marți, 11 octombrie 2011

Warsaw Consensus Statement on Europe as a key player in Global Food Security: 6th Oct 2011

In connection with the Polish Presidency of the EU a group of leading academics led by Prof Tim Benton, UK, met in the Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw, to make a consensus statement on Europe as a key player in global food security. The team from across Europe covered expertise in agriculture, economics, sociology, environment, ecology, conservation, water and food consumption.

Below I copy the consensus and few pictures. It was a very interesting group and learning experience. In my scientific career there are three important events/stages of how to call it: (i) my PhD, (ii) Alexander von Humboldt awarded me with a two year postdoc fellowship in Germany and (iii) this Warsaw Consensus. 


A group of leading academics, covering agriculture, economics, sociology, environment, ecology, conservation, water and food consumption, from across Europe, met in the Polish Academy of Sciences on October 5th-6th 2011, to discuss the role of Europe in meeting the demands of sustainable global food security looking ahead to 2050. These are our conclusions:

Times of global change
We are in a period of rapid global change, encompassing climate, land use and population growth.  Food security (obtaining enough calories) and nutrition security (obtaining a nutritionally balanced diet) are important global challenges as the demand for food has potential to outstrip the supply.  This imbalance will be reflected in rising prices and more volatility in the markets.  As the right to food is a central human right, as defined by the UN, food and nutrition needs to be central to societal and policy aims.

The EU in global context
The EU is one of the largest global importers and exporters of food, and therefore has considerable leverage in, and responsibility for, the global food and nutrition agenda.  European food security is intrinsically linked to global food security.  As such, the EU needs to break away from an inward-looking focus.  While global food security will be most positively impacted by increasing production in developing countries, the EU must play its part in producing food for its citizens and people elsewhere. 
Whilst changing human consumption patterns may change the demand for food, any growth in production should be undertaken in a sustainable way with full understanding and minimisation of environmental impacts both within Europe and on the rest of the world.

Sustainable intensification
In order to ensure food and nutrition security into the future, in the face of increasing competition for land, water and other resources, agriculture needs to protect the environment for future generations, produce a growing supply of food and also be socially sustainable.  Sustainability must encompass assessing all the costs and benefits of agriculture, locally, regionally and globally, and in both the short and long-term future. Given the limited potential for expanding agriculture into new land, any increase in demand for food requires increasing average yields from existing land, but this must be undertaken sustainably. 
"Sustainable intensification" is therefore about increasing the efficiency of production (producing more with less resources), whilst minimising and mitigating environmental impacts, near and far.  Consequently there is an urgent need to develop ways of measuring the extent to which growing productivity is environmentally sustainable. 
While biotechnology may play a role in global food security it is unlikely to be the main solution.  Innovations and institutions concerning management of farming systems and agricultural landscapes in an environmentally sensitive way may well provide greater scope in addressing this issue globally.

Cross-sectoral institutions and policies
We recognise an urgent need to institutionalise sustainable intensification into the agricultural debate.  Food production and consumption is a complex system that crosses many disciplinary boundaries.  We therefore need to develop a cross-sectoral and interdisciplinary approach to research, public debate and policy formulation.  For example, common frameworks that jointly consider nutrition and health, environment and agriculture are desirable. 
The EU also needs to promote, within trade negotiations, environmental issues and the multiple roles of agriculture in society.  Furthermore, education and research is required: linking food, nutrition, agriculture and the global food system; additionally governments need to invest in extension services to help farmers implement sustainable intensification. 
Developing a trans-sectoral institutional framework necessitates consultation with, and the participation of, a very large number of stakeholders and organisations across global society. We also need to encourage consideration of human values and the widespread effects of our behaviour on the earth system. 

From local to global
Global change arises from the sum of individual choices played out on local, regional and global scales. Therefore, as local actions can have distant impacts, a multiscale approach is needed such that local interests do not conflict with those at larger scales (regional, global).  For example, under-production of food in one area inevitably means that other areas have to compensate in their food production, and these distant effects need consideration.  Within the EU we need to encourage and assist local decision making according to a set of principles set at a larger scale in the governance hierarchy, such that there is subsidiarity but with reference to sustainability and equity across scales. 

