Field projects

TCP/CEH/2902 (A)

Sustainable Utilization of Agricultural "Abandoned" Land in Czech Republic

1. BACKGROUND

Agricultural production in the Czech Republic faces constraints in exporting traditional agricultural commodities because of limited access to EU markets. With the integration of the Czech Republic in the EU in 2004, traditional farmers will be confronted with higher competition and further reduced export possibilities and therefore, traditional agriculture production on farming land will be further limited and will result in decreased farm income and employment opportunities in rural and remote areas of the Czech Republic.

During the transition process, land was returned to its original owners or to new owners. This was not always accompanied by the technical support required for these new farmers (or farmers operating under completely different economic and organizational conditions) to effectively turn these lands into agriculturally sustainable systems. The process of land "restitution" also led to land fragmentation into very small economically non viable agricultural properties. As a consequence, the land considered "not productive" was abandoned or neglected, resulting in increased land degradation. This is particularly evident in areas with low soil quality and difficult access to market. Increased atmospheric pollution also added to the environmental degradation of extensive areas. The population is migrating to other regions and the remaining population faces high unemployment and low living standards.

Besides the far-reaching social and economic implications, the abandonment of agricultural lands further worsens the ecological cover and eco-sustainability because:

  • original plant systems of grass and herb species disappear from poorly or non managed areas, being replaced by low quality species;
  • the gradual dominance of aggressive species with low ecological significance results in decreased biodiversity of the local ecosystems, thus threatening the survival and reproduction of plant and animal species;
  • aggressive weed species expand also in quality agricultural areas: the higher quantity of chemicals applied for weed control increases production costs and further influences land and water quality.

Government funds available for the maintenance of permanent grass are also not used effectively. Small farmers use them sporadically, mainly due to lack of knowledge and technical capacity for alternative agriculture and extensive grazing, where these funds could be used.

Should the present problem not be technically solved in time, the abandonment of productive agricultural lands would grow. These lands would gradually degrade together with their cultural landscape, soils will lose their productive potential, and jobs would be lost with consequent further migrations and further land degradation in a vicious circle that would deepen the social and economic problems of these regions.

Sustainable use and management of abandoned areas could become a source of new income for the rural population and a way to address land and environmental degradation, also serving as an instrument in the integration process of the Czech Republic in the agricultural, social and environmental policy of the EU.

2. OBJECTIVES

The objective of the project is to assist the Government of the Czech Republic in the establishment of sustainable grassland systems, capable of supporting income-generating activities, land conservation and biodiversity preservation, in agricultural lands that have been "abandoned" during the transition process. The project results will be used as a model for local and national decision and policy makers in the development of sustainable agricultural practices. The immediate project objectives are to:

  • introduce and promote, in two pilot sites, appropriate grassland management techniques and practices for enhancing the maintenance of grassland biodiversity and land conservation, in order to convert abandoned land into sustainable grasslands;
  • train extension agents, farmers and experts from the Ministries in private and family farming game ranching, pasture use and management, maintenance of biodiversity and its ecosystem functions;
  • prepare recommendations and guidelines for the establishment and monitoring of new models for the use and maintenance of "abandoned" agricultural land for the sustainable production of grasslands and pastures and of wild game or mixed livestock wildlife ranches, for Government further extension of the project experience to other sites.

3. OUTPUTS

  • a baseline analysis and inventory of the situation of degraded abandoned lands including issues regarding prevailing land tenure regimes and property rights over natural resources (land, water, forest) in the Czech Republic and identification of the options for better management of agricultural land;
  • two pilot areas identified for demonstration of economically viable, socially acceptable and ecologically sound new technologies for improved management practices of abandoned land including its possible conversion into sustainable grasslands and promotion of appropriate grassland management techniques for enhancing the maintenance of grassland, a-forestation/reforestation schemes etc. ;
  • pilot introduction of new pastures adapted to edaphic conditions of "abandoned" land;
  • introduction of new management and production techniques for both introduced and native grasslands such as hay and silage production, fodder banks, rotational grazing systems in the pilot sites;
  • collection and preparation of information related to native species in the form of a CD-ROM;
  • pilot introduction of wild animals into the pilot sites;
  • publication of a manual on the "Use of abandoned agricultural land", containing instructions and recommendations for the most suitable methods for alternative agriculture that would preserve natural grassland biodiversity according to region and natural and social-economic conditions;
  • some 120 small land owners/farmers trained in the management of grassland and wildlife systems;
  • some 60 representatives from different institutions/organizations (municipal councillors, Ministry of Environment staff and managers responsible for public contacts, NGOs, associations, etc) trained in the establishment of grassland systems;
  • a training support network formed with academic and training institutions with experience in supporting family and private farming;
  • a set of guidelines and recommendations, with a set of monitoring indicators, for policy makers for the promotion of maintenance and use of grassland based systems for animal production, maintenance of biodiversity, and provision of additional ecosystem functions such as carbon sequestration and tourism.

4. IMPLEMENTATION

Missions have been fielded in 2003 and 2004 and the project was completed in 2005.

Among the outputs was a booklet on the "Management of Abandoned Land" (in Czech) and another on "Sustainable Utilization of Agricultural 'Abandoned' Land" (in English).
Recently, a CD-Rom entitled "Native Pastures of the Czech Republic" was produced.
Click to view backcover of CD

Click to read Comment

For further details of local organizations see:
Official Czech FAO committee and
Mendel University Websites