New Thracian Gold

Place: bulgaria, Europe
Sustainable development of small rural communities Sustainable development of small rural communities
Total Budget: € 3.000.000,00 | Period: From April 2009 To May 2014


NTG is a pilot model of sustainable development  and partnership among organic farming, ecotourism and wilderness in a less favoured mountain area. All project activities were directed to develop practices improving care of cultivated land, domestic animal breeding, environmentally sound revitalisation of abandoned areas. The beneficiaries were the entire population of the 5 municipalities involved, the wild flora and fauna species (recovery, enhanced protection), the tourists themselves who have nowdays the possibility to profit of a more cared environment in a context of high natural value.


ARK Natura - Switzerland

Lead applicant

ARK has over 20 years experience in the design and implementation of nature conservation projects at home and abroad. Here are several services that ARK has to offer for both private visitors and professionals. From excursion to management, from consulting to implementation and report to communications.

Foundation Avalon - branch Bulgaria, Plovdiv - Bulgaria

Initiative partner

Avalon foundation has a branch office in Bulgaria with one employee (and part-time secretarial support) working in the field of project management and implementation. Avalon BG manager Prof. Dr. Vladislav Popov is an expert in agroecology, organic agriculture and environmental protection. He has done extensive research into areas related to the protection of the environment in agricultural ecosystems. Over the years Prof. Popov has become a communicator of organic agriculture methods and practices to diverse social groups and institutions, e.g. relevant ministerial structures, farmers, extensionists, policy makers and administrators in many countries in the Balkan region, Russia, the Kaukasus, Central Asia, Eastern Africa and Australia. In 2007 he set up Avalon's Bulgarian branch. As a project expert and manager he has been providing his expertise and has been organising education, practical training and PR activities in projects related to organic agriculture.

Foundation Avalon, the Netherlands - Netherlands

Initiative partner

To contribute to urgently needed large scale adoption of sustainable agricultural practice, Avalon focuses on the following activities: · Advising in the development of agro-environmental policy programmes, organic production and market & chain development. · Forming strategic partnerships to strengthen the international lobby for sustainable agricultural practice. · Bringing together farmers, government institutions, NGO's, research institutes and businesses in the field of organic agriculture, biodiversity, agri-environment and sustainable rural development through the Avalon Network. Growing sustainable initiatives in healthy soil Agriculture is one of the most vital pillars of sustainable development. Without more environmentally acceptable forms of agriculture it is unlikely that worldwide sustainable development will be possible at all. Agriculture is unique in many aspects. It is a multiple objective activity, producing much more than just food, feeds and raw material for industry. By providing employment and income, agriculture remains the social and economic foundation of many rural communities. More than just food Based on natural resources and dependent to a large extent on natural processes, agriculture connects people with the land, plants and animals. Agriculture has a profound, both positive and negative, impact on the countryside, ecosystems and the environment. It results in landscapes, biodiversity, water, soil and air of varying quality. However, contrary to most other economic sectors, agriculture is both the source and victim of pollution and environmental degradation.

New Thracian Gold (NTG) (Новото Тракийско Злато) is a Bulgarian-Dutch project for a greener future of the Eastern Rhodopes, one of the highest biodiversity spots in Europe. The idea was to develop sustainable initiatives promoting and combining organic farming, nature restoration and ecotourism, gathering Dutch and Bulgarian experts to develop sustainable capacity building, biodiversity/wildlife protection and improvement, organic agriculture and PR/communication. The results would have been a unique approach combining three main components: organic agriculture, to improve food security and income to local communities; sustainable tourism; wilderness and biodiversity. Organic farming in conjunction with ecotourism would have created new jobs, raise life standards and reduce the depopulation of rural areas. As the region’s natural environment is still is relatively pure, the wilderness component should have aimed at creating and preserving one of the best wilderness areas in Europe.

With the aim to protect the unique nature of Eastern Rhodopi area the project has created the premises for a new and sustainable economy  based on alternative forms of land use and ecotourism, becoming an inspiring role model for similar regions in Europe, where conventional farming is no longer viable. As innovation for the area, the most important was the reviving of declining and scant agricultural practices through the spreading of organic farming (supported by  "demonstration farms", programmes for education, consultancy and assistance), including the reintroduction of sustainable harvesting from the wild; furthermore, a new model of cooperation among producers was set, with the aim to improve their income, involving as well guest-house owners and small-size hotels in a new network of rural-eco tourism. The reviving was in addition improved through the restoration of natural grazing for endangered/protected local breeds of domestic animals,  revitalizing as well their stocks. 

