Sustainable strategies for the improvement of seriously degraded agricultural areas: The example of Pistachia vera L

EC Environment - Life Programme

With the contribution of the LIFE + financial instrument of the European Union

Actions

The project is divided into 12 actions, which at the end of the project will result in an integrated strategy for the sustainable cultivation of Pistachia vera L., and of the intensively cultivated Mediterranean areas, in general.

The foreseen actions are:

  • Action A1: Data collection and study of the pilot area
  • Action A2Soil and water monitoring - Development of soil indicators
  • Action A3: Composting of pistachio wastes-Quality tests. GIS-LIS
  • Action A4: Software and monitoring tools for pistachio cultivation
  • Action B1: Development and implementation of an integrated management scenario for pistachio cultivation-   Pilot field activities
  • Action B2: Central Management Monitoring Tool for continuous monitoring of intensively cultivated Mediterranean areas
  • Action C1: Monitoring the environmental impact of the project-Life Cycle Analysis (LCA)
  • Action C2Monitoring of the social-economic impact of the project 
  • Action D1Dissemination
  • Action D2After LIFE Communication Plan
  • Action E1Project management by SSIA
  • Action E2Project Monitoring

Action A1-Completed

Data collection and study of the pilot area

Action A1 will last 9 months and aims to collect representative data of the project area in Aegina island which will be further used for the development of a soil monitoring system as well as for the integrated sustainable management plan of action B1. 

During this Action a study of the selected pilot area will be carried out by collecting and evaluating all available data regarding environmental parameters, agricultural production, main waste streams, current waste management practices, geomorphology, touristic development, etc. In specific, action A1 includes:

  1. Data collection, using as resources local/national authorities, national foundations and associations, local stakeholders, farmers and citizens associations, relative to:
    • Hydro- and geo-morphological characteristics 
    •  local meteorological data covering a period of at least 10 years. 
    •  identification of the main water streams and reservoirs
    •  population and local activities
    •  cultivated areas, areas cultivated with P. vera L., annual production of pistachio and waste, other waste streams of the area, current waste management of agricultural and urban waste, location and characteristics of other municipal and SME related activities with a potential to contaminate the environment
    • cultivation practices, use of pesticides, composting activities, recycling of agricultural wastes, etc
    • type of companies, production procedures and technical characteristics of production and disposal routes
    •  identification of impacts of wastes disposal and management of soil and water bodies, assessment of
    • environmental quality at the disposal areas and problems caused to local communities 
  1. 2. Development of soil and water sampling strategy. In order to assess the impacts of P.vera L cultivation and pistachio wastes disposal on soil and water quality, 8-10 fields where pistachio trees are cultivated or pistachio wastes are disposed will be selected and monitored periodically (Action A2). Moreover, for the creation of the polythematic GIS maps (Action A2) and the GIS-based Land Information System of Action A3 most of the cultivated fields (with P.vera L or other) in Aegina island will be included. 

Deliverables of Action A1

Action A2-Completed

Soil and water monitoring - Development of soil indicators

During this key Action, which will last 18 months, soil and water quality of selected areas in Aegina will be monitored. It will take place in representative areas where pistachio trees are cultivated, in areas where pistachio wastes are disposed or used as soil additives, in areas that are potentially indirectly affected by the production/processing procedures of pistachio and also in unaffected-non cultivated areas. As regards existing water bodies, a carefully designed monitoring system will be implemented in the areas under study to monitor the quality of all existing water bodies including seasonal surface streams and groundwater, if present. It is also worth noting that there is a lack of such data for the targeted area, as well as for other similar areas in Greece and in Mediterranean countries where P. vera L. is intensively cultivated and therefore monitoring id considered as a crucial aspect of the proposal. Moreover, specifically constructed field equipments for the measurement of soil pH, electrical conductivity-EC and moisture will be developed. 

Deliverables of Action A2

Action A3

Composting of pistachio wastes-Quality tests. GIS-LIS

The Action will last 27 months, it will begin early during the project lifetime (on month 4) and aims to develop specific, environment friendly compost production methodology using pistachio waste as main raw material as well as, suitability criteria for compost and wastewater application on land in a form of GIS-based Land Information System. Although pistachio waste could be considered as compostable material, its high content in polyphenols, NO3- ,Pb and potentially aflatoxins may lead to the production of hazardous final products, if specific measures are not taken into account during composting. Moreover, due to the special chemical characteristics of the pistachio waste it is necessary, prior to land application, the final product (i.e. the compost) to be fully characterized in terms of phytotoxicity, leaching of hazardous/toxic elements and substances, plant response and effect on soil quality. For this reason Action A3 includes small scale composting experiments in order to identify the quality of the final products, as well as the need and the optimum addition percentages of other locally available raw materials (e.g. manure, straw). Moreover, and in order to improve compost quality, the natural zeolite clinoptilolite will be added to the compostable mixtures to improve their efficiency in terms of nutrients retention and their slow release, immobilization of heavy metals and toxic organic compounds as well as reduction of running costs (water, fertilizers) when used in crop cultivation. A series of quality tests will be carried out to ensure that the final product is safe for the environment while at the same time is adequate for improvement of soil quality and crop yield.

