Green dams ‘hit’ West Balkans biodiversity, locals’ water supply

Aa Aa Small-scale hydropower projects are soaring in number across the Balkans — but they’re also destroying the region’s wild rivers and threatening one of Europe’s most biodiverse areas, according to environmental groups.
Despite the environmental damages that these plants produce, governments and companies are continuing to fund their construction.
The Balkan region represents a biodiversity hotspot and many of its rivers are still in outstanding conditions, according to Pippa Gallop, an expert from BankWatch, a global network focused on monitoring activities of several international financial institutions.
Ulrich Eichelmann of RiverWatch, an organisation focused on protecting the Balkan rivers from dam construction, said local communities need rivers’ freshwater in order “to irrigate their fields and gardens, sometimes use it as drinking supply, to catch fish and — most importantly — for their sheep, goats and cattle.” He added: “There are villages in Albania with hundreds or even thousands of sheep that rely on natural sources to water their flocks.” These types of plants also damage areas surrounding rivers and streams.
In most cases, flagrant violations of national laws and international financial institutions’ standards are visible and include blocking fish passes, releasing insufficient or no water at all downstream, and creating significant erosion with access roads.” Flouting local environmental laws?
An EBRD spokesperson refuted this, however, saying that all of their projects: “Must fulfil strict local and international laws and regulations and under these conditions we are committed to sustainable hydropower solutions.
He added that EIB does not “usually finance directly small-scale hydropower projects”, as these are normally financed with credit lines via local banks as intermediaries.
In Valbona National Park in Albania, three plants are under construction, leaving locals without water supply.
According to Schwarz, there is no restoration concept for dam-affected rivers and says there should be a “moratorium for new hydropower plants construction for specific rivers in the countries that wish to access the EU.” For Eichelmann, financial institutions like EBRD and EIB must stop funding Balkan projects, and instead push these countries to more balanced renewable energy production, focused on solar and wind power.
The bank finances the full range of renewable energy activities both inside and outside the EU.

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Can Africa feed itself?

Their findings were published in the journal PNAS of this week.
Agricultural yields per hectare in sub-Saharan Africa are currently low.
Although extensive farming now satisfies most of the African population’s demand for grain, in the next few decades the African population will grow by a factor of 2.6 and grain demands even 3.4 times.
Therefore in 2050 self-sufficiency on existing farm land is only feasible if the yield per hectare will rise to 80% of the potential, just as in the Netherlands or the United States.
As a result, an annual increase in yield per hectare of 130 kg must be achieved — starting now.
If that fails, then major expansions of farmland are required, which will be at the cost of natural habitats and increased greenhouse gas emissions, or enormous grain imports that must be paid with scarce foreign exchange.
In some countries, the required area is simply not available, and expansion of farmland is not sustainable, explains one of the researchers, Professor Abdullahi Bala from Nigeria.
Modernisation of agriculture in Africa Consequently, according to the international research team including Kindie Tesfaye from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) in Ethiopia, a rapid intensification of African farming is required.
Tesfaye also stresses the importance of improved farming with multiple crops per year and the expansion of sustainable irrigation.
The researchers from Wageningen University & Research, and their colleagues from African research institutes and the University of Nebraska, collected data from 10 African countries which accommodate 54% of the total population of sub-Saharan Africa and which contain 58% of the total cropland on this part of the continent.

Peas and goodwill: an ecologist’s wish this Christmas

Planting peas and other legumes alongside cereal crops could help make farming greener, say ecologists.
Intercropping, as it’s known, could cut greenhouse gas emissions by reducing dependence on fertiliser, as well as boosting biodiversity, food security and opening up new markets for local food and drinks businesses.
This includes producing impressive crop yields without artificial nitrogen fertiliser — and inventing new ways of brewing and distilling with beans.
This is because peas and other legumes fix their own nitrogen.
And when grown with other crops such as barley, the peas supply the cereal’s nitrogen needs.
Farming also needs to diversify by growing a wider range of crops and develop new markets for local, sustainable food and drinks.
To find new markets for a larger legume crop, Dr Iannetta is also developing new ways of turning peas and beans into alcohol.
By turning pulse starch into fermentable sugars and alcohol from 40% beans intercropped with 60% barley — we have produced a beer using 40% less artificial fertiliser," says Dr Iannetta.
The final benefit of their fermentation process is that it also produces a high-protein by-product, which could be used to make fish farming more sustainable.
"These will have been produced using no human-made fertilisers, and give co-products that provide sustainable and profitable protein production for the food chain," he concludes.