New Thracian Gold Partnership scheme
New Thracian Gold Targeted partnership

The project has focused on five municipalities in Eastern Rhodopes: Madzharovo, Kardzhali, Ivaylovgrad, Krumovgrad and Stambolovo.This mountanous region was chosen because of its rich cultural heritage as well as its stunning natural setting, including wildly diverse flora and fauna. From the agricultural point of view, the transition to a market economy posed in the years a serious threat to the self-sufficiency of farms and local municipalities, with increased  depopulation  accompanied by the abandonment of traditional agricultural activities. No alternatives or innovations were so far proposed. Therefore, the two Dutch foundations, i.e. Ark Nature and Avalon, financed by the Dutch National Postcode Lottery, decided to intervene there.

Picture 10 Protected breeds as Rhodopi shorthorn cattle use extensive pastures and water bodies
Picture 11 Rural animal waste is collected and processed by Californian earthworms
Picture 8 Combining local traditions, folklor, hospitality and organic food to attract tourists

Organic farming (OF) (including bee-keeping) introduced by more than 45 farmers and 5 processors in Eastern Rhodopes (ER) as well as direct sales of organic products at the farms and at villages. More than 200 farmers informed about opportunities offered by OF and EU subsidies. 2 farms established as "model" and used for training, demontration and promotion, plus 1 "model" cooperative for the production and processing of organic sesame (tahini), the first ever for this produce in Bulgaria . A core group of 30 selected organic farmers trained through 14 events on OF overall techniques, including promotion, sales and development of eco-tourism. Research on marketing and branding of local OF products was done, resulting in a NTG trade mark registered in NL and BG; use of the NTG logo on processed products. Agri-tourism developed in around 10 farms, serving as well local dishes made with regional OF products. Many nature conservation activities and wide range of tourist attractions done.

../file-system/small/pptx ../file-system/small/pptx NTG ORGANIC 2009-2014 PROJECT RESULTS

The beneficiaries of the activities were above all farmers and the small local rural communities belonging to the ER municipalities involved in the project. They were feeling increasingly demotivated. Their activities of cultivation and breeding needed to be modernized, and their self-confidence strenghtened, through the updating of their technical knowledge and exchange of experiences, guiding them towards more profitable and sustainable farming practices and other possible integrations, so to improve their skills,  income and lives quality, consolidating their will to continue living in the ER. Other beneficiaries of the initiatives were the tourists, which have benefited of promotion campaigns, of structures revitalisation plans and development of a number of initiatives launched in the area (adventure services, attractions, festivals, tastings). Finally,othar important beneficiaries: nature and wildlife, through protection, monitoring and reintroduction of fauna and flora species. 

Picture 16 NTG natural grazing combined with tourism attractions and organic cheese-making
Picture 7 Openning NTG new eco-hotel at the Wild Farm in Gorno pole - religion and local food appreciated
Picture 9 Combining eco-tourism, water sports and attractions in Eastern Rhodopes
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf NTG ORGANIC Final Report

The management team (coordinators) of the project NTG in Bulgaria was composed by three persons. Organic agriculture: prof. Vladilav H. Popov, Agrarian University of Plovdiv, and manager, Avalon-branch Bulgaria, Plovdiv. Sustainable tourism: Ms. Mihaela Kircheva. Wilderness and biodiversity: Mr. Hristo Hristov and Mr. Stefan Avramov. Communication and PR: Ms. Iva Toncheva. The management team of the project in the Netherlands was composed by two persons: Mr. Frank Zanderink, project leader, ARK Natura; Dr.Darko Znaor, deputy project-lader, Avalon Foundation.
The team is an amalgam of experts in organic agriculture, rural and sustainable tourisms and nature (wilderness) protection.