Deliverables of Action A3

Action A4

Software and monitoring tools for pistachio cultivation

This Action will last 27 months and aims to develop a software monitoring tool for the sustainable management of intensively cultivated Mediterranean areas, using as an example the cultivation of P.vera L. in Aegina island. The approach will include two cases:

(1) use by individual farmers,

(2) network development between farmers and local authorities and establishment of a central monitoring/management system (Central Management Monitoring Tool-CMMT) which will collect data and provide farmers and other interested parties and agents a continuous feedback and updated information regarding guidelines that they have to take in account for sustainable cultivation of pistachio trees.

Thus, through this tool, farmers and local authorities/other stakeholders will have the opportunity to screen cultivated areas rapidly, identify potential risky conditions and proceed to detailed monitoring, if necessary, implement resources monitoring at field and municipal scale allowing, thus, continuous monitoring of the cultivated areas.The Beneficiaries will also construct practical, easy to use, field equipment for rapid measurement of soil pH,moisture and electrical conductivity which could be used by individual farmers.The collected measurements will periodically feed the monitoring tool.

Deliverables of Action A4

Action B1

Development and implementation of an integrated management scenario for pistachio cultivation-Pilot field activities

The action will last 27 months. The activity planned to take place during this period is the evaluation of the results of all previous actions and the development of an integrated management plan for the sustainable cultivation of P.vera L, and implementation of this scenario in three pilot fields in Aegina island (2) and in Chalkidiki Prefecture (1). 

The scenario will include main factors that affect cultivation of Pistachia vera L, maintenance and improvement of environment quality as well as improvement of farmers’ income, which is, without doubt, a strong motive for farmers to adopt the proposed scenario. The scenario will combine the results and deliverables of the previous actions and will include specific practices for the cultivation of P.vera L under Mediterranean climatic conditions and at areas under degradation/desertification risk, which will include sustainable soil and water monitoring and management, nutrients and pesticides/herbicides use, minimization of aflatoxins risk, proper management of pistachio wastes (recycling, proper disposal, composting and use in agricultural sector, potential use of wastewater for irrigation) as well as, practices for minimizing soil salinization risk while promoting soil protection.

 The scenario will be monitored regarding its effectiveness during the implementation stage and the Beneficiaries will consider all the obtained results in order to propose extension of the implemented actions from local scale to regional/national/transnational scale. The integration, after financial and technical evaluation, will result in an efficient strategy suitable for Mediterranean countries. Restrictions and conditions will be also considered and recorded. Solutions or alternative scenarios will be proposed, if needed.  

Thus, three pilot fields will be selected:

- two in Aegina island which will be monitored during action A2 and for this, their properties and special characteristics will be known. Aegina is the main pilot area where also the preparatory actions A1-A2 will be implemented, and

- one in Chalkidiki, Central Macedonia, North Greece which will be unknown in terms of soil quality and applied cultivation practices. The purpose for this selection is to demonstrate the way that farmers can implement the scenario in the future regardless of the location of the farm or the activity carried out. One additional reason is to implement the scenario in another Greek area with different climatic conditions, resources properties and availability. 

Parameters and characteristics to consider in order to select the pilot areas will be: soil/substrate characteristics, land homogeneity, presence of aquatic streams in the vicinity of the site, disposal of pistachio wastes, duration of disposal, wastes’ amount produced per year, existing wells, extent of degradation/contamination as identified by chemical analyses etc.

 The farmers who will participate in this Action will implement the IMaS while the monitoring tool (stand-alone application), as developed during Action A4, will be installed on their PCs. The farmers will be trained by the Beneficiaries in using the tool. Moreover, the Beneficiaries will provide farmers with the required field equipments and will train them on measuring soil pH, moisture and electrical conductivity and how to input these parameters into the monitoring tool. Irrigation water quality will be monitored by the farmers by measuring pH and electrical conductivity; the results will also feed the software. 

