Oltenia de sub Munte (Oltenia under the Mountains), Vâlcea County, Romania 

Oltenia de sub Munte (‘Oltenia’) is a 64,000 hectare landscape in the southern and Sub-Carpathians, in Vâlcea County, Romania. ‘Oltenia’ is an area rich in biodiversity, geodiversity and cultural diversity: it is home to 1302 hectares of virgin forests and The Buila-Vanturarita National Park, where over 100 protected species of flora and fauna have been identified. Forestry, hunting, and livestock grazing are historic to the region, and were traditionally low impact – however, these practices now contribute to degradation.   

The main pressures on the Oltenia area come from the extraction of mineral resources and intensive clear-felling, hunting of fauna, and, in response to EU subsidies, increasingly intensive management of agricultural land. Although the region is rich and diverse in terms of its natural and cultural heritage, the area faces a significant loss of social capital: an aging population and high migration rate mean depopulation is rising (currently 1.5% per year). For those that remain, social welfare and basic needs are not (all) met. 

For more than 20 years, the core business of Asociatia Kogayon has been conservation, but to scale collective, long-term impact, they need a different approach. The association is in the early planning stages of stakeholder engagement workshops to test local assumptions about ‘what the landscape needs’ and co-create a grounded inspiration narrative for the landscape. These workshops will drive a bottom-up, long-term, multi-stakeholder process to enhance co-agency and decision-making power within the local community.   

Vision 

The vision for this landscape is ongoing and being co-created as part of the multistakeholder process. In this early stage, the vision is that Oltenia – via a participatory Lab and Geopark development process – becomes a lighthouse example of national, sustainable rural development. By capitalising on existing natural and cultural heritage to transition towards more regenerative social and land management practices, the partnership will aim to generate financial capital, social capital, natural capital and the return of inspiration for local communities and businesses. 

Challenges:  

  • Biodiversity is threatened by climate change impacts: colder climate species are at risk as warmer climate species adjust more quickly to rising temperatures; traditional agricultural species suffer due to temperature changes and volatility. 
  • Drought and shortening of the grazing season impact traditional and local agricultural grazing practices that maintain and create spaces for biodiversity.  
  • The inhabited areas in the south of the mountains are already affected by more frequent extreme phenomena: floods and landslides, spring frosts, hail, strong winds that produce mass deforestation in forests, drought that leads to forest fires and vegetation, migration of forest and agricultural pests. 
  • The landscape is under pressure through exploitation of forests and mineral resources, the abandonment of agricultural lands and traditional occupations and the uncontrolled development of tourism.  
  • Large number of different landowners: state, private landowners, associations, individuals, companies etc. means restoration efforts are currently fragmented. Time and financial resources are required to create the space to bring together stakeholders representing different sectors and drive collective action. 

Opportunities:  

  • Support the resourcing and capacity development of the local team (historically, Kogayon Association was entirely voluntarily run). 
  • Organise workshops to facilitate knowledge exchange, community-support and engagement, and entrepreneurial support. 
  • Market local products and services and develop access to market. 
  • Develop a long-term business plan to ensure the sustainabiltiy of the programme and its projects. 
  • Develop business cases in ecotourism and related local products and services. 
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