Coping with future uncertainty
The future is more uncertain than it has ever been, but we know that natural resources are increasingly constrained globally.  The EU should maintain its productive agricultural land in order to meet future food demands, whether for the EU or rest of the world. 
Despite the uncertainty in the future, it is clear there are many "win-win" actions that are likely to make a positive difference whatever the future trajectory. These include taking a landscape view to manage agricultural systems (for example, to develop instruments to promote ecosystem service provision in agricultural landscapes), reducing food waste at all points in the supply chain, encouraging a diversity of agricultural products within regions, and encouraging a nutritionally balanced diet rather than one that only considers calorie sufficiency (for example, this may encourage demand for fruit and vegetables, locally and sustainably produced).  On the other hand, one certain "lose-lose" solution would be agricultural intensification without being driven to be sustainable. 
Only by having environmental sustainability at its heart will growth in food yields meet our future global responsibilities and needs. 

Prof Tim Benton, University of Leeds, UK

Prof Jerzy Wilkin, University of Warsaw, PL

Prof Jan Bengtsson, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, SE

Dr Juan Antonio Rodriguez Diaz, University of Cordoba, ES

Prof Herve Guyomard, INRA, FR

Dr Tibor Hartel, Mihai Eminescu Trust, Ovidius University, UBB-Cluj, RO

Dr John Kearney, Dublin Institute of Technology, IE

Dr Iwona Nurzynska, Polish Academy of Sciences, PL

Prof Josef Settele, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ, DE

Press release (there are more if you search with the title)

The round table discussion

Prof Jan Bengtsson (left) and Dr. Juan Rodriguez Diaz (right)

Presenting the consensus to the Polish Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Developement (Prof Tim Benton on the right)

duminică, 9 octombrie 2011

Four sentences about the fate of the Saxon villages of Transylvania

By Tibor Hartel
Post initially published here:

We recently made 50 interviews and five focus group exercises to know how people perceive their village. Below four interesting quotes are presented, which capture well and wisely  what most of the interviewees told.

About the past.
‘The Saxons were decent, fair, working and good people’ (75 year old Hungarian woman from Drauseni about the past of her village, experienced by her).

‘I don’t blame times. I blame people.’ (72 year old Saxon woman from Viscri. She expressed this way the importance of community cohesion, no matter if times are worse or good).
About the present. 
‘Today nothing is working. People come together to discuss but everyone want to be chief, and they argue but are unable to make a common decision’ (48 year old Romanian man in Apold, about present community life in his village).
About the traditional agriculture (and its potential future).
‘Farmers with money use machineries and chemicals in agriculture. Those without money use traditional agriculture (23 year old woman from Apold, describing agriculture in her village).

marți, 16 august 2011

A Hungarian poem

 This post was initially published here:

By Tibor Hartel (thanks to Laura Sutcliffe for proof-reading the translation!)
Around 10 years ago I read an exciting essay of the great Hungarian ecologist and thinker, Juhász-Nagy Pál. He quoted a verse from a poem of the Hungarian Nobel Price winner Albert Szent-Györgyi ( ), called Psalmus Humanus. It has taken me some weeks to get the whole poem and effectively copied by hand the whole poem (common practice at those times) to have it with me as kind of “intellectual food” for a life journey. In the past few days I thought to share some verses with you, in this blog. Since I find no English translation I translated some verses myself. Here I apologize if the translation is not perfect – still I feel it gives back well the fears and concerns of Szent-Györgyi quite well.
Beyond hard core science and Impact Factors, this can be a way to influence thinking, feeling and reflection about us, our life, our trajectory and our place in this beautiful planet.
Szent-Györgyi Albert: Psalmus Humanus
Lord, who are You?
My strict Father,
Or my loving Mother?
Whose womb bore the Universe?
Are you the Universe itself?
Or, the Law, which dominates it?
Is the only reason you created life to untie it again?
Did you create me or did I create You?
To escape from my loneliness and my responsibility?
God! I don’t know, who you are,
But I cry to You in my great troubles,
Frightened by myself and my fellow men!
Maybe you don’t even understand my words,
But perceive my speechless song.
First Prayer: God
Lord, you are more powerful than your creation.
And your home is the Universe.
I perceived you like myself,
Evil, greedy and vain,
Who yearns for glorification and sacrifice from me,
Who avenges my minor sins,
To whom I should build a temple,
Whilst I leave my brothers homeless?
God! Let me praise You with
The enhancement of that tiny point,
Entrusted to me in your Creation.
Shower light on this earthly existence,
Warmth, goodwill and happiness.

