read 5 min

Nepal suffers from an extraordinarily wide variety of environmental threats. One method of alleviating such threats has been the establishment of Conservation Areas. Yet despite this well-intentioned and relatively successful environmental policy, Api Nampa Conservation Area in Darchula district has not been successful at all.

The Api Nampa Conservation Area (ANCA) is Nepal’s latest Conservation Area (CA) and was established in 2010 in an attempt to conserve the ecosystem of far western Nepal. It covers 21 VDCs and lies under the shadow of Mounts Api and Nampa, the highest two peaks in western Nepal. Yet, nine years later, no one is coming.

Photo Credit: Max Morch

Photo Credit: Max Morch

According to information received from Tourism Development Society, between September-October 2015 to November-December 2018, only 5 SARRC tourists and 59 non-SARRC tourists visited. In over three years, only 64 people came to ANCA and paid an entrance fee. This is far below the numbers required to sustain ANCA.

While other areas of Western Nepal such as Dolpa, Rara and Phoksundo are well known and promoted by travel agents, Api Nampa is not. Information on Api Nampa is scarce and most travel agents and trekking agencies in Thamel know little about it.

But why are so few people coming? As far as tourists are concerned, Api Nampa is an area of stunning natural beauty and offers a solitude for trekking far different from the bustle of the central Himalayas. Hiking trails run directly up the Mahakahli, along the Indian border to the base of these Himalayan massifs, while other trails run deep into its interior. For tourists at least ANCA and other rural CAs, such as Kanchanjunga provide a fascinating glimpse into life in isolated Himalayan communities. Moreover, there is an abundance of wildlife in the western Himalayas with snow leopards, musk deer and a staggering variety of birds, 243 different species, all able to call Api Nampa home. It’s clear that ANCA has what’s required to attract tourists then. So why aren’t they coming?

Despite being almost a decade old, little to no publicity surrounds ANCA. While other areas of Western Nepal such as Dolpa, Rara and Phoksundo are well known and promoted by travel agents, Api Nampa is not. Information on Api Nampa is scarce and most travel agents and trekking agencies in Thamel know little about it. Local business and regional trekking agencies have also been slow on the update with little local promotion of ANCA. Due to a nascent tourism industry in Darchula, obtaining trekking gear and organizing treks is considerably harder to do than in other more established areas of the country.

Photo Credit: Max Morch

Photo Credit: Max Morch

According to Sumit Shah from Tourism Development Society, who works on the promotion of Far West Nepal, one reason for this lack of promotion from inside ANCA is that there is a lack of awareness in local business about the benefits tourism can bring. “Unless they realize that tourism will really make a change in their lives, no one will do anything. They need to be assured that tourism can enhance local residents’ lifestyle and help make sustainable development possible.”

Yet it is not just awareness that needs to be created but access too. It’s a long 18 hour bus ride from Dhangadhi to the district headquarters of Khalanga Bazaar. The nearest border crossing at Mahendranagar is even further away. Long-term plans should be developed to increase road and air connectivity with the rest of the country.

The local inhabitants desperately need for ANCA to be a success. With its combination of natural beauty but little alternative avenues for development, tourism and the CA could well deliver the long-term development and improvements in living standards that has been seen in Annapurna and Everest. It’s not the model that’s the problem after all, it’s been tried and tested across Nepal.

First attempted in Annapurna, the Conservation Area model was an attempt to protect the local environment and promote avenues of sustainable development, all while avoiding the problems seen in previous environmental protection policies. Top down environmental protection policies have tended to ineffective, this was demonstrated with the creation of National Parks. While they created and protected small pockets of protected biodiversity, they ignored the traditional interactions with the local environment of the local community. Moreover, they are unsuitable for use on a wider scale as they removed humans as a component of the local environment, thereby isolating the very communities that its policies affected the most.

The introduction of the CA model in Nepal was an attempt to develop and initiate projects to bring locally minded development to the area and create non-resource extractive jobs and forms of income generation. They address underlying factors that led to environmentally damaging practices and take a holistic approach to the issue, not merely remove local inhabitants as in the case of National Parks.

With Conservation Areas, local community groups are created and they play an instrumental role in running and implementing projects inside the CA. Funds generated from entrance fees to the CA, are used to fund development programs inside CA. With clear benefits to the community from environmental protection, the environmental protection policies and restrictions of environmentally damaging practices like logging and poaching become self-regulating. The community itself, not an outside entity, enforce environmental protection. In short, the introduction of the CA model in Nepal was an attempt to develop and initiate projects to bring locally minded development to the area and create non-resource extractive jobs and forms of income generation. They address underlying factors that led to environmentally damaging practices and take a holistic approach to the issue, not merely remove local inhabitants as in the case of National Parks. But all of this is just theoretical if there aren’t the funds to put it into practice.

Photo Credit: Max Morch

Photo Credit: Max Morch

It is all too clear that if Darchula is to avoid remaining a border town dependent on sending migrant labour, natural resources and the pelts of snow leopards over its small metal bridge to India, it needs more tourists. If the numbers do not improve ANCA will exist only as a few buildings in the district headquarters. It should not be a goal for ANCA to compete with the tourist numbers of Annapurna or Everest, and due to its location it never will, but 9 years after it was founded it desperately needs the funds to develop organically and in a way that suits its own interests. After all as the old adage goes conservation without funding is just conversation.