The University of Arizona

Ethno-ecological contexts of the Skhalta Gorge and the Upper Svaneti (Georgia, the Caucasus)

Gigi Tevzadze, Zaal Kikvidze


The applicability and analytical power of political ecology is improved by study of the 'ethno-ecological context', which is based on the concept of socio-ecological systems (SES). It represents an operating principle of interactions between the ecological and social systems of a specific locality, developing under different historical, political and climatic regimes. We compare two socio-ecological systems in the high mountain regions of Georgia – the Skhalta Gorge and the Upper Svaneti. These are on the southern and northern borders of Georgia. Historically, their socio-ecological systems were similar but today the Skhalta Gorge is rapidly depopulating, whilst in the Upper Svaneti the population is stable. The comparison of the ethno-ecological context and today's state of affairs suggests that (i) "self-regulation" and conserving local culture and traditions, whilst the country undergoes rapid social and political changes, can lead to degradation or even destruction of either the ecological or the social components; (ii) conversely, sustainable development results from active intervention rather than abstaining from it; (iii) tourism appears as a mechanism that restores the ethno-ecological context by providing a source of income - under certain conditions, it supports traditional agriculture.

Key words: Political ecology, ethno-ecological context, socio-ecological systems, Georgia, Adjara, Svaneti, Mulakhi community, Skhalta Gorge, sustainability, tourism.

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