Programme description: an integral view
2 to 5 years for Ecology to turn green
Technically speaking it takes 2 to 5 years to turn a barren area into valuable green area providing water, micro-climate, agricultural crops, feed and food, trees, shelter, biodiversity and other ecosystem services. There are impressive examples in China, Jordan, Egypt, Mali. The Dutch King Willem Alexander – on his request – visited the Löss-Yan’an-plateau (size: about France) in China just recently.
One of the Jordan princesses recently provided a large area to catalyze greening developments. In Andalusia, South Africa and Ethiopia projects with the same ecological principles are established. Dutch (social) entrepreneurs and ecologists are often involved. A handful of Dutch techno-starters have the know-how and low-tech technologies to combine local labour with minimal water resources to get things started. When accompanied within the right ecological context (building with nature) microclimates will establish.
The basics on water and ecology: Building Nature with Nature
Based on the principles of ‘ecomimicry’, learning by ecological phenomena, the greening of the MENA-region is an extensive task. It is an endeavour that will take decades of natural development. As all big challenges, it can be done step-by-step. We envision this development as a massive process of succession, in an ecological sense. The result can be a region that has a high standard in biodiversity, living conditions for humans and flora and fauna and the ability to have a high biomass-production for food and bio-based products. The effect on livability is huge: water will be caught and stored, (micro-) climate will be positively affected and greening the region will bring a solid ground for resilient and strong social networks.
Below we just point out the relevant principles. Deeper understanding and activation on location(s) is needed to show the real power of ecology.
Steering on conditions
In nature, restoration is not an issue. When the situation changes, nature will adapt to this and there will develop a new ecosystem, fit to the situation. This principle is the starting point of our ecology-based approach. The creation of the conditions is the first step in the greening of area’s. Based on the knowledge and experiences all around the world, we now know that creation of the right circumstances will be the starting point for greening an area.
The key question is: how to create the right conditions?
Long time it was done by external interventions based on technical skills and insights. Irrigation, canalization and other technical approaches were the basic measurements. In “Building Nature with Nature”, we adapt to local physical (abiotic) patterns.
Using moisture in the wind (even in the driest area’s) and proper landscaping, greening becomes possible. If a location additionally receives torrential Run-off water, this water can kept locally available to penetrate into to ground by (cascades of) dams, i.e. dams not to keep the water away but to provide time for the water to enrich the hydrological structure of the soil and underground. When there is torrential rainfall at the location, digging trenches have at large the same effect. These technics when properly applied create the hydrological circumstances for ecological succession and provide drinking water.
In these highly dynamic situation we see the start in greening by agriculture: the first stages in succession as the pioneer-species will find their way. Together with local specialists, familiar with the geological, meteorological situation and the life- sciences at location a thorough analysis will be made of probable interventions. These are systems interventions that are the ‘leverages’ towards redesign of the natural capital. Smart use of situation/ condition-resisting and -fit species is part of each local quest. No species can be used that hinders at the long(er) time-perspective the development of biodiversity.
How agriculture can foster biodiversity is knowledge that is embedded in ecomimicry: In the ecology an important understanding is the consistency between spatial differences/ transitions and diversity. Borders are transitions from one situation to the other. Especially those transitions, gradients, have a strong influence on diversity and thus on the quality of ecosystems. Where there is a ‘hard’ gradient (limes convergens), there will be two situations with no overlap or overflow. The walls of rivers are a good example of this: a strict separation between wet and dry. Hard limits are outgoing borders. If there is a ‘soft’ gradient the situations flow into each other. A sloping shore delivers wet/dry situations where different types of organisms feel at home. These are places with a rich (bio-) diversity. Soft limits are connective by character.
Building nature with nature implies the creation of conditions for growth, green growth. This is a general perspective that needs thorough study of local situations: there we will find the natural qualities that foster the natural conditions that can be activated. The human interventions will be as low dynamic as possible which means that we do not use ‘hard technology’ but nature-based technologies, such as airflows, sun-orientation, moist, existing ‘green islands’ and other non-living and living natural qualities.
Carbon is stored in oceans as long as earth exists. Trees, shrubs and plants store carbon for 350 million years. So next to their contribution to biodiversity, providing shelter, fruits and building materials, moderate temperature, adding to micro-climate richness, trees and shrubs provide the highly needed extra carbon storage to slow down climate change. Storage of carbon continues, largely by the root system, as long as the tree is alive.
Mechanism design to prosper agriculture
The art of creation, we express as identification of local mechanisms in landscape, nature and society. Using our basic material, the Alphabet of Patterns, on which our methodology is based. Using these mechanisms (or patterns), we identify the leverages in the system: where can we do an intervention that will enhance the state of the habitat. One of the basic ideas is that agriculture can be seen as a first stage in succession: with a low bio-diversity a relatively high biomass production will appear. This mechanism is immediately an incentive: there is an economical value. By using agriculture as the first stage of development, it is important to nourish the surrounding areas: the greening will continue.
Mechanism design is a strong new view on economic development, it is part of the work of Hurwicz, Maskin and Myerson with which they won the Nobel Prize 2007. This is a system based approach, stating that individuals and organizations will be influenced by organized incentives in their surroundings. Translation of this concept into greening the MENA-region has not been applied up till now but gives a strong potential. This needs to be applied to the specifics of the region, the ambition of greening the region and creating more stable life conditions.