Protection of the Environment and Biodiversity

Since 1993, we are cooperating with the Kathmandu based “International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development – ICIMOD” in developing and promoting a honeybee programme, which directly benefits the poorest of the poor as it contributes to the people’s income and conservation of biodiversity and sustainable management of mountain agriculture through pollination services. Throughout the period, the focus of this programme was on Apis cerana selection and multiplication, integration of pollination in farming systems, promotion of indigenous honeybees and honey hunting communities, market study and enterprise development, training and extension, gender mainstreaming, networking and capacity building.

In its latest phase the programme is executed directly by ICIMOD and its staff, whereas Austroprojekt is providing advisory (= consulting) services. The main emphasis lies now on promoting a network of the organisations of beekeepers with the aim of creating a strong lobby for their produce, which is unique in the world.

Another experience of a project focussing on the preservation of natural resources led us to the remote Ouneine valley in the High Atlas Mountains south of Marrakech. In close cooperation with the local population, the project promoted measures like reforestation and electricity supply based on renewable energies. Another topic is the improvement of the communal infrastructure, e.g. schools, public baths, water supply for households and irrigation as well as an evacuation system for used waters. Following the principle that sustainable change can only be achieved through participation, every activity was decided together with the village representatives.

The execution of the development project in the Ouneine valley showed the need for a better understanding of the interaction of different environmental, agricultural and social variables. In order to constitute a comprehensive data source, scientists of the Institut Agronomique et Vétérinaire Hassan II in Rabat and of the Department of Water Management, Hydrology and Hydraulic Engineering of the Agricultural University in Vienna, started a parallel research project gathering basic data on hydrology, topographical features, vegetation, renewable energy resources, and socio-economic resources. The main concern was the elaboration of a strategy for environmental protection in order to counteract erosion.

The experience gathered in Ouneine is being tested in a completely different socio-economic and infrastructural setting in the Rif Mountains in northern Morocco. In view of replacing the cultivation of kif (cannabis indica) by ordinary cash crops, we have carried out several pilot activities leading to a programme in the Bni Idder commune focussing on the alleviation of women’s workload (as men have their own occupation and considerable income with the illicit crop).

Similar activities were led in Tunisia: we have worked mainly with women in the integrated exploitation of several water dams, combined with a maintenance programme to ensure the sustainability of water and soil preservation activities. A programme especially focused on women dealt with the transformation of forest resources by women groups in the field of distillery of aromatic and medical plants to extract essential oils.

In Nicaragua, we were involved in the SIAPAZ programme package dealing amongst others with the sustainable use of border areas of tropical forests and the exploitation of Palma Africana plantations. Several studies were conducted, a local radio station supported to promote the ideas of the programme. Finally, a huge area menaced by developers was turned into a protected area called “Esperanza verde”.
Our work with the Pygmies in Cameroon had the same main objective – the preservation of their natural habitat – the tropical rainforest.

As we promote sustainable, low input agriculture in all our rural development projects, measures to preserve natural resources are high on the agenda everywhere. Amongst the promoted anti-erosive measures one could quote the progressive formation of terraces in Rwanda and Burundi, the construction of small stone dams in Burkina Faso to prevent rainwater from rushing to the deeper valleys, the introduction of composting and the use of dung to improve soil fertility. Other techniques consist in the introduction of leguminous trees into the fields as well as animal husbandry to traditionally agriculture focused farms, shifting cultivation, crop rotation and crop combinations.

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