Agromix Info Day and Policy Workshop
The first policy workshop of the CEE region within the Agromix project was hosted by CEEweb in Zebegény and Nagymaros, on the 28th of April.
With the aim of introducing Agromix project and its results, CEEweb followed a multi-stakeholder approach and invited farmers and practitioners, decision-makers and researchers. The event proved to be useful to enhance discussions between stakeholders and to gain insights to participants’ perceptions of agroforestry practices. Firstly the Agromix project was introduced, followed by presentations on available funding mechanisms by the representatives of Ministry of Agriculture and the Hungarian Chamber of Agriculture. The second half of the morning was focusing on more practical and solution-oriented aspects of agroecology, such as agroforestry’s role in climate change mitigation and adaptation, forest gardening and orchard management. The indoor part was followed by a field trip to Nagymaros, giving insights into the history and present practices of local sweet chestnut and alluvial fruit orchards.
The event was opened and Linda Magyar and Ádám Varga, representing the project on behalf of CEEweb. In the opening presentations the Agromix project was introduced, highlighting the project’s main goals. Namely, to support the transition to resilient and efficient land-use practices and to promote agroecological solutions, such as agroforestry and mixed farming to support the transition to more resilient land use in Europe. Next, the definitions of agroforestry and mixed-farming was further discussed and the already available results of the project were introduced.
Available funding mechanisms of the new CAP for Hungary was introduced by István Madarász - in representation of the Ministry of Agriculture – for the programming period of 2023-2027, with special attention to the agroecological aspects of the new CAP’s green architecture framework. It can be considered as a step forward, that the new CAP improved the considerations of ecological needs to enhance environmental conditions and to promote sustainable use of environmental resources. Among others, the new strategy is now having an increased focus on the ecological needs and promotes measures for water-retention, GHG sequestration, enhancing ecosystem-services and soil quality, and preservation of biodiversity. The green architecture framework expanded the scope of territorial subsidies by now acknowledging the importance of wetlands and peatlands, non-productive lands and shelterbelts. Furthermore, the extension of the conditionality principle means that farmers now have to meet stricter requirements for farm-management and maintenance of ecological conditions. Additionally, the green architecture introduced the Agro-ecological Programme, aiming to motivate farmers to implement ecological measures beyond minimum requirements, and subsidies to promote gene conservation, animal welfare and green investments.
Adrienn Gyenes, Policy expert of the Hungarian Chamber of Agriculture elaborated on the available funding mechanisms through the example of non-productive agricultural practices (no-till farming) and green investments. These are now given a greater prominence: 40% of the new CAP’s total budget must be allocated for green investments. Next, the challenges of current land-use practices were introduced: currently 4 million hectares, approximately the 50% of Hungary is arable land now being farmed mostly in monoculture and on large fields and uniform parcels. The ongoing farming practices are lacking diversity resulting in increased vulnerability. Hence, the new CAP is also focusing on the conservation of diverse areas.
As for the non-productive practices, previous period’s under-claimed subsidies for habitat-development and water management measures were replaced by new areas within the Agro-ecological Programme. Along 3 main areas, these include (1) actions for land-use change, (2) non-productive investments for water protection and (3) installation of agroforestry systems for environmental or climate protection purposes.
The presentations were followed by a Q&A session, having an instructive discussion between decision-makers and practitioners, mainly touching upon the issue of the different understandings of legal terms and definitions. The differences in the understanding of terms and definitions were underlined: approach and perspectives of the decision makers and other stakeholders often differ, therefore further discussions between decision-makers and practitioners would be essential to deepen the understanding of available subsidies and fundings of the new CAP’s green architecture framework.
The role of agroforestry in climate change mitigation and adaptation was introduced by Attila Borovics PhD, director of the Forest Research Institute at the University of Sopron. The presentation covered forests’ added values for tackling climate change, the issue of genetic diversity, while it highlighted the supporting role of trees in agriculture in the transition to more sustainable farming practices. At last, the potentials of agroforestry practices were underlined: several benefits are attributed to agroforestry, such as improving soil quality, water quality and habitats, therefore enhancing biodiversity, while it’s resulting in increased resilience as well.
The following presentation aimed to give insights to the concept of forest gardening. It’s a traditional form of agroforestry, integrating trees into horticultural landscapes to reproduce the natural mechanisms of a forest. After introducing the different types of agroforestry systems, Veronika Szabó PhD summarised the definitions, interpretations and practices of agroforestry on a global level. In conclusion, each continent is facing similar challenges: soil erosion, disadvantages of large-scale monocultural farming and societal challenges are all common. Agroforestry’s role in tackling these challenges was strengthened here again, as it’s contributing to resource efficiency, increased biodiversity, ecosystems restoration and maintenance, and resilience against climate change. In connection with the previous presentation, Balázs Zsolnai explained the background of forest gardens, as a tool for rewilding gardens and creating self-sustaining ecosystems, reproducing natural processes. Forest gardens are based on the principles of permaculture, they are well-designed, multi-level gardens dominated by trees, mixed with perennials, annual and creeping plants. Trees provide fruit, shade and firewood, beneath them each plant is useful and contributes to the functioning of the ecosystem. Forest gardens strongly build on natural processes, it’s important to take a step back and observe the natural processes. As a ‘food forest’, it’s a low-maintenance agroforestry system similar to a natural forest, contributing to carbon sequestration, climate resilience and increased biodiversity.
Establishing the background for afternoon’s field trip, Zoltán Zeller provided insights to the history and present challenges of the sweet chestnut orchards of Nagymaros. The landscape - mostly dominated by the surrounding of the mountains and the close proximity of the Danube - resulted in a unique microclimate and diverse wildlife. The steep slopes and soil quality is making the area less favourable for arable crops, but it’s suitable for fruit orchards. The sweet chestnut orchards of Nagymaros typically are found on the steep valleys in patches in the northern, north-eastern parts of the region. The specific landscape features were favourable for sweet chestnut production over decades, however, the effects of climate change and chestnut blight is challenging the survival of these sweet chestnut orchards.
The afternoon was reserved for a field trip, visiting the sweet chestnut and alluvial fruit orchards of Nagymaros. As Mr. Zeller’s presentation already introduced the background of this region’s farming practices in the morning, the field trip provided a hands-on experience of the local orchards and surrounding ecosystems, while giving insights to the social and economic aspects, too. After the chestnut plantations the attendees visited the unique alluvial fruit orchards along the Danube near Nagymaros. Alluvial orchards are rare habitats only found in the floodplain of Hungary’s greater rivers. Here the attendees were able to meet one of the local farmers, a retired village farmer, László Veress. He introduced his land, and his old fruit trees of traditional varieties, his general workflows and the challenges he is facing.
The event proved to be successful to raise awareness on the benefits of agroforestry and mixed farming practices, while introducing the Agromix project to a broader audience in Hungary. The main take-away message of the event was that further discussions would be essential between stakeholders to unlock the potentials of sustainable farming practices. On one hand, the introduction on funding mechanisms of the new CAP were welcomed by several practitioners, even though there are some misunderstandings on the exact measures of the green architecture framework.
The second round of policy workshop will be organised in late July, elevating the focus from the national to a regional level, aiming to involve stakeholders from the Central-Eastern European region.