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Impact of agricultural development scenarios on water resources in Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania

Kieft, Henk and Znaor, Darko (2000) Impact of agricultural development scenarios on water resources in Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania. In: Proceedings of the international conference “Water and agriculture”, World Wide Fund for Nature, Brussels, pp. 47-56.

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1. Background information
In order to examine the environmental and economic effect of low-input and organic types of agriculture in Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania, in 1995 EU-Phare programme funded a pilot project on setting up research and education demonstration centres for sustainable agriculture (EU/AR/301/91). The project’s objective was to “test” the feasibility of sustainable types of agriculture under agro-ecological and socio-economic circumstances of the three countries concerned. The project also had to draft a policy paper for conversion to sustainable agriculture in these countries. Education and research on water quality, biodiversity, market potentials and macro-economic feasibility represented a substantial part of the project activities (ended up in May 1999). The results obtained and experienced gained by this project are used as the frame for a wider discussion regarding the impact of agricultural development scenarios on water resources in the Danube countries.
2. Impact of agriculture on water resources in the Danube River Basin
Most agricultural operations, such as soil tillage, manuring, grazing, and irrigation, pose a serious threat to water quality.
Agriculture is a substantial water user, and often the single biggest sector responsible for the pollution of European waters. In addition, agriculture threatens water habitats. Available data indicate that in many regions of Europe, agriculture alone is responsible for more than 50% of the total nutrient load borne by water (Znaor, 1999; VROM, 1998; IFEN, 1998; OECD, 1997). Many surface and groundwater resources are exploited beyond sustainable levels and agriculture contributes to this problem by drawing off a considerable volume for irrigation purposes.
Around 50% of nitrate and phosphate pollution in the Danube River Basin are attributed to agriculture. The "Danube Integrated Environmental Study" (Haskoning, 1994), a research project involving approximately seventy experts from eleven Danube countries concluded that:
1. Agriculture is the major source of pollution by nitrogen (50%), phosphorus (53%) and pesticides, and contributes significantly to metal (Cd, Cu, Zn), bacteria and viruses emissions
2. Wetlands and related eco-systems still account for a substantial nutrient removal capacity with a high economic value
3. Environmental problems related to water pollution are amplified by the consumption patterns of the Danube basin population, particularly the increase of animal protein consumption
4. The damage to the priority functions (drinking water, recreation, fisheries, ecosystem) of ground and surface water in the Danube basin and part of the north-western shelf of the Black Sea is estimated to be about €4 billion per year.
The findings of the Haskoning study were recently confirmed by another study (TG-MWRI, 1997). This study, too, found that more than 50% of N and P in the surface water of the Danube basin derive from agriculture. A study from VITUKI (1997) concluded that a 25% reduction of the nutrient loads (as compared to reference period 1989-91) is required to meet the environmental quality criteria for the Danube River, while a 40% N-reduction and 50% P-reduction scenario would be required for the Black Sea Basin. Experts from the CEE countries have suggested that such reductions (of about 50%) would be feasible if so-called ‘Best Agricultural Practices’ could be generally applied. Obviously both Germany and Austria (Upper Danube) would have to contribute their share in this reduction as well.
The above data suggest that agriculture represents by far the most important sector for tacking nutrient pollution in the Danube basin. However, when calculating the amount of water pollution caused by agriculture, the pollution caused by agricultural practices are only part of the problem. Significant levels of pollution are caused by the agri-chemical industry that serves agriculture. It is a very substantial source of pollution. For instance: in Romania a single fertiliser producer contributes 13.4 % to the total Romanian phosphate discharge (60,000 ton) into the Danube river (Toma, 1999).
3. Low-external input agriculture reality and water pollution
In Central and Eastern Europe the sustainability issue in agriculture has two additional dimensions as compared to Western Europe. The ‘transition’-process of economic and institutional reform, and the environmental ‘opportunity’ of current low-input reality in agriculture. Due to changes in the price of agricultural commodities and the high price of agricultural inputs, most of the farms in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) are forced to practice low-input farming. Input levels have fallen to 10-30% of the input levels before 1989. In 1996-98, in most countries the agri-input levels have not increased above 10-50% of the 1989 levels: Bulgaria 10%, Yugoslavia 50%, Poland 50%, Romania 25%, Russia 12% (Kieft, 1999).
Even though this is a rather 'forced' agro-social experiment, it is very interesting to study its impact on the agricultural production and water pollution in the Danube River Basin. The various data on inputs, outputs and water pollution show the potential to combine the objectives of agricultural production with environmental protection. Therefore this very reality of low input levels can be perceived also as an environmental opportunity for the region. Especially since a minimum 40-50% nutrients reduction is required to enable ecologically sound functioning of the Black Sea (VITUKI, 1997). This opportunity is only interesting, however, if agricultural production can be increased without increasing pollution again.
Studies from some Danube countries (Kieft, 1999), as well as the results of the above-mentioned project indicate that by practising low-external input agriculture, the reduction of yields is not proportional to the reduction of fertiliser and pesticide inputs. Even with relatively low level of agri-chemical input farmers in Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania can achieve interesting output levels, while at the same time reducing or avoiding environmental damages. Maintaining these output levels, however, requires improved farming practices including balanced nutrient management, improved manure handling, erosion control and crop rotations, based on low input techniques.
4. Further agricultural development scenarios and policy options
Within the framework of this project, a study measuring the macro-economic impact of sustainable agriculture in Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary was done too (Wit et al. 1999). It showed that large-scale conversion (up to 50% of the arable land) to sustainable agriculture in these countries results in comparable national agricultural production value to that obtained by conventional scenario. The sustainable scenario exhibits even greater economic benefits when the external (environmental) costs accompanying agricultural production are internalised into the price of the produce. By charging a shadow price of ECU1 per kg of nitrogen leached, the sustainable scenario showed even greater economic benefit. It results in net national agricultural production value 16% (Bulgaria), 49% (Hungary) and 5% (Romania) higher than by the conventional scenario. At the same time, the sustainable scenario reduced nitrogen leaching for 34% (Bulgaria), 45% (Hungary) and 35% (Romania) when compared to the conventional scenario. This reduction complies with the targets set up for nutrient reduction for the Danube River and the Black Sea (VITUKI, 1997; Haskonig, 1994).
5. Conclusion
Agriculture in Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania, although at a record low input, is not sustainable from an economic or environmental point of view unless it is accompanied by better management practices. A shift to improved low-input agriculture and organic agriculture is beneficial to the national economy and reduces number of environmental and water-related degradations. In order to make this shift possible- a 3-Track policy is proposed: (i) support to pioneering organic farming; (ii) improvement of low-input farming techniques; (iii) conversion of high-input agriculture to integrated agriculture. Establishment of an international facility to support national teams in preparing and implementing this policy would enable a concerted action not only for these three, but also for other Danube countries.

EPrint Type:Conference paper, poster, etc.
Type of presentation:Paper
Keywords:Conversion to organic farming; Phare project on demonstration centres for sustainable agriculture; Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania; low-external-input agriculture; macro-economic impact of organic agriculture;
Subjects: Farming Systems > Farm economics
Farming Systems
Farming Systems > Social aspects
Environmental aspects > Air and water emissions
Knowledge management > Education, extension and communication > Technology transfer
Food systems
Food systems > Policy environments and social economy
Knowledge management > Education, extension and communication
Environmental aspects
Research affiliation: Netherlands
Deposited By: Znaor, Dr Darko
ID Code:26444
Deposited On:01 Jul 2014 08:50
Last Modified:01 Jul 2014 08:50
Document Language:English
Refereed:Not peer-reviewed

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