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INTEGRATED RURAL DEVELOPMENT AND STEPPE CONSERVATION

 

Rieks Bosch

EU PROJECT Sustainable Integrated Land Use of the Eurasian Steppe project Ukraine, 01024, Kiev, Luteranskaya 21/12 app 15, Этот адрес электронной почты защищён от спам-ботов. У вас должен быть включен JavaScript для просмотра.

 

Steppe and their natural characteristics. The Eurasian steppes are expansive grassland ecosystems that formerly extended over a broad biogeographic region from Hungary eastwards to Mongolia. These ecosystems harbour important biodiversity. Some 800 plant species have been reported in the steppe areas in eastern Ukraine. Unfortunately, throughout its range more than 90% of this habitat has been converted - mainly for agricultural purposes — and remaining natural and semi-natural grasslands are being lost by ploughing or degraded by overgrazing. At the same time, soils have been irreversibly degraded in extensive areas, leading to economic losses, loss of livelihood and outward migration of people.

During last decade new threat is coming by wide scale afforectation projects in Moldova, Ukraine, Russia. The States allocated compare large budgets for planting artificial forest on waste land and ofcourse steppe plots. This is strongly stimulated by the possibilities of carbon trade under the Kyoto protocol.

In just over ten years, the conservation status of the steppe areas has deteriorated from a situation that was already dire to one that is now truly perilous. In Europe, the conversion has been more than 95%. As a result, plant and wildlife species have declined or disappeared altogether in parts of their former range. No other terrestrial habitat in Europe holds such a high proportion of species with an unfavourable conservation status.

Steppe grasslands have a total, underground and aboveground parts, organic productivity in the order of 4,5—6 tons/ha (dry matter) in wetter years and 1—3 tons/ha in drier years, with significant amounts of carbon storage occurring underground, as steppe soils typically contain at least 7—8% humus when largely pristine. In combination with their significant area, this means that significant amounts of carbon are potentially sequestered in the steppe ecosystem, or released upon conversion.

Main shaping factors of the steppe were large herbivores and not to forget the wealth on invertebrates. In some studies it is shown that insects are responsible for over 60% of the consumption of the organic productivity.

The wild large herbivores, like Saiga, wild Horse, Deer, wild Donkeys, etc were all of seasonal migratory animals depending their routes on the availability of food. Due to the intensification of the agricultural use of the steppe the large herbivores were replaced by the herds of domestic animals. Under this process still a high level of biodiversity was saved.

One of the characteristics of steppe vegetation is their limited buffering capacity for overgrazing. This means that the margin between productive and degradation is very small. Out of the data collected on several places a increase of 0,1 to 0,2 standard husbandry unit (one unit is one standard cow) may lead to a reduction of the productivity of the vegetation with 60-70% from 1,5 ton per ha to 0,5 ton per ha or less. Further overgrazing may lead to productivities of 0,2 ton per ha. This means that doubling of the number of animals per ha gives results in 3 times less food for them. Major conclusion can be made that finding the edge of the carrying capacity of steppe is a major indicator for the efficient use of steppe. When the productivity will be closer to the natural productivity this will result in a similar effect on the biodiversity. So optimisation of the economic use of husbandry will lead to high agro-biodiversity. This is seen as one of the key option for steppe conservation.

Due to overgrazing and irrational arable farming a lot of land has been degraded. The loss of humus in soil from around 8% to 1-4% resulted in lack of water capacity and thus for higher sensitivity for drought, limiting the productivity of the land and making and through this making the land not longer suitable for economic use.

For Ukraine the surface of degraded land is estimated on 5-10 million ha, only for the Lugansk Oblast the inventory resulted already in a minimum of 230000 ha. The restoration of the productivity offers a good potential for re-use of this land, especially in the steppe zone, combing extensive use for husbandry and

high agro-biodiversity. On a number of places the re-use can be nature protection with agro-management to optimise the biodiversity and to reduce of cost of protection.

The combination of efficient husbandry with high agro-biodiversity, nature protection with agro-management and re-use of degraded land, offers good opportunities the strengthening of the large scale steppe restoration. ECONET can serve as efficient tool for large scale steppe restoration integrated into economic and social development of rural areas.

The steppe project. The primary tasks of the European Commission-funded project are to provide the beneficiary countries with the necessary technical assistance to improve biodiversity conservation and increase sustainable land use in grassland, wetland, and forest steppe ecosystems; to restore and use abandoned land, and improve management of privatised areas; to mobilize financial resources through, e.g., carbon sequestration, market driven financing and micro-financing; to mainstream biodiversity concerns into rural land use policy and practice at the regional, national and local levels; and to encourage cross border cooperation between the three partner states.

