28 Sep 2018
Dana, Jordan
Sustainable Tourism

Wadi Dana Eco-Camp offers tourists a gateway into Jordan’s beautiful agrarian past. Set up by the locally run Dana Co-operative, the camp provides a range of mountain and valley hikes, village tours and traditional meals for its guests in an environmentally conscious setting. Such initiatives are vital in Jordan, given the country’s ongoing battle against rampant urbanization and an economic downturn plaguing rural communities. These trends come with a second sting — Jordan’s remarkable green spaces are turning to arid desert.

The camp itself still faces important challenges. Civil unrest across the Middle East has discouraged would-be visitors to Jordan, while the camp needs more funding to make its practices even more sustainable. But the area’s natural beauty and kind hospitality have already captivated plenty in the past, and promise to continue doing so into the future.

Bedouin pastoralists and farmers introduce visitors to ancient, sustainable farming practices in the countryside around Dana, a picturesque 15th century, stone village in mountainous southern Jordan. The guests have come from Wadi Dana Eco-Camp, a locally run accommodation business aimed at preserving two of the region’s most delicate resources — its verdant pastures, and the link between that land and the local community. Bedouin farmers play a vital cultural and environmental role, acknowledged by NATO as crucial to Jordan’s sustainable future.

Both small-scale agriculture and the environment are under threat in Jordan. The country’s population has almost doubled in the past decade, owing in part to mass influxes of refugees from Syria and other neighbors. This urban growth, along with the water-sapping ravages of climate change, has contributed to alarming desertification. Reports indicate that Jordan has lost 70% of its grazable land over the past three decades, placing the nation’s long-term food security in jeopardy. At the same time, economic pressures have driven people to large cities in search of work, robbing rural agriculture of its workforce.

Wadi Dana Eco-Camp helps to counteract these trends by attracting tourists to southern Jordan, where their money provides a local source of jobs in hospitality and agriculture. “We see ecotourism as a replacement for the lost employment opportunities,” says Khalid Khawaldeh, the Dana Cooperative’s sustainable development manager. The camp seeks to lead by example, continually improving its eco-friendly practices and educating guests about the importance of environmentalism.

Visitors are starting to come to Wadi Dana, enticed by the relaxing prospects of winding mountain hikes, starlit evening meals and legendary Bedouin hospitality. Now the camp’s managers want to attract more guests and generate enough revenue to make their practices even more eco-friendly.

Keeping local alive:

The Wadi Dana Eco-Camp sprung from the Dana and Qadisiyah Local Community Cooperative, created in 1994 to preserve the community’s social, environmental and economic way of life. The Cooperative started the camp in 2014 as a joint venture with a group of local Bedouin farmers.

At present, the camp offers six chalets and thirteen tents, along with a range of meal options, village tours and guided hikes. These walks are a particularly impressive drawcard for the camp, which is perched on a mountain overlooking the spectacular Wadi Dana Nature Reserve.

Guests enjoy a simple way of life during their stay, with limited access to electricity and its associated modern comforts. This has been a strong selling point for foreigners like Lorraine Walker, a British national who works as a full-time volunteer for the Dana Cooperative. Walker says that she was drawn in by Dana’s natural beauty and tranquility, and the traditional lifestyle of the local people, both of which she wanted to help preserve for generations to come.

Khawaldeh believes that the camp benefits the community on several levels; not only does it employ camp assistants, drivers and hiking guides, but it also creates a market for local food producers. “We source our food from local ingredients, which brings money to our region but also helps to keep our traditional meals alive,” he says. In this way, the eco-camp is trying to arrest the flight of young locals from the countryside in search of economic opportunities.

For Khawaldeh, keeping the communities together has added importance on a cultural level. “One of the main objectives of the Dana Cooperative is to continue managing land as we have done for centuries,” he says. “We want to maintain the connection between people and their land.”

Going even greener:

Khawaldeh reports that the Wadi Dana Eco-Camp is now covering its annual costs, and has even generated some profits this season. Yet it still faces a common challenge for tourism businesses across the Middle East — the ongoing political instability that has driven foreigners from the region. “When we started the camp in 2014, tourism was down because of [the war in] Syria,” Khawaldeh says. “So we probably came in at the wrong time.”

The camp has responded by marketing to visitors from within Jordan (both Jordanian citizens and foreign residents), who recognize the safety of places like Wadi Dana in spite of broader, regional troubles. “We hope that this will insulate us from the international downturn,” Khawaldeh says.

A second priority exists that is closer to home — upgrading the environmental credentials of the camp. Khawaldeh believes that Wadi Dana has scope for improvement on this front, from using more fuel-efficient vehicles to adopting sustainable energy sources. The latter drive has already begun, with the camp recently installing solar panels. An even greener camp will gather momentum as more tourists come to stay, bringing with them money to fund further renovations.

One thing that does not worry the Dana Co-operative is its product. Khawaldeh grew up with the sweeping, captivating mountain views, and the same vista drew Walker under its spell years later. Neither has been able to leave. The same fascination will likely apply to visitors of the future.

 

Learn more about Wadi Dana Eco-Camp through Facebook.

Photos courtesy of Wadi Dana Eco-Camp

Since getting his MA in Middle Eastern Studies last year, David has worked as a freelance journalist based in Accra, Ghana, and Cairo, Egypt.David Wood
Mountain views and sustainable farming draw tourists to southern Jordan | The Switchers
Wadi Dana Eco-Camp Sustainable Tourism
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