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  Ethiopian Ecotourism
an article by Abraham Fisseha
 
  Businesses sign on , to pact for labour, human rights and environmental standards.
  Building an Ecotourism industry
  Joining the compact
  Enterpreneurs see benefits in working toghether
  Ethiopia at a glance
 

Ethiopian Ecotourism

Businesses sign on to pact for labour, human rights and environment standards
Awash Arba, Ethiopia—It was several years ago that a lioness was shot by a local farmer near the Bilen Lodge, a tourist resort near this town deep in the Afar Regional State, a four to five hour drive north of Addis Ababa. The farmer was eliminating the killer of his livestock. But killing lions is bad for business at the Bilen Lodge.

Lions are one of the reasons people visit the Lodge, which is located in an area rich with hot springs, fossils, natural wildlife, exciting treks. After a shooting, other animals disappear.

But no lions have been killed in over a year, according to Bilen Lodge General Manager Tony Hickey, due in large part to a programme to compensate farmers for the loss of livestock due to lion attacks. “This does not mean the farmers have not lost any livestock,” says Mr. Hickey, “but our initiative has created awareness among the communities.”

While the Lodge has worked with the local communities and provides many direct benefits, such as providing jobs as guards, waiters, house cleaners, laundry workers, gardeners and guides, Mr. Hickey believes there are still many other opportunities for the communities to benefit. The Lodge, he says, could generate far more income for the community through the sale of locally grown vegetables, crafts, cultural performances, and honey production. But that, he says, requires a new way of discussing matters with the local councils that are comprised of village elders.

To promote better relations with the community, Bilen Lodge joined the Global Compact Ethiopia, a UN initiative promoted by UNDP in Ethiopia to encourage businesses to support and protect human rights, labour rights and the environment to improve health, nutrition and employment opportunities in the surrounding communities.

“We do help the community,” says Mr. Hickey. “The resources are theirs and we have to create a good working relation. If we don’t help and work with them, our dream of making business and helping the environment is just nothing than mere talk.”

 

Building an ecotourism industry
Ethiopia has suffered through droughts, famines, epidemics, dictatorships and war, but the country is trying to promote its image at the international level. The Global Compact Ethiopia is a step in that direction.

With a population of almost 70 million, Ethiopia is one of the world’s poorest countries. More than 50 percent of its people are illiterate and the per capita income is estimated at US$80-100. The economy is often referred to as “survival-subsistence.”

UNDP has been working to engage Ethiopian entrepreneurs to support the Global Compact principles and the Millennium Development Goals.

Recognizing that private sector investments generally do not reach the least developed economies, Global Compact Ethiopia is engaging private companies in a manner that serves the poor profitably. One significant area of work has been in sustainable tourism. Hoteliers, operators and other businesses have joined together under the auspices of the Global Compact to form the EcoTourism Association of Ethiopia to help the industry grow in a socially responsible and sustainable manner.

“As entrepreneurs, we would like to pull our resources, ideas and energy together to make a difference rather than go it alone,” says Mr. Hickey.

The programme has been endorsed by the government. “The government has been doing everything it can to create awareness of the Global Compact,” says Dr. Tewodros Atelabachew, Head of Planning and Ethiopian Cultural Heritage at the Ethiopian Tourism Commission.

“We have included the principles of the Global Compact in our second five-year sustainable development plan,” says Dr. Atelabachew. “It is quite new to our country to ask entrepreneurs to be socially responsible and still remain in business.”

 

Joining the Compact
Roberto Iacona, who built the Abule Bassuma Langano Tourist Lodge along the shores of Lake Langano, a Rift Valley Lake, in southern Ethiopia with local materials and without disrupting nature or the surroundings, says the resort provides jobs for some 80-90 local people, either directly or, by creating enterprise opportunities. “We are helping the local people earn an income, either by employment within the lodge or through business opportunities of their own as the lodge attracts local and international tourists throughout the year.”

“I have tried to be a socially responsible entrepreneur since I’ve been in business,” says Mr. Iacona, who adds that he hopes the Compact will help entrepreneurs like himself to incorporate ideas of social responsibility towards a common goal. “When I heard about the Global Compact, I decided to join because I have the feeling that together, we can make a difference. We do not want to see the Global Compact to be a talk show or seasonal meeting. We want it to be a leverage of ideas and concepts.”

At the other end of Lake Langano, Omer Bagersh, who runs Eco-Lodge Bishangari, has also actively contributed to the first steps of the Global Compact in Ethiopia. “We all must move in the direction of social responsibility, which is an important part of our business.” But he adds, “Individually we might have all been thinking in this direction, but we were not able to come together until the Global Compact Ethiopia brought us together.”

“Global Compact Ethiopia is a pro-poor initiative led by private investors—UNDP is only a facilitator, using the advocacy and leveraging power of the UN,” says Antonius Broek acting UNDP Resident Representative in Ethiopia. “Global Compact Ethiopia can moblize entrepreneurs looking to establish businesses in a manner that will make money, help the poor and respect the environment.”

 

Entrepreneurs see benefits in working together

A number of partnerships are already underway. Shell Oil has joined UNDP to develop solar energy, provide clean water in rural areas, and encourage ecotourism.

Aqua Addis, amineral water mining company, working with local governments, has donated a portion of its sales revenues to assist the drought affected populations of the Oromiya region.

“We were all excited about the idea when we first met in May 2003,” says Michael Palmer, who manages Golden Rose/Aqua Addis, a foreign-owned flower farming and mineral water mining company that employs more than 500 people. “Everyone was eager to join hands.

“We want continuity and the sharing of concepts and ideas,” says Mr. Palmer. “We want the Global Compact to help us set things in motion until we take the responsibility by ourselves.”

Mergersa Tulu an elder of the village of Tefeki, says that because of Golden Rose/Aqua Addis, “we have clean water and our children are going to school. And those of us who work on the farm have been able to make money.”

“For so many years, we did not know that we had gold with us,” says Mr. Tulu. “For so long, we have been simply depending on the rain and watching the river flow by.”

—Abraham Fisseha is a freelance writer based in Addis Ababa who writes for many news organizations, including the BBC, the Voice of America, Agence France Presse and the Associated Press.

 

Ethiopia at a Glance

Population: 67.3 million
Area: 1,127,127 sq. km
Human Development Ranking: 169 of 173 countries
No. of procedures required to start a business: 8
No of days to register a business: 44
No of days to enforce a contract:
895
GDP per capita: $810

Source: Human Development Report 2003; World Bank Report, Doing Business in 2004

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