Restoring hope in the future for Prespa Lake, FYR Macedonia

 Prespa Lake
Apple farming is the main agriculture activity in Prespa. Photo: Ljubomir Stefanov/UNDP

“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 of Macedonia. “We didn’t know that dumping apples would pollute the water.”

The beautiful but environmentally vulnerable region of the Prespa Lake Basin, home to more than 2,000 species of fish, birds, mammals and plants, has suffered greatly over the last 40 years — above all from pollution caused by unsustainable farming practices, together with erosion and the presence of untreated waste and wastewaters.

Highlights

  • The initiative, funded by the Swiss Development Cooperation over 6 years, will help improve water quality and rare species survive.
  • Reducing pressure on the lake's ecosystem involves planting trees, setting up a lake monitoring system and teaching farmers eco-friendly ways of irrigating and fertilizing their land.
  • 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.

At over 5 million years old, Lake Prespa is amongst the most ancient freshwater lakes in the world, and many of its species are unique and endangered.

In the past, farmers weren’t aware of the dangers of dumping biodegradable waste and over-using fertilizers and pesticides. They dumped thousands of tons of apples in the lake without knowing it would cause serious environmental damage.

"Over the years, we have been farming the wrong way,” farmer Stevo Radevski explains. “Now we all know and understand these practices have negative consequences for the environment and for all of us who live here. We can and must do better. It’s our livelihood. It’s our heritage. It’s our lives."

Agriculture accounts for 70 percent of the population's activity in the Prespa region. Any sustainable approach to restoring the health of the eco-system must address the needs of these farmers to maintain production while at the same time supporting them to change their farming practices to protect the environment.

"Our joint efforts have led to hundreds of men and women farmers being trained in sustainable agricultural practices. This has led to a remarkable 30 percent reduction in the amount of pesticides used by local farmers. The first-ever local system for monitoring pests and diseases has been established, further helping farmers to use chemicals more efficiently in lower quantities. And we’ve just helped complete the first-ever composting station — a station that will turn waste into products that can help farmers produce healthier and cheaper fruits," says UNDP Resident Representative Louisa Vinton.

The plant has just produced its first high-quality organic compost, making optimum use of the biodegradable waste that farmers previously dumped in and around the shores of the lake at great environmental cost.

This six-year project, which runs from 2010-2015, is financed by more than US $4 million from the Swiss Development Cooperation and includes a comprehensive set of measures to bring the eco-system back to health.

The Restoration of Lake Prespa project is developed and implemented by UNDP in partnership with the Municipality of Resen and the Ministry of Environment.

"It’s great to see so many changes happening for the better. UNDP has been actively supporting this region since 2004 and all our work together is now showing substantial results. This latest project has struck a balance between the needs of the local people and the needs of the environment," says the Mayor of Resen, Gjoko Strezovski.

Farmers like Stevco are all much more aware of the importance of farming responsibly. Many of them have had training in new methods of sustainable farming, and strong incentives have been given to farmers to reduce the amount of pesticides and fertilizers they use.

Stevco and other farmers use Facebook and a mobile app recently produced by UNDP to know when best to spray against pests. A pest control expert sends SMS updates to the farmers and also updates a Farmers’ Association page on Facebook, giving them instant access to information about the movements of pests and the best actions to take. This innovative approach to farming saves Stevco money and time, and helps him use sustainable farming practices.

Experts are now confident that Prespa is on the right track to recovery. Thanks to long-term cooperation and generous investment, there is room for hope that the eco-system of Lake Prespa will eventually return to health.

This year will see the implementation of a number of measures to restore the wetlands in the lake basin. Once the wetlands have been restored, the resulting increase in the growth of reeds will allow for further biomass to be taken to the composting station. Its potential use as an alternative source of energy will also be explored to secure additional funding for environmentally-friendly investments in the Prespa region.

The 4-year period of UNDP-assisted implementation will be followed by a transfer of implementation responsibilities to the Municipality of Resen.