The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Sri Lanka assisted the Biodiversity Secretariat of the Ministry of Environment (MoE) to conduct an outreach program for tour guides and tour operators to promote ecotourism in Dambulla at the NIFS-Popham Arboretum. UNDP said in a press release: “As one of the world’s 36 biodiversity hotspots, Sri Lanka has the highest biodiversity per unit land area among all Asian countries. Protecting the country’s unique and diverse ecosystems is essential in the fight against accelerating climate change and as an indicator of environmental health and resilience. Along with protecting Sri Lanka’s biodiversity, we need to look at the economics of biodiversity conservation and livelihood management. To ensure the sustainability of the management of biodiverse places such as national parks, arboretums, ornithological parks and wetlands, it is necessary to explore innovative methods of fundraising.
“Tourism is an effective method of leveraging and mobilizing available natural resources for biodiversity finance. Accordingly, UNDP assisted the Biodiversity Secretariat of the MoE to conduct an outreach program for tour guides and tour operators to promote ecotourism in Dambulla at the NIFS-Popham Arboretum.
“This program was conducted recently as part of the ‘Environment Week’ declared by the MoE to celebrate World Environment Day on June 5th. As such, June 2 was named Biodiversity Day, and the awareness program was conducted in its honor.
“Given the current economic crisis in Sri Lanka, it is simply not sustainable to rely solely on public funding for conservation and protection. Therefore, it is essential to explore methods to achieve financial sustainability of biodiversity conservation. The sustainable use of natural resources and biodiversity for livelihoods and income generation is one such method to achieve conservation while empowering communities in surrounding areas.
“An arboretum is a botanical collection made up of a wide variety of species and trees. The NIFS-Popham Arboretum is located 2.5 km from Dambulla and was donated to the National Institute for Basic Studies (NIFS) in 1989 to conduct research and teaching activities. This arboretum hosts many local and foreign researchers for ecological research purposes and is a popular tourist destination due to its unique biodiversity. The arboretum has rich vegetation of over 200 plant species and a variety of unique fauna to discover, and it acts as a restoration site for valuable and endangered native forest species.
“There is significant potential to further develop the arboretum as an ecotourism destination, as it hosts many activities such as day and night game drives, camping, and provides other accommodation and research facilities. The Ministry of Education plans to develop this arboretum into a profitable and sustainable ecotourism enterprise, while ensuring the maintenance of its unique and valuable ecology.Speaking at the workshop, Dr. RDS Jayathunga of the Ministry of Education Environment said: “Biodiversity in Sri Lanka has faced many challenges. Ecotourism has been identified as a major area to foster biodiversity conservation… It contributes to community development.”
“UNDP Sri Lanka and the European Union (EU) have partnered to support the revitalization of Sri Lanka’s tourism industry with the Ministry of Tourism. With the overall support provided by the project “Transforming Tourism in Sri Lanka: Emerging from the Crisis as a Strong, Resurgent and Rebranded Industry”, this outreach program was just one step in the development of this arboretum in as a tourist experience, and it aims to provide guides and tour operators to the area with the knowledge to promote it as a sustainable nature-based experience. Participants were enriched with knowledge of the biodiversity value of the arboretum, the role of a tour guide in ecotourism practices, and ecotourism opportunities in the arboretum, with space provided for guides also share their ideas and experiences.
“Commenting on the EU’s overall support to the tourism industry, Ms. Harshani Halangode from the EU said “with the valuable partnership with UNDP, we aim to revitalize and transform the tourism industry into a resilient sector , durable and intrinsic. We are happy to support high-end tourist guides and tour operators in the region, supporting livelihoods, developing the skills of young people and supporting rural communities”.
“The collaboration between the EU and UNDP demonstrates the critical importance of tourism to Sri Lanka’s economic recovery at this critical juncture.
Speaking on the partnership, Ms. Malin Herwig, UNDP Deputy Resident Representative in Sri Lanka, said: “In close partnership with the EU, we are working to protect natural and cultural assets, so that they are protected for tourism and other needs”. and sectors. With generous support from the EU for the Tourism Transformation Project, we are building initiatives to lay the foundation for further investment in an innovative and nature-based tourism sector.”
“The Tourism Transformation Project aims to address the urgent needs of the industry, strengthening the institutional framework and capacity to put it on the path to a greener and more resilient future, with a focus on such initiatives aimed at the conservation of biodiversity through the sustainable use of natural resources for livelihoods and income generation.