Linking livelihoods to conservation
All experiences that Ecosphere offers has an inbuilt conservation charge of 10% and from the organisations earnings 50% is ploughed back into conservation, welfare and developmental activities.
Homestays – One of the foremost activities undertaken to initiate the concept of community based responsible eco-tourism in the valley was the set up of homestays. These have been developed on the principle of preserving the cultural integrity of the local community. Homestays not only help in promoting the local culture, cuisine, architecture, etc, but are also a great way of involving the low income families in tourism related activities. 10% of the income generated from the homestays is set aside for a village conservation/development fund which is then utilised by the villagers for undertaking conservation/development based activities.
Pack Animals – In the villages where homestays have been set up, it was decided that in order to give a fair representation to the entire village in terms of gaining from tourism related activities, pack animals would be hired from those families that were not providing homestay facilities. Ecosphere only hires pack animals from the local villagers unlike other tour operators working in the region that bring in pack animals and all other staff from neighbouring areas of Kullu and Manali. Part of the earnings from the pack animals is ploughed back into establishing better grazing and herding mechanisms, primarily to compensate the community for losses by the wildlife and as a means to prevent retaliatory wildlife killing by the local community.
Guides – One of the most significant inroads that have been made in the Spiti valley in terms of providing quality eco-tourism services is the training of the local youth as naturalist guides. Ecosphere has organised various naturalist guides training programs for the local youth in which experts on Snow Leopards, flora and other aspects have been invited from various parts of the country. As a result of the same Spiti has a ready availability of specialised naturalist guides. The income generated through the same is a great motivator for the local youth as a full time income generating activity. Ecosphere also organises specialised trainings pertaining to mountaineering, geology, language, culinary trainings, etc.
Cooks, Porters and Helpers – Another important area of employment for the local youth is in providing the basic services essential to trekking and camping. These pertain primarily to cooks, porters and helpers who are all hired by Ecosphere from amongst the local community. Trainings have been organised in the past for local youth boys and girls on cooking and resource persons have been hired to conduct the same.
Cultural Troupes: In some of the villages local musicians and women groups have been brought together to form cultural troupes who showcase Spitian dance and songs, which in turn has helped to revive some of the old songs and dances. It also helps to generate an additional source of income for the locals. The promotion of cultural performances is a way of ensuring that the tradition of local dances, dresses and musicians flourishes in the region.
Another group of artists whose art form is showcased through a set of unique performance is the Bhuchens. Ecosphere feels it mandatory to ensure that this group of people are not only preserved but also promoted as this art form, which earlier used to be practiced in many parts of Tibet and Ladkah, is now preserved only in the Spiti valley. The income generated through these performances is a great incentive for these minstrel lamas to continue with their art form.
Green Houses – The set up of greenhouses in the Spiti valley is another way of providing the locals with an additional source of income and also ensure availability of green vegetables even during the harsh and long winters. In Spiti the availability of green vegetables in the winters is a major problem as a result of which the consumption of green vegetables is extremely limited. With the construction of green houses, Ecosphere has been able to address critical issue pertaining to heath of the local community. The excess vegetables grown in the greenhouses would also be sold to trekkers and homestay providers, which in turn would provide the homestays with the option of fresh vegetables for the guests and a ready market for the greenhouse promoter in the village itself.
Handicrafts – Handicrafts is one of the most prized possessions that travellers desire to carry back with them and if they can contribute to the local economy it makes it all the more worthwhile. Various women groups and individuals through the homestays earn a substantial income from the sale of local handicrafts while ensuring the conservation and revival of the crafts.
Seabuckthorn – Another source of income that Ecosphere has provided for the local community is Seabuckthorn (a medicinal fruit with immense economic and ecological value). Various products such as juices, teas, pulp, etc, made from Seabuckthorn provide the locals with a stable source of income. These products are sold in the local markets to tourists and locals alike and are used extensively by homestay providers and trekkers as well.
Other sources of income generation for the locals include use of local transporters, hotels & guest houses.