Conference on climate change, water scarcity and eco-tourism

Author: Kai Kreuzer

On 26 September 2012, a conference of the IFOAM EU Group on the theme of water scarcity was held in Cyprus and was attended by around 90 people. The topics addressed by the one-day conference, that followed the conference on organic research (see our earlier report), were higher efficiency in the use of resources, measures to save water and retain rainwater, our water footprint and the future EU common agricultural policy. By chance, the TV chef Tonia Buxton, who appears on Sky TV and is well known in Britain and Cyprus, dropped in during lunch. In a brief, impromptu speech, she emphasised the point that, when asked in her cookery shows what her secret is, she always tells people that the main thing is to use organic ingredients. Naturally, the conference attendees responded with enthusiastic applause. (Picture: Tonia Buxton)

 

The chair of the IFOAM EU Group the British Christopher Stopes (picture), who together with L.Tsangarides - representing the Ministry of Agriculture in Cyprus - opened the conference, was the first to go into the details of the urgent problems associated with the EU common agricultural policy: “We are afraid that the greening initiatives being planned will be increasingly watered down in the coming months. Instead of that happening, it is our hope that the ambitious aims of Commissioner for Agriculture Ciolos will be fulfilled.” Stopes added that what they would really like to see is a new organic action plan that gives more prominence to organic farming and organic marketing.
 
Hans-Christian Beaumond (picture), from the Organic farming Unit of the Directorate-General for Agriculture, presented the policy of the EU Commission regarding environmental protection. He said that the resilience of agriculture to fluctuations in climate has to be strengthened, and water consumption and the pollution of water by agriculture must be reduced. Adapting to climate change might raise the cost of agriculture, because more land would have to be irrigated. He pointed out that there is currently an EU project that is investigating the water footprint in seven regions. Water use will be the subject of new guidelines to be issued in March 2013.
 
L.Tsangarides (second from left in the picture) presented the efforts being made by the independent Republic of Cyprus to save water: with around 110 small or somewhat larger dams, they are trying to hold back as much rainwater as possible to allow it to seep into the ground or to store it for irrigation purposes. “We work out five-year plans so that we can improve water management,” Tsangarides explained. Organic farming in Cyprus is supported by three measures: first, a land premium; second an almost total refund of organic monitoring costs; and third a marketing subsidy of   €100,000 for three years. In one of the two workshops,  Yianna Economidou (nomen est omen), from the hydraulic engineering department of the Ministry of Agriculture, dealt again in  detail with the water conservation measures in Cyprus. She said that water conservation has a decades-old tradition in Cyprus, but that the island is facing great challenges arising from climate change, water poverty and the increasing need for water by the population.
 
A member of the Cypriot Green Party, who as Commissioner for the Environment and advisor reports directly to the State President, made an interesting contribution. Charalampos Theopemptou (picture) illustrated with up-to-date graphics how the climate of Cyprus has changed and warmed over recent years. He said that the annual rainfall has declined in the last three decades from 530 mm per year (1941-1970) to 460 mm, and the number of tropical nights with temperatures in excess of 20 ° has increased significantly. “The period during the summer when there is no rainfall at all is getting longer, which further reduces the time for cultivating crops following the summer,” said Theopemptou. He added that there is already hardly any rainfall from the middle of June to the end of September. In summer they have measured temperatures up to 46 °C, which is not only unbearable for people but also increases the danger of forest fires.
 
He explained that the drought conditions are ultimately bringing about desertification in some parts of Cyprus. The number of dust clouds from Africa that travel across Cyprus has now risen to above five every year. Water extraction is causing more salt water to be drawn under the island and this is leading to the salinization of groundwater reserves. Too little rainfall causes the problem in agricultural areas of nitrogen residues from artificial fertilisers no longer being washed out, and this brings about soil degradation. Theopemptou called for the building of rainwater cisterns in the private and the public sectors and more dams. He said it would make sense to improve wastewater management so that this resource, after treatment, could be used in, for example, agriculture. He pointed out that this was already happening in some parts of Cyprus. His conclusion: “The climate in Cyprus will in future be the same as you find in Cairo today.”
 
