From threatened to thriving: how ecotourism saved Jabal Moussa mountain

Oliver Ojeil
Published: 19 September 2018
Last edited: 02 October 2020
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In 2007, following an attempt to blast a road in the heart of the mountain known as Jabal Moussa, the Association for the Protection of Jabal Moussa (APJM) NGO was established to protect the mountain from increasing pressures, within challenging socio-economic and political contexts. APJM negotiated and funded a lease contract with religious endowments to rent large swaths of the mountain, and Jabal Moussa was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2009. Inspired by the Man and Biosphere Programme, APJM launched a community-based ecotourism program the same year, engaging several local community members. From a previously neglected and threatened area, Jabal Mousa became a well conserved touristic destination, welcoming 20,000 visitors in 2017, and increasingly contributing to the wellbeing of its local communities. Despite the very fragile law enforcement framework, Jabal Moussa is today thriving due to the engagement of the local community and the support of the general public.


West Asia, Middle East
Scale of implementation
Forest ecosystems
Freshwater ecosystems
River, stream
Temperate deciduous forest
Temperate evergreen forest
Local actors
Outreach & communications
Sustainable financing
Sustainable livelihoods
Ecosystem loss
Unsustainable harvesting incl. Overfishing
Infrastructure development
Lack of access to long-term funding
Changes in socio-cultural context
Lack of public and decision maker’s awareness
Poor governance and participation
Sustainable development goals
SDG 5 – Gender equality
SDG 8 – Decent work and economic growth
SDG 15 – Life on land
Aichi targets
Target 1: Awareness of biodiversity increased
Target 3: Incentives reformed
Target 5: Habitat loss halved or reduced
Target 11: Protected and conserved areas
Target 20: Mobilizing resources from all sources


Keserwan District, Mount Lebanon Governorate, Lebanon
Show on Protected Planet


APJM was established in 2007, in a very challenging context, amid destructive activities ranging from illegal quarrying, chaotic constructions, unsustainable wood extraction, and unplanned road opening, disregarding the wealthy natural and cultural heritage of the region. Almost no conservation body had ever done any sustained work prior to 2007 locally, and APJM was struggling as an almost stand-alone conservation organization. Most of the core zone consisted of private lands with little legal recognition, no proper framework for law enforcement, and no financial support from the government.

According to a survey conducted by Saint Joseph University in 2009, people living permanently around Jabal Moussa suffer from the deficiency in job opportunities and from the low income generated by their jobs.

APJM found in the Man and Biosphere concept an answer to this challenging context, and sought various funding sources to overcome the lack of governmental funding.


Direct beneficiaries are: 10 local staff members, 6 guards, 3 nursery owners, 20 guides, 6 guesthouses, 20 women products manufacturers, 50 beekeepers, 20 farmers, and tens of local service providers. Indirect beneficiaries are 20,000 visitors/year.

How do the building blocks interact?

Wrongly perceived as a complementarity, communication has played a key role in conserving APJM from the very beginning: effective communication engages locals, partners as well as donors, and allows the management to be collaborative. It is an essential part of the "hovering" approach of APJM, where communication skills are required with the different partners.

Through telling the story of how and why APJM was established, the first Ecotourism project was funded. The project was designed in a way to generate income beyond its lifetime (enhancing impacts and sustainability). Effective communication shed light on the project results, and played a role in generating more interest in Jabal Moussa story.


10 years into the establishment of APJM, Jabal Moussa became a renowned ecotourism destination, offering diverse hiking and accommodation packages, and receiving wide media coverage. Local agro-food and handicraft products are manufactured in a centralized workshop by local women, and marketed under the brand name "Jabal Moussa" at an increasing pace. APJM today hires 10 local staff members, 6 guards, and collaborates with 3 nursery owners, 20 guides, 6 guesthouses, 20 women products manufacturers, 50 beekeepers, 20 farmers, and tens of local service providers.

From a conservation perspective, a significant part of the core area received legal protection, from the Ministries of Environment, Agriculture and Culture. An increase in dense forest areas was observed along the years since the establishment of APJM, according to a study done by MÁN Poyatos et al, in 2015. Three nurseries maintained in local villages contribute to the propagation of thousands of native forest species every year. Wildlife and archaeological surveys were conducted, and as a result: Jabal Moussa was designated a Global IBA; the endemic Salvia peyronii, claimed to have been extinct, was rediscovered thriving in Jabal Moussa; an uninterrupted series of human occupation was recorded since the Stone Age; several cultural sites were rehabilitated and/or surveyed.



In 2007, APJM was established to protect Jabal Moussa from increasing pressures.

The mountain presented a unique natural and cultural heritage of regional importance, and was owned in large part by the Maronite Patriarchate and church endowments. However, Lebanese legislation did not recognize Nature Reserves on private lands.

APJM negotiated and funded lease contracts to rent large swaths of the mountain, and sought ways of their protection.

Following two years of surveys and conservation work, Jabal Moussa was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2009.

The UNESCO Man and Biosphere Programme constituted an inspiring concept, that encompasses the human dimension, in contrast with the classical restrictive conservation concept.

APJM sought a diverse range of funding sources, to overcome the lack of governmental funding and achieve its dual mission of conservation and development: project funding, income generating activities, and engagement of the private sector.

Ecotourism started with the funding of a project by the Italian Cooperation, which led to a program sustained over the years by the revenues it generated. Other funded projects fed into the program, supporting the expansion and diversification of the tourism packages. From a nearly unknown and threatened site, Jabal Moussa became a thriving site, receiving more than 20,000 visitors per year. Several locals benefit directly or indirectly from the Reserve, including local guards, guides, guesthouse owners, local workers and others.

Complementary programs also started with funded projects, such as the production of agro-food and handicraft products, and the growing of native tree seedlings. These programs contribute increasingly to the sustainability of the conservation stance, and to the development of the local communities.

Jabal Moussa Reserve gradually received recognition nationally through the legal protection of several plots by the Ministries of Environment, Agriculture, and Culture.

APJM also achieved a breakthrough in the mobilization of the private sector. A gala dinner is organized yearly, to invite the private sector to contribute to APJM's mission. APJM is thus able to cover its core costs from corporate donors.

The work of APJM is today well received among local communities and mostly recognized as one of development, contrary to the beginning, when certain locals went as far as assaulting the reserve premises, to cover their illegal quarrying activities.

Contributed by

Joelle Barakat Association for the Protection of Jabal Moussa (APJM)