 The Beneficiaries will periodically monitor the effective use of the monitoring tool while periodical soil and water sampling at the pilot field every 3-4 months will take place in order to record soil quality parameters, production parameters (e.g. yield, products quality, qualitative and quantitative characteristics, production cost, water and nutrients consumption) and assess the effectiveness of the IMaS.

 The farmers will be also trained on composting procedures developed during Action A3. For this small-field scale composting of pistachio wastes is foreseen. Two simple instruments are necessary for this procedure: a small typical loader with a long arm tipping bucket and a normal shredder of advisable capacity and proper dimension with a hammer mechanism. Physicochemical characteristics of the so produced compost material will be identified and evaluated. Composting will be carried out under field conditions, using a typical open windrow system. Windrows dimensions will be defined considering the specific characteristics of the pilot field and the available waste amount. The produced compost could be used as soil additive by following the results of the GIS-LIS and the monitoring tool.

Deliverables of Action B1

Action B2

Central Management Monitoring Tool for continuous monitoring of intensively cultivated Mediterranean areas

The 2nd implementation action B2 will last also 27 months and aims to demonstrate the efficiency of the proposed network between farmers and local/regional/governmental authorities, the establishment of which will assist data collection and will provide farmers and other interested parties and agents a continuous feedback and updated information regarding guidelines that they have to be taken in account for sustainable cultivation of pistachio trees. At the same time, through this tool, local authorities/other stakeholders will have the opportunity to screen cultivated areas rapidly, identify potential risky conditions and proceed to detailed monitoring, if necessary, implement resources monitoring at field and municipal scale allowing, thus, continuous monitoring of the cultivated areas. 

The proposed management scenario that can be used by individual farmers and local/regional authorities is the final-very significant outcome of the project. It is the tool that will directly connect farmers with scientists and local/regional authorities. It is this tool that, after long term contacts of SSIA with farmers (not only pistachio cultivators), it is believed that farmers really need and will be very much willing to adopt. 

As it is foreseen, two software packages will be developed, one for farmers and one for local/regional authorities. 

  1. Software for farmers. The software will be simple and user friendly and will offer farmers all necessary instructions and guidelines in order to implement a sustainable agricultural plan at their own farms. The farmers should feed the software with soil and water parameters as well as other information related to their practices and can get instructions and guidelines regarding the most appropriate management practices that are suitable for their cultivation. The software will also include an early warning system which will inform farmers in case of potential risks for soil and crop production. The farmers will have the potential, if they wish so, to be connected through this system with the central managerial centre (local or regional authorities) in order to get more detailed instructions from scientists. In such a case, the managerial center could give and at the same time get and record information from local farms. 
  2. Software for authorities. The software will support the establishment of a Managerial Centre which could be located, for instance, in the premises of a Regional Service/Agency or of a Municipality, and will undertake the continuous monitoring of cultivated areas and the scientific and consulting supporting of the farmers. The software  will enhance local authorities/other stakeholders to screen cultivated areas rapidly, identify potential risky conditions and proceed to detailed monitoring, if necessary, implement resources monitoring at field and municipal scale allowing, thus, continuous monitoring of the cultivated areas. Farmers will input data regarding soil quality, implemented practices (use of fertilizers, composts, pesticides), irrigation water quality, problems during pistachio production seasons, etc, as explained above. Thus, the software will be able to collect data and provide certain directives and guidelines at regional scale.

After the pilot operation phase, improvement of the software package will be carried out and by the end of the action the system will be available for free download at the WEB site of the project. At the same time, a manual describing the main functionalities of the system will be delivered in Greek and in English. 

One of the significant project’s outcomes is that the CMMT will be freely downloaded from the WEB site of the project and could be used by various Municipalities, Prefectures, Regions or even local Associations for managerial purposes. For the effective use of the developed tool, the Beneficiaries will develop a useful guide, namely “Development and Implementation of a Central Monitoring System for continuous monitoring of intensively cultivated areas from local/regional authorities” in which all necessary actions, requirements and conditions will be described in detail so as to enable local authorities to develop and to successfully implement a continuous central monitoring system as well as to assist in evaluation of collected data.

Deliverables of B2

  • Finalized CMMT installation (as .exe file)-Manual in English
  • Development, installation of CMMT by local authorities

 Action C1

Monitoring the environmental impact of the project-Life Cycle Analysis (LCA)

Action C1 will last 48 months and aims to (1) monitor the effects of project’s actions on the state of the environment on a regular basis; and (2) carry out a complete Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) in terms of raw materials consumption, energy use and emissions.

