$3 million project targets Turkey’s vulnerable steppe lands

fao-bozkirFarms and communities in Turkey’s Anatolian steppe will soon have help in coping with the damaging impacts of climate change. A two-year, $3 million FAO project – co-financed by the European Union and Turkey – aims to restore healthy ecosystems, promote environmentally friendly agricultural practices, and raise levels of knowledge among government institutions.

Steppe ecosystems today are facing serious challenges, such as soil erosion, overgrazing, over-collection of valuable plant species, intensive farming, unplanned urbanization, and incorrect forestation practices. The steppe regions of Central and Eastern Anatolia host a rich variety of endemic plant species, but there is no overarching initiative to protect biodiversity.

The new project, signed in late-2015 and set to commence next month, is a firm attempt to reverse these negative trends and help farmers deal with climate change effects such as drying wetlands, rising temperatures, early onset of spring, increased climate variability, and more frequent pest outbreaks.

Using an approach known as “Ecosystem-based adaptation,” the project aims to preserve and restore the ecosystem, and make the region more resilient to climate change with practices such as conservation agriculture, efficient use of water resources and sustainable forest management.

Farmers can change their sowing practices to adjust to seasonal changes, maintain soil cover in order to protect organic content, reduce pesticide use in favour of integrated pest management, and use more efficient irrigation techniques to deal with water scarcity.

“The Anatolian steppe is a fragile semi-arid region, where agriculture is the main economic activity,” said Reuben Sessa, FAO natural resources officer and lead technical officer for the project. “All components, both natural and human, are therefore highly susceptible to climatic conditions.” The project, he added, will provide the data, methodologies and coordination mechanisms needed “to identify options and trade-offs and allow for informed decisions.”

A detailed national steppe ecosystem map will be produced at the start of the project. This will be followed by an analysis of vulnerability to current and future climate change – for the ecosystem, for biodiversity, for agriculture and for livelihoods. A national strategy document will also be prepared, to serve as a comprehensive manual for policymakers on climate change issues.

The project was designed in line with Turkey’s National Climate Change Action Plan for the period 2011-2023, which aims to build resilience while also limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

“Climate change requires collaborative action,” said Yuriko Shoji, FAO Representative in Turkey. “Environmental, social and economic aspects need to be considered, and this cannot happen without getting all the actors around the table.”

The project aims to establish a common understanding among research institutions, farmer unions, the private sector, universities, NGOs and particularly Ministries that work on agriculture, forestry and environment. “In this way,” continued Shoji, “Turkey will act as one body to integrate an ecosystem approach into its national strategies.”