EU funds could re-forest Romania

Interview

Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung (DAZ):You are demanding the plantation of new trees in Romania. What benefits for the environment are you expecting with this measure?

Rupert Wolfe Murray (RWM): Due to global warming and successive heat-waves, much of Romania’s farmland is being abandoned or is becoming impossible to farm. Other areas cannot retain the water in the land – and the inability to retain water is the definition of a desert.

Planting trees on Romania’s lowlands have a number of strong benefits: abandoned land can be recuperated and put to good use; short term employment can be created (tree planting) and long term economic opportunity can emerge (fruits, nuts and timber and furniture industries). Trees also absorb carbon and soak up water – thus preventing floods – and can prevent desertification. Arid areas that are liable to flooding and soil depletion can soak up excess rainwater if planted with trees. Excess wood can also be used profitably in biomass boilers, providing communities with heat and power. Bio-mass runs on waste wood as well as food and farm waste and is considered one of the renewable energy sources of the future.

DAZ: How is the situation of the forests in Romania right now?

RWM: The Romanian forests are relatively well managed and many mountain areas have extensive forest coverage. But more need to be planted and a change of policy needs to be considered in order to plant massively in the lowland areas. The thinking needs to change; forests should be for all land and not just the mountains; especially arid areas that are no longer being farmed and areas that are at risk of being flooded. Romania’s forestry service seems reasonable but it needs a massive injection of funds in order to carry out this job properly.

DAZ: Which threats to the Romanian environment do you identify as the most dangerous ones?

RWM: The threat which scares me most is running out of water. With economic expansion, uncontrolled building development and big new irrigation projects in agriculture, the use of water in Romania is increasing exponentially. Rivers and water tables are already low, and in the east and south and many villages have no water in their wells. Yet I have never heard a Romanian politician raise this issue, warn the public of the dangers or advise people to use less water. Either they don’t know of the risks or they simply don’t want to face the idea that whole communities will one day run out of water. If we face up to these issues now and start making preparations, the crisis can be overcome.

DAZ: Is a massive tree planting campaign for Romania finacially viable? Who is going to bear the costs?

RWM: It is expensive but the money is available through the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). It just depends on what the priorities are. Current priorities seem to revolve around subsidizing farmers to grow cereals, even though they consume too much water and fuel, deplete the soil and destroy the markets of third world countries who cannot compete with over-subsidized EU and US foodstuffs.
It costs about 3000 euro for the Romanian forestry service to plant a hectare with trees, and there are an estimated 2,000,000 hectares of degraded land. If all of that land were planted with trees it would cost 6 billion euro. The amount of money allocated to Romania for agricultural subsidies between 2007 and 2013 is 8.3 billion Euro. I cannot think of a better use of that money; investing in trees will lead to a series of medium and long term benefits; investment in subsidizing crops has one positive short term impact (immediate cash flow) and several negative impacts such as excessive water and fertilizer use and the creation of farmers who become dependent on subsidies.

DAZ: Are you expecting that the Structural Funds for environmental projects that should become available from 2008 will change the environmental situation in Romania?

RWM: As mentioned above, CAP funds (not structural funds) could improve the environmental situation in Romania – if used to plant trees. But this is unlikely to happen as the CAP is one of the EU’s most conservative and inflexible (and also biggest) of the EU’s financial instruments and there is a tradition of just subsidizing farmers – with a negative impact on the environment. The CAP is likely to change in 2013, but until then it is likely to have a very negative impact on Romania – by encouraging more cereal crops and more irrigation, both of which will lead to more desertification.

DAZ: In your publications you are also demanding for indivudual contributions to avoid further exacerbation of the climate change. What are your personal contributions to a conservation-concious life?

RWM: If we follow the guideline “reduce, re-use, re-cycle” we could have a huge impact. We all need to reduce the amount of carbon we generate and things we consume (including water). We all need to make a personal effort and not say “what’s the point? I will start when the others do”. That is a pathetic response that blocks change.

What have I done? I have got rid of my car and use a bicycle and train for most journeys. I turn off lights and electrical appliances more often. I avoid flying and taking ships. I am saving up for solar panels for hot water and a better insulated home. I try and raise awareness about energy efficiency among Romanian policy makers and also school children – and I have to say the level of awareness in Romania about this issue must be the lowest in all of the EU.

DAZ: Furthermore, but not as a part of the interview, I would like to know how long you have been in Romania, where you are actually from and what was your motivation to come to Romania.

RWM: I am from Scotland, I studied history at Liverpool University, traveled the world and now work as an EU project manager in Romania. My base profession is journalism and editing. I can be contacted on wolfemurray @ gmail.com

This interview was given to Laura Himmelreich for “Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung für Rumänien” and originally published in German.

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