Baldati Biati’ was a participatory mapping and local planning project to explore prospects for decentralized nature conservation and community enhancement efforts in Lebanon. Baldati Biati necessitates local empowerment through community-based data generation, building consensus for promoting future sustainable planning, facilitated community-based conservation, and contextualized biodiversity within the environment that people immediately respond to. To date, 545 individuals have engaged in the creation of layered maps for 70 distinct towns throughout Lebanon. After applying and rigorously fine-tuning the approach in an array of community dynamics, the project is readily replicable in towns nationwide.
The methodology consisted of a combination of conventional and unconventional participatory approaches that encourage communities to adopt a holistic consideration of their natural heritage and establish consensus on community needs. The project facilitated the formation of diverse citizen councils, comprising members from the public sector, the commercial sector, the agricultural sector, the civic community, and concerned locals. Keeping in mind that a community is not a homogeneous entity, great care was ouyt into forming all-inclusive and diverse citizen councils. Citizen councils are formed with respect to gender balance and the inclusion of social groups that aren’t usually involved in decision-making processes. In all towns the councils met regularly over a period of six months and consulted with knowledgeable members of the community.
The outcomes of the citizen councils included, community-generated information about the village natural landmarks, a geo-referenced database of these landmarks, a contextualization of these landmarks through a narrated village map that reflects local interest, knowledge, and needs, and a short list of future conservation activities based on existing capacity and consensus. The approach of Baldati Biati cultivates strong trust relations with key actors in the community, thereby increasing the suitability of aid projects and streamlining the process.
The systematic increase of participating villages has stimulated the interest of the Ministry of Tourism who signed an agreement with the University in December 2013 to adopt the BVA data and method as part of its national agenda. A similar interest was also expressed by the Lebanese syndicate of tour guides.