Note: the texts under all the headings, with the exception of 'Results achieved', describe the situation before the start of the project.
Linking regional development and nature protection
Creating jobs and prospects through environmental protection: Switzerland supported this innovative approach in Bulgaria. The project entitled ‘Linking Nature, Protection and Sustainable Rural Development’ promoted, among other things, organic farming methods, regional products and ecotourism in the poorest region of the EU.
Protecting the environment
- Develop Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) schemes for selected service areas and particularly in support to PA and Natura 2000
- Facilitate the marketing of value-added food from high nature value territories
- Promote value-added food from high nature value territories (organic, HNV, N2000, geographical indications)
- Foster public support for sustainable and equitable use of nature resources through awareness raising actions
- The involved NGOs were able to considerably influence new legislation for biodiversity conservation and better sustainable business opportunities: the national legislation related to nature conservation and local business development has been improved.
- For example, the National Rural Development Programme 2014-2020 officially approved in 2015 incorporates measures supporting agro ecology, organic farming and protected areas defined in Natura 2000.
- The national legislation allowing on-farm processing and direct sales of foods with animal origin (ordinance 26) has been improved. Bulgarian Food Safety Agency applies flexible approach towards hygiene regimes of EC fo small scale farms.
- The Plan for pasture management of national park "Central Balkan" is implemented. It mitigates collisions between users and nature conservation.
- Significant strengthening of the coalition "For the Nature" demonstrating a model of cooperative work between several Bulgarian environmental NGOs (23 CSOs) and large-scale civic mobilization: the number of citizens attracted to the nature conservation increased from 7'000 in 2012 to 31'000 in 2017.
- There are indication of real changes of behaviour of some actors towards linking nature conservation with local developement and sustainable agriculture.
- Payments for ecosystem services (PES) piloted schemes proved to be an innovative approach. 4 regulations were developed that should allow the launching of payments for ecosystem services of forest with public funds under EU Programme for Rural Development from 2017 and with a national scope. 4 PES schemes have been established with voluntary participation of SMEs and are working a small scale.
- 45 farmers are registered for on-farm processing and direct sale of dairy products, honey and eggs. First data shows 3-fold increase of the incomes compared to previous periods.
- A standard for the production, processing and trading with farm and artisan food and drinks under the label "Farm-made" is enforced.
- Farm foods were presented to 16 national and 20 regional events with more than 1 million visitors. 5 marketing channels were initiated by the project and allow for direct sales between producers and customers beyond project's supportThe project fostered the involvement of different stakeholders (NGOs, institutions, farmers, local communities) in project's activities.
Private Business, farmers and food processors; Local Authorities, NGOs, State Institutions
|Directorate/federal office responsible||
Swiss Contribution to the enlarged EU
|Budget||Current phase Swiss budget CHF 4’200’000 Swiss disbursement to date CHF 972’989 Budget inclusive project partner CHF 4’790’000|
Phase 2 01.08.2012 - 31.12.2017 (Completed)
The region of Severozapaden in Bulgaria is the poorest in the EU. In spite of its proximity to the capital Sofia, many of its residents do not have a secure and regular source of income. For this reason many leave their home region to find work in a city or in another European country. A large part of the region, however, is a Natura 2000 conservation area (see box). Natura 2000 is a label given to regions within the EU that have a high level of biodiversity and for this reason are especially worth preserving in their natural state. Switzerland supported an innovative project that links regional development and the protection of the natural environment in this region and in the central Balkan Mountains. This major project made use of various instruments with which it demonstrated that this linkage can create a win-win-situation for local businesses, the resident population and environmental interests. Three of the approaches adopted are set out here.
A large number of stakeholders were involved: in addition to local and Swiss NGOs, local businesses active in agriculture and tourism and the Bulgarian government were active in implementing the project.
Rewards for sustainable production methods
With the project ‘Linking Nature, Protection and Sustainable Rural Development’, Bulgarian NGOs advised the population on how, through the production of regional products, they could not only generate an income for themselves but also exploit natural resources in a sustainable manner. More than 30 agricultural enterprises that received support for the project are now able to produce and sell dairy products such as yoghurt and cheese directly from the farm. The project also promoted the production of honey and sale of eggs. This was only made legally possible thanks to the project: through discussions with the Bulgarian authorities, a new legal basis was developed to permit the sale of agricultural products directly from the farm. To obtain the permit for direct sales, farms had to meet national standards, for instance in their refrigeration systems and equipment for producing milk and cheese. Many of the farmers, however, did not have the necessary resources for this. For the purchase of the necessary infrastructure, the project provided support to farms that were especially mindful to use production methods that respect biodiversity so that they now able to sell their products directly to consumers.
There is high demand from the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, for sustainably produced local products. As a result of the project a weekly market has also been established. The success of the project is clear: there is strong demand for regional produce sold directly from the farm and through direct sales farmers have increased their revenues by as much as threefold.
Theodor, a young beekeeper, confirms this. He can hardly keep up with the demand for honey, and makes a good living from direct sales. The project provided him with support in developing a marketing strategy and with the purchase of high-quality equipment for producing honey.
Nearby recreational area thanks to tradition and good food
Thanks to the region’s close proximity to Sofia, north-west Bulgaria has large potential for tourism. The grassy hills and the mountain panorama in the background attract visitors for weekend excursions, hiking and bike tours. An increasing number of people from the capital are discovering the region as a destination for recreational activities that is easy to reach. To be able to offer the visitors something to take home, Maya, a small business-owner, picks wild berries in the mountains, far from roads and pollution, which she uses to make jam she sells to tourists. Thanks to Swiss support her business will soon offer other attractions in addition to regional products: a workshop is planned that will provide information about traditional Kilim carpet weaving, and in the bakery various kinds of bread will be baked according to local recipes.
Maya received both financial and technical assistance in launching her small business, obtaining the relevant permits to start up the business, drawing up a business plan for her company and marketing her products. By supporting small enterprises that produce local products using sustainable methods, such as Maya’s, the project shows how money can be made with a protected natural environment.
Promoting environmental and landscape conservation in innovative ways
An innovative financing mechanism known as ‘Private Payment for Ecosystem Services’ (PPES) was used to promote ecotourism and landscape conservation, in which the project officers sought companies in specific regions willing to donate money to a fund. From this fund projects were financed that promoted ecotourism and initiatives to preserve the biodiversity of the region. Projects included, for example, hiking trails for tourists and picnic areas along the way. Protected nature reserves were also restored. The fund is managed by a local NGO that has also a mandate to make the region more attractive. This is the fundamental reason that motivated companies to contribute funds. Businesses, such as small hotels and Maya’s shop with local organic products, and traditional workshops for tourists benefit from the increased attraction of the region for ecotourism, since increasing numbers of visitors also means higher sales.
Natura 2000 nature protection areas
Since 1992, an interconnected network of nature protection areas within the European Union has been operating under the name Natura 2000. It aims to provide international protection for endangered native flora and fauna and their natural habitats. Approximately one third of Bulgaria's territory has been declared a nature conservation area.