Modeling sustainable farming practices for healthier futures in Strumica River Basin

Apr 18, 2017

Sofce Malinova received a EUR 5,000 grant to introduce beneficial agro-ecological practices in the Strumica River Basin. Photo: UNDP in fYR Macedonia

Farming has shaped the lives of families in Strumica for generations. “It’s not just a way of making a living,” says 26-year-old Sofce Malinova. “It’s a way of life.”

Five years ago, when Sofce was just completing her education, she made the decision to continue in her family’s footsteps and build her career in farming. But this decision was not as straightforward as it had been for her parents and grandparents. For one thing, the long-term future of farming in the region was now in question because of changes in the water quality of the river basin.

The Strumica River is the lifeblood of the region, providing the fertile alluvial soil that has made the river basin the most productive agricultural area in the country.

Some 200,000 tons of tomatoes, peppers, watermelons, cabbages, cucumbers and other vegetables are produced here per year. And these products depend on the river in many other ways, too, including water for irrigation and, of course, clean drinking water for the families who farm the land.

Over recent decades, however, the quality of the water has been in decline throughout the Strumica basin.

“We knew there was something wrong and we heard the reports about pollution,” says Sofce, “but until very recently we didn’t know that we were part of the problem.”

Farmers in Strumica have traditionally relied on chemical fertilisers and pesticides to boost production. Those chemicals have now seeped into the groundwater, creating pollution and an overall decline in the quality of the water.

Tackling the problem of unsustainable farming practices is now a key priority in the Basin, especially in the context of climate change.

This is why a new and comprehensive programme has been launched to modernize agriculture and train local farmers to grow different crops, plan crop rotations and irrigate and fertilize more efficiently. The new programme is supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and is being implemented by UNDP.

“Even after we found out we were partly responsible for the problem,” says Sofce, “we didn’t yet know we could be part of the solution. It’s not easy to change practices that have been in place generations. But that’s where the programme comes in. It’s provided a way forward and given us a sense of hope in the future.”

Sofce is one of thirty farmers who have received a EUR 5,000 grant to introduce beneficial agro-ecological practices in the Strumica River Basin.

After following an intensive four-month on-the job training course with the support of top agricultural experts, Sofce has learned how to improve soil quality by doing soil tests, employing the right dosage of fertilizers, checking soil moisture and avoiding overuse of water.

With the money from the grant, she has already procured a drip irrigation system.

Over 100 farmers in the Strumica region will receive grants and trainings this year. It is expected that this will not only benefit the environment and life on land but also help increase the farmers’ yields and incomes by 30-40%.

And, given the power of a money-saving example in farming communities, once the word is spread, it is all but certain that all farmers will want to use it.