Restoring hope in the future for Prespa Lake

“We used to do a lot of things without thinking about the effects on the environment,” says Naume Toskovski, an apple farmer in the Prespa Lakes region. “We didn’t know that dumping apples would pollute the water. Perhaps it’s a different story with pesticides and fertilizers— the temptation for farmers is always to over-use these chemicals and we know they are harmful for nature— but we didn’t know just how harmful they were. Until recently we didn’t know of any better alternatives.”

Farming practices in this environmentally vulnerable region — home to over 2,000 species of birds, fish and mammals — have been identified as a major cause of pollution to the ancient freshwater lakes. Over the years, many thousands of tons of rotten apples have been dumped along the shores. And excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers has been common practice for decades. Combined with the effects of erosion and the lack of any sustainable management system for the treatment of waste and wastewaters, these farming practices have led to a severe deterioration in the health of the lake, posing a threat to the habitat of the many endangered species unique to the Prespa Lake Basin.

Highlights

  • Sustainable development work in the Prespa Lake region has led to a 30 percent reduction in the quantity of pesticides used by farmers each season.
  • Over the next six years, a new project by the UNDP and the Municipality of Resen will plant trees, set up a lake monitoring system and teach farmers eco-friendly ways of irrigating and fertilizing their land.
  • The project, funded with 5 million Swiss Francs from the Swiss Development Cooperation, will improve water quality and help rare species that live in the lake survive.

UNDP, with funding from the GEF, has been working closely with the local Municipality of Resen for many years to restore the health of the Prespa ecosystem—helping farmers to adopt more sustainable farming practices, raising public awareness of environmental concerns, researching solutions to the complex pollution problems in the waterbodies and developing a comprehensive plan for the future management of the watershed.

Already these efforts have led to a thirty per cent reduction in the quantity of pesticides used by farmers each season. And the invaluable experience and knowledge gained in identifying and tackling the pressures on the waterbodies has provided a sound foundation for the development of a new six-year project that will greatly improve the health of the waters.

The new project—‘Restoration of the Prespa Lake’—is helping hundreds of farmers to learn and apply more environmentally sustainable practices, including a model orchard for demonstrating the many benefits of reducing the use of fertilizers and  pesticides.

With generous funding from the Swiss Development Corporation in the amount of over five million USD, the project is introducing a Lake Monitoring System and Management System with a state-of-the-art laboratory to ensure local capacities are sufficient to maintain the long-term health of the ecosystem.

The project will further apply the recommendations of the Prespa Watershed Management Plan developed with UNDP support in 2012. These include large-scale reforestation to combat the effects of erosion, the introduction of wetland restoration techniques for controlling floods and filtering the water of the Golema Reka river, and nature-based upgrades of wastewater management.

These improvements in agricultural practices and watershed management will significantly reduce the pressures on the lake, finally bringing the detrimental process of eutrophication under control. In this way the many rare and endangered species in the region will stand a much better chance of survival.

And the benefits of the project will also be felt by local people. Farmers will save money using organic compost and more efficient methods of pest control and irrigation. Better quality water will be available for all citizens in the municipality, while the cleaner lake will help attract more tourism as an alternative source of income to farming.

“With this project we are entering upon a new stage of cooperation with our main partners,” says UNDP Resident Representative Deirdre Boyd. “Together with the Municipality of Resen and the Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning, we are committed to a major long-term project with results that will be beneficial for local people and for the ecosystem of this beautiful part of the country. This project is itself the outcome of long-term cooperation and we hope it will serve as a model of inclusive sustainable development.”