Pilot projects are being developed in two transboundary regions: eastern Ukraine (Lugansk Oblast) and south-western Russia (Rostov Oblast) and south-western Ukraine (Odessa Oblast) and southern Moldova ; (Cahul region). Activities supporting biodiversity conservation will include identification of steppe habitats and degraded lands, description of the transboundary Econets, and protected area planning. Support to rural development will include land-use planning, the introduction of sustainable grassland pasture management and sustainable agriculture. Integration of biodiversity concerns into agricultural practices by enhanced on-farm management of habitats, soils and nutrients are key to the success of the project. Biodiversity and rural development activities will be mutually supported by development of innovative economic and financial instruments, including carbon funding and market-supported financing.

The project is executed by Euroconsult Mott MacDonald, The Netherlands, in cooperation with ICF and ALVONA.

Critical Success Factors. Sustainable conservation and use of steppe resources is demonstrated in each of the two Pilot Demonstration Areas through integration of nature protection and rural development, supported by financing mechanisms and strategic policies. Key to success of the project is creating an environment where the integrated approach is supported by economic development, including for example, efficient husbandry, tourism, hunting management, horse breeding, and organic agriculture.

Options for development. All options for development will only be successful and sustainable when they are executed in an integrated — economic & social development with respect of environment conservation — approach. ECONET development, strategy for degraded land, Land Use plans, Socio-economic plans, Business sector plans, Agricultural management tools, and Management plan (for nature areas) are playing essential role in these developments.

ECONET and other planning. ECONET is an effective approach for nature conservation. ECONET can serves as tool for integration on wide area nature conservation and restoration activities into economic and social development of rural areas. ECONET has to be considered as a policy tool to select priority area and to support decision making on the use of available funds. It can be used as basis for assignment of reuse of degraded land and infrastructure development. It is an input in the land use plans. Together with the strategy for degraded land, afforestation plans, socio-economic plan and land use plan it are essential input in the management plans for the protected areas. To be efficient, ECONET approach requires (1) efficient sustainable financing mechanisms, (2) relevant regulation, and (3) proper management structure.

Socio-Economic development. Efficient husbandry is more a social than a technical issue. Most farmers are more counting the number of livestock than their total productivity and they lack the capacity to measure the productivity of their crop. There is lack of knowledge and management structure on efficient pasture management, taking into account rest period to help the vegetation to restore from grazing pressure. Even more important is the lack of ownership feeling and the need for management over pasture land.

A lot of pastures are common grounds. By lack of management tools for these pastures it is first comes, first feeds. Tools for the management of common land will be important to prevent degradation. Options are better responsibility and control of the use, transparent use of land or cattle tax for. the management of the common pastures, assignment of land users to limited plots of common land, reservation of land for , drought risk management, stimulation of haymaking and hay stock to enable a longer winter rest and to overcome drought periods. But perhaps most of all to support alternative sources of income or food supply making the local population less depending on husbandry.

Production of medical herbs, honey, quality beef, rural tourism are some of the sector which can be developed. This will only succeed by strengthening of the whole sector from producer till processing industry and trade.

First search should be creating more value out of agricultural product by refocusing or optimising the marketing. Major approaches are creating refocusing of the market, creating added value and quality improvement. To start with the last one guaranteed ecological production is a proofed instrument (eg. ecological cheese or meat).

Creating a critical economic mass and improved infrastructure a key aspects. For example when you want to market kumis to the high end city market (restaurants) the regular supply should be guaranteed. Exporting honey means minimum quantities of 10—40 ton/year, so cooperation between producers is needed. As knowledge a the marketing option is generally lacking, this makes local people easily a victim of intermediary trade which can make high profits and leaving the local producers with little income. Data from Moldova shows that were normally the price is build up by 25% for producer, 25% for whole trade, 25% for processing and 25% for consumer market, there this left for the producer only 10-15% and 40% or more for the whole sale.

Creating added value is an important instrument. Instead of collecting and direct selling of medical herb, these could be packed, mixed, and/or frozen. By effective marketing this can double the profit.

Sources of financing. To enable the economic development access to finances is necessary. This does not necessarily means credits or grants. Most reliable source of financing is market financing as mentioned above. Added value, improved marketing are key words. Access to the credit markets is problematic due to the high interests and the lack of interest of banks in rural areas. International credits for higher amounts are a possibility. This is especially feasible when investments go hand in hand with ecological improvement or...

Lately carbon financing is an upcoming instrumentation. Re-use and restoration of degraded steppe land offers good possibilities for carbon sequestration. For the official market it should be taken into account that a minimum of 10—20000 ha is required to create a tradable volume. The voluntary market offers options for smaller volumes. In Ukraine as JI country carbon sequestration under the Kyoto protocol can be realized. Russia first has to organize the procedures to meet the Kyoto protocol. Moldova has to wait for 2012 when a new decision will be made on the inclusion of carbon sequestration in soil for CDM countries. Funding of € .. and more / ha/year could be realistic.

Funding and grants are interesting as sources of co-financing for first investments and to finance the period of development. A range of regional, national, bilateral and international sources are available.

Conclusion. This integrated approach for nature protection and rural social and economic development offers good chances for livelihood and biodiversity of steppe territories.


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