Assessing the impact of Limalimo Lodge: An interview with Paul Robbins

August 18, 2015

Towards the end of 2014, we invited a horticulturist, Paul Robbins, to spend a few weeks on the Limalimo Lodge site and conduct a base-line economic and flora review. We wanted expert advice on our environmental and sustainability strategy, and to know what our negative and positive impacts would be, and how we could reduce the negative and increase the positive. 

Activities that Limalimo Lodge will offer, and our approaches to the build, have grown out of Paul’s recommendations. As the build is near completed, we’ve taken the opportunity to interview Paul about his experience and recommendations.

Q1: Please provide a brief background to your profession, role at Leeds Beckett University and your areas of expertise.
I am a professional horticulturist, and have been working internationally within this capacity for many years. I have taken the opportunity to share learnings with my peers from my travels, and tend to do this through publishing a range of articles in trade press. I am currently taking a Masters in Responsible Tourism, from Leeds-Beckett University, and hope to graduate this year. It’s been a challenge to say the least to juggle work and study!

Q2: How did you first hear about Limalimo Lodge and when did you start working with them?
I stumbled across an advert placed by Limalimo Lodge in a Responsible Tourism newsletter, looking for a researcher for a new eco-lodge in Northern Ethiopia. I responded and after a meeting in London we agreed a window last year to spend three weeks on site at the end of November 2014.

Q3: Can you please explain the brief given to you by Limalimo Lodge.
The brief I had was to undertake a base-line survey in the area that would allow researchers to assess the impact of the Lodge in the future. The research was to focus on two areas:

  • Socio-Economy of the Area: To be assessed through interviews with members of Limalimo community, with the goal of determining current income levels, health levels, family size, etc.
  • Supply Chains: Firstly, to assess likely local food producers, and assess potential of current levels of production and potential for new production in the area, bearing in mind effects on livelihoods and other markets. Secondly, to assess the landscape around the premises and its suitability for other plant species, including their potential effect on the natural environment and to identify suitable plants to use, both from an ecological and maintenance perspective.

Whilst the term and ethos of ‘eco-tourism’ has boomed over the past few decades, there is in fact a disturbing lack of solid evidence on the theory that underpins a lot of eco-tourism projects. We saw this opportunity therefore as a unique chance to undertake a base-line survey so that we can properly assess the impact of the lodge in the future.

Q4: How did you go about collating the data for your report?
Firstly, we organised a community meeting after church on the first Sunday I was on site; I was introduced to the community along with the reason I was there and permission was sought for the research. Alongside this, we sought to understand the initial expectations from the community. When they were happy with the purpose of me being there, permission was granted for me to visit the village and carry out the research for the next three weeks.

Together with a guide, I undertook two ‘Transect Walks’ – to orientate and obtain an asset audit for the community. We also conducted seven one-to-one semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders, including the priest, chief and deputy chief among others. We also held three focus groups to delve a bit deeper into expectations and potential supply chain options for the community. The first focus group consisted of a group of farmers to produce the calendar; the second a group of woman to talk handicrafts and vegetables; the third a family group who operate a small catering service by the main road.

Q5: What were your key findings with regards to the Limalimo community?
I found that there is a diverse existing livelihood strategy in the community, including annual arable crop, fodder and grains, wood production, animal husbandry and labour as and when needed. From these learnings, we made a construct of the different crops and agricultural products together with the seasons and labour availability, to create a calendar for the year.

There were concerns from the community on first hearing about the Lodge being built, but by the time I started my research, a lot of these concerns had been alleviated from understanding that their grazing and harvesting land wouldn’t be affected, as the Lodge is inside the National Park boundaries. I quickly found the community to be very positive, understanding the numerous benefits that the Lodge will bring them, mainly employment opportunities and supplying produce.

Interestingly, there was less understanding on how the community could supply the tourists staying at the Lodge, with goods and services. This is an exciting opportunity for the Lodge to proactively help the community to address this, and find the best way to assess the market.

Q6: What were your recommendations to Limalimo Lodge, to ensure that the development helps to protect and conserve the environment it sits in, and achieve its ethos of 'responsible tourism'?
Really, we were looking for practical interventions to reduce vulnerability. The theory goes that if you can introduce new income streams then you can reduce the dependence on natural resources and the need to encroach into the National Park. So we are firstly talking about direct employment at the Lodge, and then indirect income from sales of meat, honey and vegetables. In the future, the Lodge should look at handicraft production, and supplying a coffee pot and cups to one local family, so that the Lodge can hold village visits to a traditional homestead.

From a horticultural point of view, vegetable seeds were supplied to the farmers to trial, get used to new crops and see which types of vegetables perform well and those that do not. We then intend for the farmers to supply the Lodge with larger quantities of the vegetables which grow well. We also looked at other supply lines, including tomatoes and herbs from the lower village - Limalimo Apo - as well as milk and dairy products from a local dairy in Debark.

Q7: You produced a series of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for Limalimo Lodge to be used for a future evaluation of the community benefits bought about by the Lodge. What kind of areas do these KPIs touch on, and how can they be measured over time?
The KPIs are:

  • Direct employment numbers and cumulative total salaries.
  • Proportion of community houses with corrugated steel roofs
  • Proportion of school-aged children attending school
  • Numbers of the different types of animals owned in the community 

The main difficulty with KPIs is that they have to be measurable, therefore ruling out a lot of richer lines of investigation which would perhaps be more interesting. But we require tangible evidence that the Lodge will have a positive effect, and therefore chose KPIs which represent an increase in prosperity within the community. It will also be interesting to ascertain any changes in community expectations over time and whether they see the Lodge positively going forward.

Q8: The Simien Mountains have a wealth of unique flora and fauna. What should visitors to the Lodge and National Park be looking out for that they might not see elsewhere?
The most famous and core attractions in the Simien Mountains are the dramatic landscape and the rich wildlife. The park is also host to the Gelada Monkey (Theropithecus gelada), the Walia Ibex (Capra walie) and the Ethiopian Wolf (Canissimensis) and is endowed with a number of endemic flora, some unique to the area such as the striking Giant Lobelia (Lobelia rhynchopetalum) and a rich bird life. Fortunately, the lack of dangerous species allows for guided walks and treks on foot.

Q9: What was your highlight from the time you spent in the Simien Mountains National Park?
It was really the immersion into the local culture, and experiencing Ethiopian food, drink, hospitality and music first-hand. I spent quite some time with some of the locals, living as they do, and experiencing life from as true an Ethiopian perspective as is possible for a foreigner!



Our thanks to Paul for taking the time to respond to our questions. Find out more about the Limalimo Lodge, Simien Mountains National Park and how the design of Limalimo Lodge has been influenced by its surroundings.

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