Picture 19 NTG management (from Avalon Foundation) with Dutch Ambassador in BG and America for Bulgaria Foundation (2-nd and 3-rd from left resp.)
Picture 23 Dutch and BG team members discussing wilderness activities
Picture 24 NTG organic BG management and farmers at Festival of Foods and Crafts in Ivaylovgrad

The main difficulties experienced by the were following:
- To identify the right approach to combine three (sometimes contradicting) rural components, namely protecting countryside and wild animals (or domesticated local animal breeds), attracting more inter(national) tourists/visitors to a vast region such as the Eastern Rhodopi mountain in Bulgaria and produce/feed the tourists/ develop local and national market of organic foods.
- To educate and train local farmers in organic farming (OF), to explain them the benefits of OF and attract them to establish local cooperatives in order to add value to raw organic produce.

Picture 17 Natural pastures are eroding, afforestation is increasing, shepherds are migrating
Picture 20 NTG identified depopulated villages, ruined animal stables, farmers with no organic knowledge
Picture 21 Traditional orchards use less chemical but have problems with pest and diseases and no organic knowledge
Picture 22 Monoculture was widely practiced in Eastern Rhodopes pror to the NTG project
Picture 26 NTG farmers were making first steps to cooperate (for producing sesame and tahini paste)

NTG can be considered a pilot model of partnership among organic farming, ecotourism and wilderness in the ER region. The goal was to create an economy based on sustainable farming and tourism with the development of completely natural ecosystems (through their conservation and restoration), so that people and nature may live in harmony and benefit from each other. Biodiversity and environment protection were enhanced through information and development of organic farming practices, and through the rewilding of native ecosystems, even with reintroduction of extinct species such as the Tarpan, Rhodopi Shorthorn-cattle, Karakachan horse, Red deer, etc. All these activities were performed involving the local stakeholders in nature conservation activities, analysis and studies on legal framework and territories, users rights, education and awareness programs.         


Picture 1 Using biological plant protection in NTG orchards
Picture 15 NTG promoted natural grazing of protected breeds, i.e. Karakachan sheep
Picture 2 Teaching organic farmers to appreciate agro-biodiversty
Picture 29 Rural community appreciates tarpan (Dutch horses) introduced in Eastern Rhodopes

NTG demonstrated that rural areas-organic farming (OF), tourism and nature conservation can work together and benefit from each other. The implementation of OF practices, that is the most sustainable form of agriculture, has become a factual data, reducing future unemployment and migration. Organic farmers have become leaders in their community groups by showing their lasting examples of added-value agricultural activities (sesame/tahini, grapes/wine, cereals/flour, diary products, tourism). The project generated the improvement of rural infrastructures (roads, equipement, rip-irrigation, etc.), creating self-reproducible occasions like fairs, open-days, exhibitions, strenghtening as well social cohesion. Furthermore, the use of modern farms for demonstration, training and promotion will continue, so to improve the number of organic farmers/sustainable agriculture. Also agro-biodiversity studies in selected organic farms will be carried on.

../file-system/small/doc ../file-system/small/doc NTG – COOPERATION AMONG ACTORS –VP 2012 Achieving effective cooperation among rural population in Eastern Rhodopes – problems and opportunities for integrated regional resource-based development

A number of dissemination activities were undertaken to promote TNG and its results: "Information Days" in the five target NTG municipalities, demostrations, marketing of products, conception of and participation to fairs, exhibitions, open days, promotional events, organization of conferences and seminars,"organic" culinary days, networking, dedicated communication and PR activities. Specific brochures were prepared and published: "NTG and ER agribiodiversity","NTG organic farms cooperation", and "NTG organic producers in ER". The most significant were the participation to promotion events like BioAgra (2010-2014), Foodtech and Vinaria in Plovdiv, May Fair in Sofia, etc.; the Organic Culinary days, exchange of experiences between Bulgarian and Dutch chefs, was supported by the printing of a "Culinary Guide of ER", with 30 recipes and the places they can be tasted. All events (including web) were significantly diffused by national media and generated large attention also in Holland.

Picture 13 Local NTG demo-farmer in Topolovo village share vermicompost technology with other NTG farmers
Picture 3 Teaching organic grain and sesame farmrs on field monitoring of agro-biodiversity
Picture 30 Award-winning NTG organic einkorn bread from Rabovo region
Picture 31 Award-winning wines (4 types) from NTG Stambolovo region
Picture 4 Teaching NTG farmers on field monitoring of agro-biodiversity
Picture 5 NTG organic bee-keepers at on-field training
Picture 6 Agro-biodiversity in action - local pumpkin varieties in Gorno pole village