Report by Mary Pitiakoudi
During the summer of 2013 a series of meetings with residents of Samothraki enhanced local participation in the preparation of the new Samothraki candidacy proposal to enter UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere Programme. It was important as a step to send a representative from Samothraki to the upcoming EuroMAB conference in order to be informed on what the programme is about and how it is applied in various places of the world. The initial core group of “Sustainable Samothraki” was formed during that time and a member, Mary Pitiakoudi, was selected to be sent to the conference. The EuroMAB 2013 was held in Brockville, Ontario Canada and was hosted by the Frontenac Arch Biosphere Reserve. Almost 200 participants from 30 countries participated and two of them were Greek. The Chair of the Greek MAB committee Michael Scoullos and Mary Pitiakoudi from Samothraki.
During the conference with the theme “Engaging Our Communities” I had the opportunity to participate in the exchange of knowledge, of “good or bad” practices from experts on the field, and realise how important networking can be by providing a constant flow of information, inspiration and mutual support. During the conference the new MAB strategy was presented and although at the time sounded extremely complicated it gave a perspective of how many steps we need to make as a candidacy and how difficult but not impossible that is. There it was easy not to consider that impossible because I could share and listen stories and practices of so many different cases all over the world having many similar issues with Samothraki where local participation, lack of sustainable education, lack of cooperation and trust were the most common characteristic challenges, as well being in economic crisis. I encountered many cases that at present are advanced in development, but even those in the past had to pass through the same steps to reach the state they are now.
Ηighlighted issues included ways to engage local communities and ideas on how to provide necessary resources when state funding decreases. I participated in the Social Capital workshop where I choose to present the overgrazing issue asking for support and ideas on how to solve this challenging subject while conserving farmer’s income. After a description and presentation of the issue and a short analysis to the group of more experienced delegators the solution that came as the first elegant step was firstly education for all the parties involved, gather holistic information and studies on the subject, study similar practices elsewhere, then start a dialogue and creative involvement.
Another important experience was the trip to explore the Frontenac Arc Biosphere and see how it manifests and how it is organized in all aspects of the MAB themes: cultural heritage, economy, environment, society. During the trip we had the opportunity to listen to the native history of the place, its cultural heritage by an Algonquin chief and learn the current relation of the various local groups in the area.
In the Social Sustainable Economy field we visited an old flour watermill that is still producing local sustainable products and simultaneously works as a live museum. We also visited a small scale sustainable business that produced apples and different apple by-products like cider, jams, sweets etc. They complemented their income by providing educational programs for kids and ecotourism where people could go and collect apples and take them with them at a lower price because they worked for it. This combination of productivity, education and ecotourism is a great practice that could be a valuable example for Samothraki. Additionally they produced maple syrup and honey. Both activities were combined with education. Lastly a vineyard producing medium quality wine that found a way to the Chinese markets that are so eager to buy the wines at a high price through the Biosphere Reserve branding. They increased their income dramatically.
We also explored the 1000 islands in St Lawrence river by boat and saw how efficient tourism is organized in the area. Another important example was the walk in a forest near a sustainable camp place for kids and adults. The trail was made in the philosophy of natural protection with information on recycled wooden signposts about the elements and the history of the forest and its habitats. An art studio was our last stop.
The main essence that stayed in my heart and mind about this exploration in the Biosphere Reserve was the miracle of cooperation. I felt inspired in every possible way and I immediately realized the treasure in which we live and breathe, our island Samothraki. How many things we can produce and create to share with the whole world in the spirit of the Man and Biosphere Sustainability Program. We combine all the treasures but we don’t know how to protect them and develop them. We have an amazing natural environment in degradation that can still be reversed, a natural world heritage that needs to be preserved. We have human social activity and livestock capital that can be used sustainably and in full productivity. We have a cultural heritage that has its roots in ancient history, we have traditions and diversity, we have faithful tourists although we provide the minimum of our possibilities. We have everything and more but we don’t know how to use it, how to protect and market it through protection. This is what I learned by participating in the EuroMAB conference and I am thankful for the opportunity while I am learning more and trying to transmit this essence to my fellow inhabitants.