Fourth prayer: Power (energy) and speed
You revealed to us the secret forces of materials,
To ease our burdens and beautify our lives.
You thought us to fly faster than our own sound,
That distance must no longer separate people.
We strive to concentrate its powers into projectiles,
And wing them to the farthest corners of the Earth,
To draw our human fellows in misery and destruction.
Leaving a scorched, lifeless earth behind.
God! Do not let us destroy the temple of life,
Allow me to use my skills for my own benefit and
Sanctify life with it,
Giving dignity to my existence.
Fifth prayer: the Earth
Lord! You gave this beautiful Earth as our home,
You have hidden immeasurable treasures in its depths,
You enable us to understand your work,
To ease our life, banish hunger and disease.
We dig out the treasures to waste them,
To create formidable instruments of destruction,
To destroy with them what other people are building,
While they do not turn against me and kill me and
my children.
Lord! Let us to be your companion in creation,
To understand and beautify the work of Your hand,
To make our planet the secure home of peace,
Abundance, joy and beauty.

joi, 28 iulie 2011

Sustainability or societal relevance?

By Tibor Hartel

This post was initially published here: and is a response to the previous post on the research implementation gap.
A number of conservation scientists have identified a ‘gap’ between conservation research and implementation: while the scientific conservation knowledge is quickly accumulating, biological diversity seems to go down; previously heterogeneous and aesthetically pleasant landscapes become homogenous, infinitely boring and dead – thanks to Homo sapiens.
At the scale of Europe, this phenomenon is sharply extending from the ‘west’ (i.e. generally more impacted systems) to the ‘east’ (generally less impacted, more ‘ecologically intact’ systems). In a slightly exaggerated way: if an extra-terrestrial organism were to start researching the behaviour, demographics and economy of Homo sapiens s/he would possibly wouldn’t even realize that conservation science exists at all in Europe. If an extra-terrestrial ethnographer or anthropologist were to join the research team, she/he would probably realize after a while that Homo sapiensproduces cinemas, kindergartens, discotheque and indeed universities as well… and somewhere they do something they call “conservation science”.

If these extra-terrestrial had to somehow rank the importance of various cultural products made by humans, the importance of conservation science would be somewhere in line (or more probably below) the arts, football and other sports.
Indeed, we should admit that something is not working in the line of conservation science and its application in the real world. Scientists suggested a number of recommendations to research institutions and individual researchers to ‘control’ and solve this apparent conflict situation.
Below I will pick up one such recommendation from Knight et al. (2008) and will try to build some questions around this.
‘Bridging the research-implementation gap requires that we as a scientific community acknowledge and agree we generally are not conducting research of societal relevance and move beyond simply noting the existence of the research-implementation gap to implementing tangible changes to correct it.’
Further they point out that:
‘Researchers should therefore formulate problems collaboratively with stakeholders so as to comprehensively understand implementation opportunities and constraints and design useful, user friendly assessments’.
Both recommendations roughly converge toward the need for participatory exercises to identify common problems: to be of ‘societal relevance’ one needs to collaborate with stakeholders. It is good practice and equitable to involve a variety of different stakeholders to account for different realities.
Here I would like to point out a potentially dangerous trap. Namely, if these participatory meetings and workshops are not conducted and framed under the normative goal of sustainable development, they may fail and push the results of such workshops towards unsustainable outcomes.
One of the principles of participatory approaches is to account for different realities and ‘putting the first last’. And the question comes: ‘whose reality counts’? (see Robert Chambers exciting book about this, e.g. here for a preview)
If we ‘put’ sustainability as a normative goal for such exercises which eventually will be translated into policies and decisions – then we potentially undermine a basic principle of participation. Since sustainability is not part of the reality of everybody (various groups of stakeholders), or even if it is, not in equal importance, pushing it to a single normative goal might be dictatorial and not desirable. In a previous entry, I discussed the importance of perception about life in decision making and establishing trajectory of societies. To put it simply: if you are hungry, this means you will have different perception about life, will have different priorities (e.g. to feed your children…) and attitude toward sustainability – and you will therefore favour different types of policy and decisions.
And this is where the ‘research of societal relevance’ and ‘collaboration with stakeholders’ represents a potentially dangerous trap that needs to be managed.
How to tackle this problem?
Should we push sustainability as normative goal and then violate some basic assumption of participation and decision (e.g. ‘democracy’ or equity)?
Or in our desire to be solution-oriented and of societal relevance, should we go in the hand of ‘stakeholders’ and skew our research? (e.g. if I as conservation scientist show that fish negatively affect amphibians but actually the result is not of societal relevance – as it is in Romania for example – should I stop such kind of research?)

