Posted on 18 January 2006
A new WWF project aims to harmonise local economic development with environmental improvements upstream and downstream in Hungary and Romania.
The forces driving land and water use patterns in Europe, such as international trade, economics, policies and climate change, are immense. Many of these forces hit especially hard in central and eastern Europe, especially as many of these nations are faced with EU enlargement, floods, agricultural abandonment, and other issues confronting rural communities. The prospect of trying to influence these processes is daunting, yet we are all part of these trends, and while they pose many threats, they also offer many opportunities.
WWF, through One Europe More Nature, is identifying these opportunities and trying to make these dynamic forces work for nature and for people. By seeking out new partners and sectors, and by understanding what business can do for nature and what nature can do for business. Working in partnership with local communities, governments and businesses, new mechanisms for mainstreaming nature conservation into everyday life are being developed. Often, the starting point is to realise that farmers in the future will not necessarily produce only food, but also other products and services like water management, landscape maintenance, habitat provision and tourism services.
Starting in downstream Hungary at the first of the government’s flood retention reservoirs, WWF is piecing together an integrated plan for restoring Ecsedi láp, once one of central Europe’s finest wetlands. By marrying a site-specific management plan for the floodplain to the search for a big economic power as investor, this twin-track approach offers hope for farmers facing multiple problems as a result of the failure of industrialised monoculture agriculture and the withdrawal of subsidies for mainstream farming. All sorts of economic possibilities open up once stakeholders recognise that change is not only needed but also advantageous.
“We are investigating alternative land management possibilities for our former floodplains including biomass, and WWF is linking us to power stations in Hungary which have decided to go green,” explains Lajos Kovács, mayor of nearby Nagyecsed. “The country will get its flood protection, the wetlands will be restored, the power station will get its raw materials, and we will get jobs and a new economic pillar for our region.”
Up in the headwaters of the Tisza in the Maramures region of Romania, WWF’s office in Baia Mare has embarked on an energetic community-participatory approach to rural development. The aim is to protect and enhance the landscape and ecological functioning of the Oas-Gutai plateau, one of the jewels of the Carpathian Mountains. Working on forestry issues with the international furniture giant IKEA, planning for improved grassland management through high quality meat production, and seeking out business possibilities in harmony with catchment management, WWF aims to improve the “sponge function” of the plateau’s headwaters. This protects the important biodiversity of the region, so it can be a resource for the future as well as present.
“This place is very special and deserves a special approach,” says WWF local project officer Edit Pop. “Our philosophy is that Maramures can be branded as the green paradise of the Carpathians, not as a museum piece but as a living, working, economically productive place to live. That means we have to change the way we approach conservation and make it happen through business.”
Already, governmental organisations have bought into WWF’s vision for the area and business leaders now approach Edit with ideas on how to harmonise their needs with those of nature.
WWF believes these positive stories have important lessons not just for rural development and for nature conservation, but also for policy makers at EU, national, and local levels as well.
“By managing our rivers and wetlands in a more natural way, we are showing that flood management is possible which optimises benefits to people and nature in very important locations,” says Csaba Vaszkó, WWF’s project manager in Hungary. “That is a message which is not just relevant to us here in Hungary, but to people struggling with these issues all over the continent.”
For further information:
One Europe, More Nature Project Coordinator
Tel: +36 1 2145554