In order to assess the environmental impact of the project, the beneficiaries will monitor the following indicators:  

1. Improvement of environmental quality of the pilot area. In specific, risk maps will be created for the most important soil and water parameters. Risk maps will be created for the zero-time of the project (i.e. initial conditions) after the reconnaissance survey of the area (month 8), during action A2 when the first results from the action would have been collected and evaluated. The maps will be updated periodically during the project lifetime. Thus, it is anticipated that four risk maps will be created to assess the improvement in terms of soil and water quality. 

Risk will be assessed both qualitatively (first) and then quantitatively. In order to define qualitatively the risk of an area, the probability that a contaminant (e,g, pesticides) will reach a target (e.g. soil, water) in sufficient concentration to cause harm or a process that could affect and cause environmental degradation may be assessed qualitatively according to the scale: high (certain or near certain to occur), medium (reasonably likely to occur), low (seldom likely to occur) or negligible (never likely to occur). The magnitude of harm will be assessed as: severe (human fatality or irreparable damage to the ecosystem), moderate (e.g. human illness or injury, negative effects on ecosystem function), mild (minor human illness or injury, minor changes to ecosystem) or negligible (nuisance rather than harm to humans and the ecosystem). The qualitative level of risk associated with each pollutant pathway or process will be then assigned by the combination of the aforementioned probability with the magnitude of harm.

When sufficient data is obtained, as project progresses, risk will be then assessed quantitatively so that the improvement of environmental parameters and potentially affected media (namely, soil and water) can be easily measured/defined.

The parameters that will be monitored are : 

  • Soil organic matter
  • Soil pH
  • Soil salinity
  • NO3- content
  • Nutrients content/availability
  • Heavy metals (3-4 heavy metals with the highest potential to cause harm)
  • Soil polyphenols content
  • Irrigation water quality
  • Water use efficiency
  • Aflatoxins content in crops
  • Agrochemicals use (fertilizers, pesticides)
  • pesticides residue content

By evaluating the above risk maps (each one of them is a separate indicator of environmental impact), four overall degradation risk maps will be created, one in the beginning of the project (month 8), one at month 20, one at month 32 and one at the end of the project (month 48). These maps will be significant tools for the assessment of the environmental improvement of the pilot areas due to the developed and applied strategies. The maps will be created using available software (e.g ArcView, Autocad). 

2. Improvement of Pistachia vera L. trees’ production and nutrition by conducting leaves and crop analyses in relation to annual yields and soil nutrients status, at the beginning of the project and during its lifetime (every 12 months).

3. Identification of carbon footprint by contacting Life Cycle Analysis (LCA)

LCA will be carried out for all processes considered in the pilot area in Aegina island and will enable an accurate assessment of the carbon footprint in each case. LCA will study the following subsystems:

  • Agricultural waste (i.e. pistachio wastes and also other waste streams of the pilot area) production and management
  • Agricultural waste application on soil (after treatment and/or composting)
  • Cultivation of plants and trees

The most important parameters that will be assessed during the LCA studies are consumption of energy and fresh water, emissions of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxide to air.

Moreover, release of organic and inorganic contaminants (including heavy metals) to soils, water reservoirs and ecosystems in general will be also considered.

LCA will define the borders of each subsystem and will quantify environmental and energy benefits in terms of reduction of risk to affected media (by at least 50% for soil and water), reduction of CO2 emissions (by at least 30% when composts substitute fertilizers that will otherwise be disposed.

Deliverables of Action C1

  • Evaluation of environmental indicators-delivered (Download the executive summary)
  • Life Cycle Analysis
  • Risk analysis including LCA parameters-Risk maps
  • Simplified report for policy makers
  • Identification of Carbon Footprint-Methodology

Action C2

Monitoring of the social-economic impact of the project 

During the 48-months period of C2 action specific indicators will be monitored to measure social-economic impacts. The responsible beneficiary will perform surveys, concentrating on main target groups which are anticipated to assist in timely recording of indicators for monitoring the strategy impact. 

Deliverables of Action C2

  • IMaS effect on socio-economic status of Med countries
  • Simplified report for policy makers

Action D1

Dissemination

Dissemination strategy will begin early on in the project (1st month) and will last for 48 months. It is coherent and focused and it includes a significant set of actions to disseminate the results of the project so that the knowledge gained will be actively communicated to those stakeholders that may make best use of it and apply the lessons from the project. Action D1 includes:

1. Development of a functional and attractive project web site, 

2. Establishment of a network between research centres, universities, farmers and their associations, regional and national authorities, representative of industry/market community and scientists from other, already existing European networks and also with other relative LIFE projects (completed or ongoing)

3. Dissemination of project’s achievements to stakeholders, scientists, policy makers and mainly to producers of pistachio and other intensively cultivated crops in Greece and in other Mediterranean countries

DISSEMINATION OF PROJECT'S ACHIEVEMENTS

 The dissemination plan is divided into three parts of activities:

a. Dissemination to Greek farmers, stakeholders, local authorities, governmental agencies, scientists.

