The agricultural landscape is part of our cultural heritage and as such helps to form and sustain national identity. The economic use and protection of landscapes must be based on the principles of sustainable management. Disregarding this principle disturbs the balance between the natural, economic and cultural (social) dimensions of landscapes, worsens landscape conditions and can eventually lead to landscape degradation. The fate of landscapes is important to many people. Several communities and individual farmers would not agree to misuse the landscape. They do everything possible to retain landscape shape and content, to protect landscapes and to use their production potential in harmony with their natural features. The experiences of these communities and farmers are extremely valuable.
However, current Czech agriculture is dominated by industrial agrotechnology with large-scale monocultures, huge amounts of pesticides and fertilizers. This technology has negative effects on the soil (for example in the form of erosion), the quality of underground water, biodiversity (the drastic decrease of field animals, for example partridges, as well as of butterflies, insects and rare plants), the health of human populations, and also aesthetics. Based on scientific research, we have known for a long time where and why agricultural landscapes suffer hardships. Throughout this period, we have tried in vain to change attitudes to landscape management. Only the negative effects of global climatic change – such as drought, which heavily effects agriculture – forced the public to realize the unfavourable condition of agricultural landscapes.
Agroforestry systems (AFS) have several beneficial effects. They limit erosion, improve microclimate, foster carbon sequestration, and also improve biodiversity and landscape aesthetics. We also consider AFS as a means to make landscapes more attractive, for example for agrotourism.
At the same time, we are aware of the dangers and imperfections of using AFS on larger scales to fulfil the full range of their functions. Such risks include the fragmentation of land ownership, long-term land rentals, and the lack of quality nursery stock of broadleaved trees for the production of valuable wood.
However, through appropriate social education it is possible to overcome these difficulties with land owners and thereby with farmers as well. The lack of nursery stock is a challenge for foresters, who could utilize AFS as a new market opportunity and grow the required stock in a relatively short time.
Because AFS can be used on larger scales, we are convinced that they are a beneficial option for the management of agricultural landscapes with minimal losses in agricultural production. Current agriculture is dominated by the industrial character of agricultural production. Therefore we think that AFS can offer a solution to join the ecological, economic and cultural aspects of management in all agricultural land size categories.
AFS are management methods that combine tree cultivation with one or more forms of agricultural production (agricultural crop production and/or animal husbandry). At present two main forms of AFS can be differentiated: tree cultivation on fields (tree lines) and the spatially random cultivation of trees on pastures. It will be necessary to introduce AFS as a new cultivation form in the public land register LPIS. This is the only way for AFS to be a relevant and controllable system implemented on the same level as ecological agriculture. At the same time, this will allow AFS to use financial means as an agri-environmental-climatic measure.
So far there were neither political will nor any interest from the farmers themselves to use management forms that would improve the landscape. Although with some delay, the previous government accepted the Program for the adaptation to climate change in the conditions of the Czech Republic as well as the corresponding Action plan for adaptation mechanisms to climate change. It is now up to the individual governmental departments to implement this plan and to overcome their usual individualism in the way they approach the landscape, which is their common interest. AFS offer ideal tools for Czech agriculture to fulfil the State agricultural policy, within which the Czech Republic pledged to offer as much as 40% of the financial means for climate change mitigation efforts from the budget of the Ministry of Agriculture. Under the auspices of the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of
Agriculture, a conference took place today in an academic institution. This clearly shows that there is now a significant effort to promote the adaption of Czech landscapes to climate change and to achieve commitment to the European Landscape Convention. We need to use all possible methods systematically and in a complex manner to deal with the state of Czech landscapes. There is no single solution.
If we manage to introduce AFS to Czech agriculture, our agricultural landscapes will be more diverse, more aesthetic and mainly more sustainable. We expect that in the near future AFS will become one of the main methods through which landscapes will adapt to climate change. AFS will improve landscapes also as regards soil protection, biodiversity as well as production and economic risk mitigation.
MUDr. Radim J. Šrám, DrSc., Head of the Committee for the Environment of the Czech Academy of Sciences (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Prague, 18 April 2019