The Western Balkans region is characterized by many areas created and sustained through the effects of man and nature. The appearance of these areas is conditioned by the climatic and geographical characteristics of the region, as well as traditional agricultural practices, and so they form a part of the cultural identity of the local population.
In order to increase the volume of production, many intensive practices have been introduced into agriculture that ensure high yields but at the same time deplete the natural resources, threaten biodiversity and the welfare of farm animals, changing the traditional agricultural landscape. These practices are therefore unsustainable.
In an attempt to preserve traditional agricultural areas that support the wellbeing of rural communities and conserve natural resources, wild species and their habitats, the concept of high nature value farming has been created.
ORCA advocates the concept of high nature value farming in the Western Balkans. We do this to preserve and further strengthen the social, cultural, natural and economic values of the entire region for the benefit of farmers, consumers, animals and nature.
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?
Nature and biodiversity protection
The concept of high nature value farming provides mankind with the long-term use of all ecosystem services that depend on preserved biodiversity and nature, as well as the responsible use of natural resources. Some of these services include plant pollination, natural regulation of the abundance of insects that can be harmful to agricultural (cultivated) crops, medicines used in traditional and modern medicine, healthy food, clean water and many other services that human communities depend on around the world.
Rural communities development
The well-thought development of high nature value farming can lead to sustainable economic stability and improve the quality of life of rural communities. Furthermore, the application of low-intensity farming methods, combined with the promotion of quality food products with the proven geographical origin and the development of rural tourism, can be the core of sustainable rural development in much of the Western Balkans.
Improved animal welfare
The concept of high nature value farming improves animal welfare as it implies better breeding conditions (e.g. more space, grazing, lower population density and more). Thus, farm animals bred in sustainable systems that ensure their wellbeing are usually healthier, which reduces mortality, the use of medicines, and therefore the cost of production. In addition, consumers are provided with safer and better quality food of animal origin.
Increased food demands after World War II resulted in a significant intensification of agricultural production across Europe. Over time, it has become apparent that the practices used in intensive farming (use of heavy machinery, keeping a large number of animals in a limited space, increased use of pesticides and mineral fertilizers, consumption of huge amounts of energy in production processes, etc.) have had significant negative effects on the environment, leading to the destruction and fragmentation of natural habitats and, consequently, to the disappearance of many wild plant and animal species. Aside from the negative effects on biodiversity, the consequences of intensive farming are reflected in soil degradation, decreased water quality, and production of low-quality food.
High nature value farming is a concept that preserves and sustainably exploits the natural values of rural areas to make quality agricultural products accessible to local communities in the future. The word “value” in high nature value farming refers to the value of conserving natural habitats and wild species of plants and animals that live in it, and thus preserving ecosystem services man receives from biodiversity (regulating organisms harmful to farming, pollination and so on).
High nature value farming includes agricultural land and high nature value farming practices. In this concept, agricultural land is defined in relation to the soil of high nature value (for example pastures, orchards, arable land), while farming practices refer to the practices applied on that land (for example grazing, mowing, pruning).
In addition to high yields, such agricultural land provides important habitats for wildlife, while high nature value farming practices are synchronized with wildlife life cycles and have a positive effect on biodiversity conservation. Having in mind that consumers and decision-makers across the European Union are very aware of the importance of nature conservation and animal welfare in the production of healthy and quality food, agricultural products originating from such production systems have added value.
Experts agree that there are large areas of high nature value land in the Western Balkans region, which is why the whole region is considered the “green gold” and the “lungs” of Europe. (European Environment Agency).
There are three main types of high nature value agricultural land (without clearly defined borders between them):
Type 1: Agricultural land with a high proportion of semi-natural or natural vegetation (semi-natural meadows and pastures);
Type 2: Agricultural land with a mosaic of different natural and semi-natural habitats and low intensity of land exploitation (forests, hedges, lakes and other habitats within agricultural land);
Type 3: Agricultural land inhabited by rare species or being home to a large percentage of European and world population.