The next apple harvest in Resen will be a million dollars heavier!

Agriculture, especially apple farming, is the main source of income for over 70% of the local population in Prespa. (Photo: UNDP/Ljubo Stefanov)

Farmers in the region of Lake Prespa will soon have the chance to compete for a small grants programme worth a million US dollars. The grants are being provided to help local farmers switch to more sustainable practices and introduce environmentally-friendly measures to reduce pollution.

Agriculture has been identified as the single greatest source of the pollution endangering the vulnerable ecosystem of Lake Prespa. And yet agriculture, especially apple farming, is also the main source of income for over 70% of the local population.  

For many years now, apple production has provided a livelihood for the majority of households in Prespa. Sadly, however, the traditional methods of farming that still predominate in the region have proved harmful to the environment.

These unsustainable farming methods include large-scale dumping of apples in the lake, over-use of pesticides and other agrochemicals, and over-use of water for irrigation. Amongst the many detrimental effects of such practices, the most harmful impact on the health of this ancient freshwater lake has been eutrophication – a process in which too many nutrients in the waters cause a dangerous increase in biomass, threatening the diversity of plant and animal life in the lake.

“We all know the differences in how the lake was when we were young and how it is now,” says local farmer, Goce Gerasovski, “and it’s tragic, it really is. But it’s only in the last few years we’ve started to realise the damage of using all these chemicals. And it’s not just the lake, it’s our own children’s future we’re putting at risk! But the problem isn’t just awareness. I mean now we know the harm of the old ways of farming – we know about our mistakes. But that isn’t enough. We can’t simply shift to new technologies or start producing other crops. You need time to change. You need a lot of new skills – a lot of know-how. And of course you need money because making the changes has costs. In the long run the changes will save us all money, it’s true, but you still need money in the early stages.  We’ve lacked all these things until now!”

A small grant can make a big difference, helping farmers cover the initial costs of adopting new methods and technologies. This is why the new programme is being introduced as one of many measures supported by UNDP to help farmers abandon harmful practices.  From next year, farmers will be eligible for grants if they adopt more sustainable methods of farming – by switching to agro-ecological production, for example, or by switching to a crop that requires less agro-chemical input than apple production.

 “These grants are going to have a significant impact,” says Naume Tasovski from the local municipality of Resen, “because they are direct incentives for farmers to change. And they send out a positive message, too, that the needs of local people are being recognized and addressed. This is a very good way to make sure everyone feels involved -- that we share the same interests, that we share the same aims for a better future, that we can do what is being asked of us for the sake of the environment.”

The million-dollar grant is part of a major ongoing project for the restoration of Lake Prespa. This project is being implemented by UNDP with the generous financial support of the Swiss Development Cooperation. The Restoration project has already achieved a great deal to reduce pressures on the ecosystem from pollution - by teaching hundreds of farmers more responsible ways of irrigating and fertilizing their land and disposing of agricultural waste, for example, by planting thousands of trees to combat erosion and flooding, introducing wastewater management, restoring wetlands, and establishing a model orchard to demonstrate more sustainable ways of farming.

“UNDP will implement this programme through very close cooperation with the local farmers’ associations, the Municipality of Resen, the relevant ministries, the agricultural extension agency and other partners”, stated UNDP’s Resident Representative a.i. Alessandro Fracassetti when announcing the Small Grants Programme in Resen last week. “The entire programme has the ultimate goal of triggering changes in behaviour among the local farming community,” Fracassetti added, “contributing to the protection of the lake and supporting local livelihoods by cutting production costs - for example, through reducing the use of agrochemicals and irrigation water.”

Apple producers from Prespa are celebrating 27 September as the day when the apple harvest starts. With the introduction of this programme, they can look forward to this day next year as the greatest harvest ever – for they will not only be collectively better off by a million dollars, they will also be reaping the rewards of change - cutting production costs, increasing yields, acquiring new skills and – ultimately – saving the future for themselves and the beautiful lake and nature of the Prespa region.  

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