Five workshops will be organized during the last 18 months of the project in Greek areas where P.vera L. is cultivated, in order to present the major project’s achievements; one workshop will be organized in Aegina island (1st pilot area), one in Chalkidiki (2nd pilot area), one in Magnesia prefecture and one in Attiki prefecture. The target audience will involve farmers, owners of pistachio processing plants, agricultural associations, representatives of market sector, other stakeholders and general public.

Attention will be paid especially towards the following themes: sustainable cultivation practices for P. vera L. under Mediterranean climatic conditions, valorization of pistachio waste to produce high quality compost, use of pistachio compost in agriculture, monitoring soil and water quality, detailed presentation and explanation of the monitoring tool and the Land Information System, sustainable agriculture and soil protection, re-use of treated wastes in agricultural sector, environmental; social and economical benefits, agricultural development, alternative agricultural practices, natural resources protection, production of safe and high quality crops, integrated pesticide management, and others. The monitoring system will be presented and explained in details.

The 5th workshop will be organized in Athens aiming mainly to scientists and policy makers to present scientific data and suggestions to be potentially incorporated in national policy. 

Informative material will be produced and distributed to the participants of the workshops (leaflets, booklets, brochures).

b. Dissemination to other European Mediterranean countries 

The dissemination of the project’s results to other European Mediterranean countries will be achieved through the web site of the project, the network, the scientific publications and the organization of three workshops which are foreseen to be organized during the last year of the project: one in Cyprus, one in Italy and one in Spain in regions where P. vera L. is cultivated. The target audience will involve farmers, owners of pistachio processing plants, agricultural associations, representatives of market sector, other stakeholders and general public. 

c.  International dissemination includes:

-  The web-site, the blog of the project and all informative data, except being a powerful tool for scientists, policy makers and stakeholders, will also contribute to wide dissemination of project results.

- Publications in international scientific journals 

- Announcements in International scientific conferences  

 The project will publish newsletters with the most important news and results, every six months. This newsletter will be an active dissemination tool. The Project will create a “project diary”, in a public weblog, where the researchers of the project will report their activities and progress, inviting the scientific community to provide comments and remarks. This will be an active diary, throughout the duration of the project.

Deliverables of Action D1

  • Project web site
  • Establishment of an active network
  • Official Edition of project results for policy makers
  • Edition of "Best Practices" for farmers
  • Four metallic boards with LIFE logo
  • Layman's report

Action D2

After LIFE Communication Plan

Action D2 will begin on month 40 and it is expected to be completed on month 48. 

Since it is expected that the obtained results will significantly contribute to the improvement of the total environment due to 

  1. implementation of integrated management plan for intensively cultivated Mediterranean areas; 
  2. continuous and effective monitoring of cultivated areas by farmers and local/regional authorities;
  3. reuse of wastes and nutrients re-cycling
  4. reduction of adverse effects due to wastes disposal; 
  5. valorisation of pistachio wastes for the production of compost which will be a valuable product
  6. conservation of natural resources,

it is important that continuous dissemination beyond the life of the project is guaranteed.

Thus, the responsible Beneficiary will develop a plan, which will ensure dissemination and potential implementation of project’s achievements, through stakeholders and mainly through Agricultural and Market/Industrial Associations, which are in position to distribute information and knowledge among their members. 

The communication plan will also include activities for general public, such as interviews in Greek local channels; articles in scientific journals; as well as articles in internet, magazines and newspapers.

The communication plan will include all potential ways for effective cooperation between stakeholders and Beneficiaries’ scientists and supporting actions for further dissemination and implementation of project’s results.

Deliverables of Action D2

  • After-LIFE Communication Plan

Action E1

Project management by SSIA

Project Management will last 48 months (entire duration of the project). 

See here the project management structure

Action E2

Project Monitoring

Project Monitoring will last 48 months (entire duration of the project) and is organized into layers, in order to measure and document the effectiveness of the project actions as compared to initial situation, objectives, expected results and environmental impacts.

See here the project monitoring structure

 

AgroStrat TimetableDownload the Project timetable

 

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