What was the problem that was tackled in the project?
The uplands of Siberia’s Amur region in far Eastern Russia are in large parts very fertile and have therefore been developed as farmland by Russian settlers since the mid-19th century. Even though local climate and soil offer excellent conditions for crop growing, farming practices such as burning straw or using large quantities of pesticides and herbicides have caused considerable damage.
The wetlands adjacent to the farmlands serve as a breeding habitat for pairs of Red-Crowned (Grus japonensis) and White-naped Cranes (Grus vipio), as well as for many other endangered species, e.g. Hooded Cranes (Grus monacha) and Oriental White Storks (Ciconia boyciana)
Which measures were taken to solve the problem?
To test and showcase sustainable agricultural practices, a Demonstration Farm (460 ha) was developed by the park, showing how sustainable agriculture fields near wetlands can offer breeding, roosting and feeding habitats for birds, while at the same time yield a good return. The principal crops planted on the demonstration farm were wheat, barley, oats, soybeans, and corn (to lure the cranes into the safety of the park).
During several initial years, production costs on the organic farms were higher than in conventional agriculture and soil fertility initially dropped (since organic fertilizers such as manure were not available in the area).
However, after 6-7 years that were necessary for the mulched straw to decompose, the soil fertility began to increase. For a number of years, since there were no expenses for fertilizers and herbicides, the organic farming, even with lower yield, became more profitable than the conventional method.
To solve the human-wildlife conflict, corn was intentionally planted as a lure crop for the birds to forage on and hence keep them out of agricultural fields and away from other crops. This measure helped reduce crop damage as well as disturbance to birds and therefore diminished the conflict between birds and farmers.
1) Proper crop rotation, seed variety selection, and farming techniques (when and how to prepare the soil for the next growing season, how and when to treat the emerging and growing crops, and how and when to treat the fields after the harvest) will allow farmers to keep their fields clean from weeds and stop using herbicides.
2) Develop a source of livestock manure and/or natural mineral fertilizers to supplement the incorporated organic matter (plant biomass) so that soil fertility can support profitable yields (especially in the years of conversion to organic agricultural production).
4) Appreciate that entrenched/traditional agricultural practices are hard to change. Without local and regional political support, introduction of new strategies can produce suspicion and resistance. Perseverance and utilizing the demonstration farms educational capabilities will eventually change minds and help to initiate agricultural practices throughout a region that will provide economic benefits to people while preserving the ecosystem and its endangered or threatened species.
Information prepared within the project "Non-governmental sector participation in the international conference" EU Biodiversity strategy implementation "" financed by Latvian national budget-funded program "Support for public participation in the Latvian Presidency of the Council of the European Union implementation" and administered by the Society Integration Foundation.