A picture contrasting with that in the lecture given by the Green politician from hot and dry Cyprus was the presentation by Michal Kravcik (picture) from Slovakia. You could see a lot of lush green vegetation in his presentation. “The blue alternative” is what the university teacher called the method of once again making use of small-scale water circulation systems. He is a member of the NGO People & Water and works in the Institute for Sustainable Watershed Management in Bratislava. Kravcik confirmed that the countryside is becoming increasingly dry because of soil sealing and the run-off of rainwater that it causes. Like most climate researchers, he assumes that we are going to experience more flooding and longer dry periods.

As a consequence of more storms, we’ll also see greater damage. But Kravcik has a solution: like his Cypriot colleagues, he advocates rainwater retention by means of small dams and cisterns. He said the aim, including in central and northern European regions, is to balance the “islands of heat” created by towns by means of numerous small measures, such as damming streams by laying tree trunks across them or by building mini-dams to promote seepage and to prevent run-off into rivers and then into the sea. He said the issue was improving local water circulation systems in order to make use of this perpetuum mobile to mitigate global warming. In recent years in Slovakia, they have already seen 100,000 measures of this kind in 488 communities, which has created more than 8,000 short-term jobs. He referred his audience to the website waterparadigm.org.
 
Mohamed Ben Khedher (picture), from the Ministry of Agriculture in Tunisia, reported on the development of organic agriculture as a water and climate-friendly alternative “With humus-rich soils you need far less water and can manage with 150 mm of rainfall a year,” was his clear conviction. In Tunisia, organic agriculture has received state support since the introduction of an action plan twelve years ago. In 2010, 175,000 hectares were managed organically, and a further 228,000 ha were used for wild collecting. “Although the domestic market is growing, exports ( € 33m) are still our mainstay,” said Ben Khedher. The aim is for organic sales to account for 1 % of total consumer spending by 2016.
 
Bill Slee (picture), from the Hutton Institute, addressed the theme of eco-tourism and  described the possibilities of environmentally friendly tourism that can stimulate economic activity in regions that are threatened by depopulation and decline. In many Mediterranean countries, the terrace systems created with natural stone walls to retain rainwater and improve cultivation, have been abandoned, which is yet another cause of erosion and soil degradation. Less food is produced locally and people then depend increasingly on imports. Slee’s solution to combat this development is local networks that produce healthy food and create jobs and leisure possibilities.

Practical examples were presented in the lectures on Italy and Greece by the presidents of organic associations Allesandro Triantafyllidis (AIAB) and Chariklaia Minoutou (DIO). Agricultural walks, natural monuments, cultural events, climbing, riding, bicycle hire, cheese -making courses and knowledge of the environment were just some of the keywords contained in their talks. Another important factor is the availability of organic cuisine at organic farms that offer eco-tourism – called bio-kouzina in Greece. “Founding a network is very important for us, so that we can exchange information and experiences, and so that  together we can make the issue widely known,” said Minoutou (picture).
 
Italy is unsurpassed in agrotourism. The country has 1,500 organic “agriturismi”, that represent 7.5 % of all agrotourism farms. In addition, there are 480 training farms. It’s an advantage if farms can show they recycle glass, paper and waste, have installed solar panels and have integrated eco-architecture and wood-burning heating systems. “Between 2009 and 2011 organic agrotourism, that is also subject to regular inspection by monitoring organisations, expanded by 10 %,” Triantafyllidis was pleased to report.
 
The IFOAM conference on the theme of water-efficient agricultural production and eco-tourism presented the audience with a whole range of ideas and possibilities, and many participants may well have realised that this theme is only the beginning and could well help to determine the debate about social and agricultural policy in the years and decades ahead.
 

29.10.2012

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