vineri, 15 iulie 2011

Poverty or biodiversity loss: an inevitable choice?

By Tibor Hartel

initially published here:

Here’s a 'conservation dilemma’ – (dilemma) a problem offering at least two possibilities, neither of which is practically acceptable (Source: Wikipedia). Working a relatively poor part of Europe (Central Romania), we are confronted with this dilemma on a daily basis.

One possibility to protect biodiversity, widely used in Europe and around the world, is the delineation of protected areas to preserve rare or endemic species, or a certain type of  cultural-natural heritage. To achieve conservation goals the area delineated should be managed in a specific way, that is, according to a management plan. If people live there, then a number of (usually financial) incentives can be used to ‘motivate’ agriculture and development which under the best available knowledge is ‘environmentally friendly’. Put simply: there are certain delineated areas where certain species or ecological functions are worth protecting, and there are areas where all these are already lost. It’s only in the latter that development can occur in a relatively unrestricted way.

Financial incentives to people living within protected areas (e.g. in the EU, Natura 2000 sites) have the aim to compensate people so they can afford the same things as people living outside the protected areas. People should not experience economic hardship because they live in a protected area, and therefore payments are used to compensate them for restrictions to development and production.

Does this work? This type of conservation strategy fragments ecological space into small isolates – like islands in the sea. These isolates (i) are unlikely to generate the full spectrum of life supporting ecosystem services, (ii) are less likely to be adaptive-resilient to global change and (iii) might hide a huge latent conflictual situation: what will happen if the financial incentives to maintain biodiverse landscapes stop?

So splitting the world into protected and unprotected areas, and compensating people accordingly works only when the world is stable. It is not sustainable in a rapidly changing world.

The second possibility is to find locations where traditional land use practices are still being practiced today. The assumption here is that if certain farming practices applied over centuries maintained fertile soils, clear waters and biodiverse landscapes, then these practices could be a good solution for sustainability. Moreover, they will generate good quality food, water and other resources for people. Perhaps these areas should then be protected areas, such as Natura 2000 sites? In Romania this happens, but one of the difficulties is that highly biodiverse farmlands are so widespread that delineating protected ‘islands’ appears quite nonsensical or even dangerous. In Romania, many valuable landscapes and biodiversity elements have now remained outside of the protected areas, receiving no conservation status and no attention from conservationists (since they focus on protected areas…). This type of conservation approach thus will result in a ‘forced binarization’ of the ecological space, which is not desired.

How can we solve the problem of biological conservation in areas characterised by traditional farming and high biodiversity? Maintaining those farming practices and traditional knowledge would be a possibility, sounds quite simple – but is it? If we somehow could maintain those traditional systems, we will likely have: (i) life supporting (and many other) ecosystem services, and (ii) adaptive, resilient ecological systems with well pronounced ‘internal-’ and ‘external memory’ (resilient e.g. to climate change, disease outbreaks etc.). But we can’t rid ourselves of that huge potential for conflict: people will want to develop (not nice to be trapped in the Middle Ages when others have satellite TV!), and acquire a similar level of material wealth as other people elsewhere (e.g. in western Europe).

Financial incentives are the solution most commonly envisaged. These incentives also symbolise an invitation for traditional communities to join the big, EU-wide (and indeed, global!) system of money and markets. Not only to be a part of it, but to depend on it. With all the consequences. Although financial incentives may be a solution in short term, they don’t seem viable in long term.

