have been possible. Today the programme stands as a viable and growing business for the rural communities and, in addition, is helping sustain some of the environmental conservation activities of the Snow Leopard Conservancy India Trust.

    For more information seewww.snowleopardindia.org