Lost Paradise, No Longer “Lost" ; Conservation of Biodiversity in Zagros

Success
A Villager at the project sight

Passing through the vast fields that sleep silently on the foothills of Zagros sierras, lie the intoxicating grape gardens that stretch into the forests of almond, oak and wild pistachio trees; all coming together to realize a mesmerizing scenery of a valuable natural ecotone in Tangeh Bostanak Protected Area, Fars province. The route trodden by Qashqai women beautifully-clad in colors fades into a truly hidden and Lost Paradise, located in Kamfirouz, and 120 kilometers away from the busy city-life of Shiraz, the ancient capital of Iran.

The asphalt route ends where a bridge links worldly reality to a divine realization of Paradise, on top of which sits the Jiderzar village, not accessible by any means of transportation, except horses, donkeys or mules or to walk, better say climb the mountainous forest along the stream that drains all the way down from the fossil-covered heights down to the Kor River. 

Highlight

  • “The project has not only come to our help to conserve the area that is our home, but also has opened our eyes to the fact that we are the real protectors of this paradise." - Zahra, 24, from Jiderzar

Jiderzar village is located within the Kor-Kamifirouz Mountain Ecological Management Landscape (MEML), one of four MEMLs spread across the central Zagros mountain range.  The project, which began implementation in 2005, is aimed at conserving the rich mountain biodiversity in the provinces of Fars, Isfahan, Kohgiluyeh and Chaharmahal Bakhtiari, through mainstreaming biodiversity conservation in the production landscape of 4 pilot MEMLs. The main strategy of the project   is to enable the agencies that govern the main economic or resource use sectors – agriculture, forest, rangelands, water, tourism, energy, and infrastructure – to incorporate conservation and ecological sustainability measures into their own policies and practices.  This approach aspires to making biodiversity conservation a concern of the main national and sub-national sectors impacting central Zagros mountain biodiversity as against conservation being the sole responsibility of the Department of Environment;. DoE’s collaboration with the main productions sectors in Kor-Kamfirouz is targeting 23 villages in the MEML. Jiderzar village is the only community with sustainable tourism being on the agenda of the project. The remaining villages along the Kor river, flowing at the foot of lost paradise, rely primarily on agriculture as a means of income generation. Kor River flows into the Doroudzan water reservoir, a scenic lake whose existence has been threatened by agricultural pollutants flowing into the reservoir. The resulting eutrophication and the depleted level of oxygen in the water constitute a threat to the lake’s aquatic life and the resident and migratory waterfowl that relies on the riches of Doroudzan reservoir. The project is spearheading a multi-sectoral approach to mitigate the agricultural pollutants pouring into this vitally strategic reservoir through promotion of IPM-based agriculture. Doroudzan supplies Shiraz’s drinking water- hence its strategic significance. The project was designed based on a participatory approach underpinned by multi-sectoral platforms at the village, sub-district, district and provincial levels. 

Jiderzar sits gracefully at the apex of the Lost Paradise.  “Since the project began we have grown more aware of the treasure that god has blessed us with” says Zahra, a 24-year-old woman from Jiderzar with ample gratefulness. “The project has not only come to our help to conserve the area that is our home, but also has opened our eyes to the fact that we are the real protectors of this paradise.” 

Zahra has lived in Jiderzar all her life with her two older brothers and her sister, Bahareh. Zahra and Bahareh both spend most of their time carpet-weaving, inspired by the beautiful scenery that they wake up to every morning. The two sisters fully understand the price they have to pay for living in paradise. They have to trek down the hills for at least an hour to reach any nearby school, clinic or hospital. The project has paved the way for a dialogue between villagers and government officials so that their needs are addressed. The officials from the Department of Environment as well as the project team have committed to meet those needs, such as building a proper road for transportation of products to be sold in the nearby markets or in case of emergencies where immediate care is crucial. “We don’t even want an asphalt road to Jiderzar. All we want is a simple, possibly stone-paved one through which we could transport our products to the markets or transfer our sick villagers to nearby hospitals. We have learned that the intact nature of this area is what brings us blessing and more visitors.”

In addition to the road, the project is attempting to address a series of challenges that the villagers are facing.  A rural development framework is being drafted through which their overall socio-economic situation would improve. In other words, the project has been striving to integrate biodiversity concerns with sustainable human development.

Zahra remains optimistic that the project activities can guarantee a bright future for the life of the Lost Paradise, confirming that “Protecting the area means that this area will remain as it is, green and alive. Then, more tourists and visitors will come to see it and that means more income.” 

Unsustainable tourism has been identified by the project as one of the main challenges that threaten the biodiversity in the Lost Paradise. The project has facilitated a series of rural participatory sessions through which villagers have shown their interest to develop required facilities and skills for attracting bird-watchers and nature-lovers.  With the right kind of support from the project, the Lost Paradise may not be “lost” any longer. 

By: Vina Barahman