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By Peter Stevenson MEMBERS of Volunteer Doctors Cyprus have treated around 350 people at their free clinic in Nicosia since it opened three months ago, while two more, one in Paphos and one in Polis are due to open today. Limassol also has a free clinic, which was opened only last month, and plans have been drawn ...
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Cyprus Internet Directory [ Farmers must change irrigation practices ]

Farmers must change irrigation practices

CLIMATE CHANGE is pointing at us "like a loaded gun", warned the EU Agriculture Commissioner at a conference on water policy last Friday.

"Global warming is happening," said Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel, adding, "It’s taken thousands of years for global temperatures to rise by just one degree. In this century we expect to see an increase in global temperatures of between two and six degrees Celsius."

Speaking at a conference on sustainable water use in agriculture, Boel, a self-confessed "farmer’s wife", highlighted that farmers were in the firing line of climate change. If they didn’t start investing in water-saving techniques, there would be no need for the EU to impose penalties as "they will punish themselves".

The conference was held on the sidelines of the Expo Zaragosa 2008 in Spain, dedicated to issues of water and sustainable development. Chairing the conference was Cyprus’ Antonis Constantinou, Commission director at DG Agriculture and Rural Development.

The Commissioner said the southern European countries would bear the brunt of climate change, with water shortages becoming more widespread.

"Maybe there are areas that will benefit from this, like in the north, but we expect climate change to leave a wave of destruction. We expect more heat waves, drought, floods and crop failures," said Boer.

She noted that droughts in the EU have become more frequent and serious in the past three decades. From 1976 to 2006, the number of people affected by drought increased by 20 per cent.

"Climate change has arrived. Drought has arrived. We need to take out insurance now. Good business sense demands better use of water. For those farmers caught unprepared, climate change could be a sledge hammer," said Boel.

The EU is proposing an additional €10 billion in funding, co-financed by the member states, to tackle the challenges facing the agricultural sector.

However, the money does not come for free. "Getting EU money is not like turning a tap on. Receiving public money should mean accepting public responsibility," said Boel.

Good water management does not only concern farmers. As Boel noted, agriculture has a huge impact on the quality and quantity of water available. EU farming accounts for 60 per cent of the water taken from water basins in Europe.

Spanish Environment Minister, Elena Espinosa, highlighted that Spain’s agriculture sector managed to reduce its share of water use by 10 per cent without affecting production levels.

Neil Parish, chairman of the European Parliament committee on agriculture and rural development called on Europe to look at other countries and not shut the door on new technologies.

"Spain recycles 12 per cent of its water, making it one of the most efficient users of recycled water in the EU. In Israel, they recycle 75 per cent of their water, most of it used for agriculture," he said.

Efficient water use is just one of many challenges now facing the EU, noted Boel.

"I don’t think anybody predicted the situation we find ourselves in now regarding energy and food prices, which adds to inflation," she said.

However, the issue needed to be put in context. Food prices have been falling for years, so today’s cereal prices are still almost half what they were three decades ago.

"People got used to cheaper and cheaper food. They use the money (saved) to travel or buy a kitchen, which they probably don't even cook in," she added.

Marcelino Iglesias, President of the Aragon region in Spain said Europe was facing three main threats: energy supply, the food crisis and climate change.

"In 10 years, Aragon will be one of the first regions in Europe producing as much renewable energy as we consume. The appropriate consumption of resources is essential," he said.

Boel highlighted that the burden did not rest with farmers alone: "We can all reduce our energy consumption by thinking a bit about how we do things. If 500 million Europeans think every day, how can I save energy, it will add up."

Parish said this was where new technologies had to be introduced.

"We have to start thinking of new technologies. We can use solar energy for desalinated water. And with fuel and pesticide prices increasing, is biotechnology so bad?"

People need to view the debate on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) more scientifically, said Boel.

"The European public is not confident on GMOs, they have an emotional approach to them. But you know, 80 per cent of soybeans imported in the EU are GMO."

Parish noted the European Food Safety Authority was vigilant in its testing. It took 34 months to approve the import of a certain crop of GM maize. The same thing took 15 months to get approved in the US.

The Commissioner pointed out that the EU’s strict rules on GM imports made them more expensive to import. She argued that with more expensive soybean, EU livestock farmers will decrease production, which will increase the price of meat.

"You would see an increase in the import of Argentinean beef, which is fed using non-approved GM soybean."

Asked to comment on the poor water management witnessed in Cyprus, the failure to build desalination plants, water use in golf courses and the need to bring over Greek tankers filled with water, Boel said she was not going to start telling national authorities what to do with their water.

"Member states need to invest. Water is a scarce resource, which needs to be treated very cautiously. I think we have taken all these resources for granted, and have to start thinking a bit differently," she said.

"I know the Cyprus government has requested from the council to use state aid to solve some of their problems," she added.

Boel visited Cyprus last year after the hugely destructive forest fires. "It was an unpleasant experience, horrifying to see," she said.

The former Agriculture Ministry official, Antonis Constantinou, agreed that new thought-processes were needed to tackle the problems in Cyprus.

"We are going through a visual process of desertification. Krasochorio near Limassol, has lost its environment. Around 85 per cent of the population has left. In Lania, 30 villas are surrounded by burnt land after the fires. What can the villagers do with them now?"

Constantinou noted that the Agriculture Ministry had past experience of dealing with issues of water given its long-standing problems with drought, but that a new approach was needed to tackle all the problems faced.

"Cyprus has always been very good at using an integrated approach to water management and adopting advanced irrigation systems. This is needed because in the short-term, southern Europe will be in a critical situation. By 2050, we expect extreme weather conditions, prolonged drought, more floods, erosion of forests, peaks in temperature, high and low, and all this before the expected rise in temperature.

"What Cyprus is not good at is holding water, avoiding erosion, adapting to water shortage, and not giving incentives which can't guarantee a better future for the island. We are also not so good at keeping greenery, avoiding fires, fighting fires, giving incentives to people to manage land, even non-agricultural land owners," he added.

Constantinou called for greater interest in environmental projects by the public and the political leadership, "not just whenever there’s a fire".

He also said Cyprus had to understand the need for environmental investment, which has a direct impact on public goods and tourism.

"A green valley is not just there to grow almonds, it’s a public good, to enjoy. It increases tourism and our quality of life," said the Cypriot Commission official.









(Source: Cyprus Mail)



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