Prespa Lake project as a global success story

Local news, 07.09.2018

The Restoration of the Prespa Lake Ecosystem project achieved impressive results in reducing the pressures on the local ecosystem and improving the lake’s ecological state and resilience. Based on these achievements, the project was selected by UNDP to illustrate best practices to reach the 15th Sustainable Development Goal ‘Life on Land’ in one of its new publications about the significance of public service.

An apple-producing family farm in Prespa © Ljubo Stefanov/UNDP

Macedonia is one of 17 countries worldwide featured for their contribution to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in UNDP’s new publication “Public Service 2030 – Making the Sustainable Development Goals Happen”. The Swiss-supported Prespa Lake project, which aimed at reducing the pressures on the ecosystem of the Prespa region and improving the lake’s ecological state and resilience, was chosen to portray best practices to reach the 15th SDG ‘Life on Land’.

Over 70% of the population of the region works in agriculture, making the land an important source of their income. However, farmers can unknowingly cause damage to the lake by using excessive amounts of hazardous pesticides and fertilizers, wasting irrigation water, and dumping waste directly into the water. This is posing a significant threat to the environment, as well as the livelihoods of the population. Because of this, one of the activities of the Prespa Lake project was focused on raising awareness about the dangers of excessive use of pesticides among the local farmers and encouraging them to adopt more environmentally sustainable agricultural practices. One important breakthrough came in pest control.

“The way we dealt with pests before was wasteful, and that is due to lack of awareness. However, another problem farmers witnessed is to know when to spray and to be notified in time. That’s more of a technical problem that needs a technical solution,” says Petkovski. To address this problem, the project installed six solar-powered agro-meteorological monitoring stations and a number of insect pheromone traps throughout the region. These monitoring stations gathered important data, but they needed to get these data to farmers as quickly and cheaply as possible. To solve this challenge, the Faculty of Computer Science of the University of Cyril and Methodius in Skopje was supported to develop a system of SMS notifications to farmers.

Walking in his orchard, Petkovski clicks on his mobile phone and points to his message menu. “Here’s the SMS we received about the codling moth last week,” he says. “That message went out to every farmer in the village of Rajca whose name is registered with the local Association of Farmers, and that’s how we were able to spray before the moths had a chance to spread. Just knowing that in time saved our fruit.” In addition to SMS notifications, the solution also makes use of Facebook, where a dedicated Farmers’ Association page is updated with the same information to further expand reach and accessibility.

But this helpful system for the farmers was not the only project activity which showed effective results. Grounded on a solid foundation of monitoring, assessment and planning, the project has also built sewage treatment and wastewater collection facilities, protected at-risk habitats, and developed irrigation systems and reforestation. Since the project began, over 80% of local farmers have adopted sustainable agro-ecological practices. The use of water for irrigation has been reduced by nearly 60%, and the use of pesticides is down by 30%. Water quality has improved significantly, and indigenous fish species have recovered. In addition, the local economy has reaped the benefits of a healthier ecosystem, with higher farming yields, better-quality crops and lower costs.

These successes could not have been achieved without the active engagement of the public sector. While the Municipality of Resen had sole responsibility for the lake’s delicate ecosystem, it lacked both the skills and funding to fulfill this role. The project helped the municipality establish an environment department, which has since undertaken ambitious environmental protection activities. All nature protection functions have now been successfully transferred to the public sector, putting a successful end to this project supported by Switzerland and implemented by UNDP since 2005.