The Annapurna Conservation Area Project
You’ll likely first hear about the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP)
when you discover you need to pay around US$30 for one of their permits to start the Annapurna Circuit trek. It’s perhaps, at first, an unwelcome introduction, but the more you learn about ACAP the less you will come to begrudge this charge – and the more you’ll understand its pivotal importance in the protection and preservation of one of the world’s most beautiful mountain regions.
Launched in 1986 and part of Nepal’s National Trust for Nature Conservation, at 7,629km2
ACAP is the largest protected area in Nepal and the first designated conservation area. The organisation protects 1,226 species of flowering plants, 105 species of mammals, 518 species of birds, 40 species of reptiles and 23 species of amphibians. The entry fees paid mean ACAP is self-funding, although it does receive support from other organisations including the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).
ACAP has been applauded for its community-focussed approach to conservation, with local people seen as the main beneficiaries of the project and playing key roles in the management, decision-making and implementation of the work it does. It plays a key role in promoting environmental education in local villages, in tourism management and resource conservation and recognising that the breakdown of traditional social structures often leads to environmental degradation, works hard to support and strengthen the region’s cultural integrity in the face of tourism, increased road development and modern agricultural practises.
Thanks to ACAP lodge owners are able to access training and small scale, low-interest loans allowing them to invest in solar heaters and efficient stoves, while forest destruction for firewood (wood fuel consumption for trekkers, for example, is double that of the local population – putting huge pressure on local forest resources) is being tackled with a network of kerosene stores and hydroelectric generators. The project also sets fixed prices for the area’s lodges to ensure fair wages are paid – and a level playing field to help local people can generate a sustainable income from tourism.