How do we tackle this dilemma?

miercuri, 6 iulie 2011

Perception about life and the trajectory of traditional rural societies and landscapes in Romania (and possibly Eastern Europe)

Tibor Hartel

The original post was published here:

Many rural communities in Romania are still tightly connected to landscapes, e.g. a great percentage of their basic food (egg, milk and milk products, fruits, vegetables, water, meat etc.) comes directly from nature.

Small scale agriculture as practiced by these people is the key driver of the species rich and unique landscapes of Eastern Europe. Small scale farming is more than a human activity generating basic resources: it is an ecological function in these landscapes. A number of organisms which are dependent on these agricultural activities are still abundant in these landscapes (such as the corncrake, cotton grass, many orchids, amphibians like the yellow-bellied toad, which inhabit temporary ponds, but also symbols of wilderness like the brown bear and wolf), yet endangered in many countries of Western Europe due to land use intensification infrastructural and other developments.

And the good things don’t end here. Natural elements remain a key part of the diversity of traditions, folklores, traditional ecological knowledge, and many other aspects of a rural life (from stork to plants, sun, rain etc.).

Yet it seems that subsistence farmers – the people who maintain these rich landscapes – don’t feel well in these times. Many have told me that life was much better before 1989 (during communism) than after the revolution, in the democracy. Why? Because life after `89 is much more unstable, and harder than before. And that ‘you can get 300 euro per month much more easily from a nearby factory than from working the land’. Money was the core of the problem: there is an increased need for money in everyday life.

During his recent visit, my colleague and friend Ioan Fazey asked me: ‘Are you sure that life after `89 is really harder or it is just the perception of people about the past?’

With this, he opened the box for a number of questions and issues.

If people’s perception of life changed, what might be the reason for that? Is it possible that the quick release from a socialist-communist world (and isolation) and the accessibility of Western Europe (its wealth and lifestyle – how people look, their behavior, the possibilities for children etc.) hit these people in a way that they suddenly feel poor and lost?

Aside from perception, there is no doubt that life is increasingly dependent on money. And things tend to be expensive. For example if parents want to educate their children --  in 2011 this is more important than it was 50-60 years ago and the financial constraints are very real.

Perception about ‘reality’ is an important driver of people’s lives. The social-economic surroundings (i.e. the European Union) are important in shaping the perceptions of people about their own reality.

To meet the type of expectations which are induced by the ‘western lifestyle’ money is needed.

Sometimes I call the very biodiverse landscapes of the Saxon area ‘dead landscapes’. Because it seems that people don’t feel comfortable with their life (anymore), and they dream about a different lifestyle – and they have the right to do this. They continue to do traditional farming but most of them dream about something else. And part of that something else is land use intensification, infrastructure development and other changes associated with a more modern life. Through such changes, however, the days of the wolves, bears, corncrakes and yellow bellied toads might be counted. The same is true for the knowledge and lifestyle which created and shaped these landscapes for centuries.

If we use the ‘sustainable development’ concept as ‘normative’ (to cite Joern Fischer), what can be done?
Thanks to Joern Fischer, Ioan Fazey and Jacqueline Loos the inspiring talks about this subject.

miercuri, 29 iunie 2011

Landing in a foreign cultural skeleton?

Tibor Hartel

Months before I read a book of Dawkins entitled ‘The extended phenotype’. In this book Dawkins argues that the extended phenotype goes beyond the phenotype (‘body’) produced by genes. It will include all the changes in the environment made by organism(s), which is more or less governed by genes. The beaver for example is able to modify landscapes by creating dams and ponds. These ponds will be there till the beavers will persist in that landscape.

The extended phenotype idea came back in my mind recently in a different context: while talking with my friend and colleague Joern Fischer about rural societies and the rich cultural-natural heritage produced by these – a heritage which easily seduces any conservationist.

Below the ‘cultural skeleton’ metaphor will be presented in a nutshell. It may look weird and not useful. And this is why it is shared!

Human societies produce culture and traditions. The culture and traditions are measurable things, for example songs, stories, traditional knowledge, dances and traditional costumes. Culture maniphest even beyond these: the structure of buildings (e.g. houses, church), the structure of the village, the way how people use the natural resources (land management, landscape management) can be all culturally driven. Together, these various cultural manifestations and landscape structure will give identity and uniqueness for that society and landscape.

What if the traditional society suddenly collapse (e.g. by massive emigration) and the cultural vacuum resulted from this is quickly filled by people with multiple and different cultural/ethnic origins? What will happen with the huge cultural and natural heritage produced and maintained by the previous society in the ‘new’ cultural-societal conditions?

This is how the term ‘cultural skeleton’ comes into the discussion.

Many conservationists are struggling to conserve the sharply deteriorating Saxon ( ) cultural and natural heritage of southern Transylvania. Since the society who produced and maintained this heritage (namely the Saxons) almost completely disappeared, one can wonder how efficient this conservation work can be in long term. The new society is a mixture of people with many cultural and ethnic origins (mostly Romanians, Hungarians and Rromas), some of them being ‘forced’ by a political context to immigrate in this area while others were already here but were mostly defavorised with respect to rights.This new mixture of culture doesn’t seem to truly fill and fit the ‘Saxon cultural skeleton’ (e.g. settlements, houses, landscape) left behind the Saxons. Moreover it seems that the group oriented behaviour (so characteristic to the Saxon society), and some traditional cultural behavioural maniphestations and knowledge (which are still present in the székely communities from Eastern Transylvania) are completely absent in these new communities. And this has consequences.

Below some examples showing the transformation of cultural (Figure 1) and landscape (Figure 2) heritage under changed cultural-societal conditions in the Saxon area of Transylvania.

Figure 1. A massive change in the cultural heritage such are the buildings is visible in the Saxon area. In many Saxon settlements, including Sighisoara there is a growing number of buildings restored in a way to have different shapes, colors and sizes. According to many local people, this may be due to the lack of community cohesion. Note that the picture series is not about the same house, just the overall trend is represented.
Figure 2. Wood pastures from Southern Transylvania were historically produced and maintained by the Saxon society. These lands were created by rearing the existing deciduous forests. Some oaks were maintained across the pasture and were used for shadow (for animals), timber and acorn production while the pasture was grazed. A massive deterioration of the old, scattered trees mostly due to lack of management and direct injuries caused by people are observable in the recent decades. Their fate goes hand in hand with the fate of the built heritage presented in Figure 1, due to the same reasons. According to some local expert opinions, if the current deterioration continues, most of ancient trees and wood pastures will completely disappear in the coming decades.

Cultural and landscape heritage undergo changes even without sharp cultural turnover, in the sense mentioned above (e.g. in the Székely land ( )– although here it seem to be slower and not so drastic than in the Saxon area). I admit that lots of cultural and biodiversity values are lost due to these changes and these changes pose their own challenges to conservationists. The increased wealth of the developed western European countries certainly represents an ‘attractor’ for many traditional societies of Eastern Europe: many Eastern European people from rural areas after experiencing the ‘western lifestyle’ still tend to put more weight on messages like ‘How poor you are’ instead of ‘Look around how destroyed our nature is. Try to not repeat our mistakes’.

With all these in mind, I think that the sharp cultural turnover recently happening in past communist-socialist countries like Romania adds a further and important threat on internationally important landscapes, habitats, species and cultural heritage – and represent an extra challenge for conservationists.

To put it simply: it is better if people occupy their own cultural skeleton than one made by others.

Some questions related to sustainable development and heritage (cultural, natural) conservation:
i) How, what and how much to conserve in rural landscapes where the rapid cultural turnover produced tensions between society and cultural-natural heritage?
ii) How could we – conservationists – help these societies to build a bridge between cultural heritage and them?
iii) How to help societies with multiple cultural origins to form a real community (i.e. informal institution)?
iv) What is the fate of the architectural and cultural heritage of traditional rural societies which were not affected by sharp cultural turnover – for example those from the Székely land from Eastern Transylvania? What are the limits and possibilities of cultural and natural heritage conservation in those areas?

Update (4 July, 2011): nice talk with my friend Hans Hedrich about cultural differences between people and the consequences of this. He was suggesting a nice thing: 'people generally act according to a kind of cultural code. It seems that in this area the Saxon cultural code was replaced by many other, different codes. And the consequences are obvious". After this I suggested the cultural skeleton metaphor - somehow we were talking about the same things. Hans, if you read this I hope I understood it well... (he suggested the book Daniel Quinn, Ishmael. I know (well) that book, warmly recommend to everybody)