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Summing up the Biosphere Conference EuroMAB 2011

JOHAN ERLANDSSON 2011-07-09        #18369

It is hard to sum up a week with a lot of content and meeting new people, but it would be a pity not to give it a try, eh? My main focus during the week has been to understand what a biosphere reserve is and how it can contribute to sustainability. What has this ostrich to do with that? Find out below!

Earlier this week, I started a new discussion thread titled "What is the Purpose of a Biosphere Reserve?". This has really been the biggest issue for me since I was contacted by the conference management to work as the official media partner in May. 

Now the conference is over, and during the week I have met so many stakeholders to biosphere reserves. There have been biosphere professionals from UNESCO, the Swedish biosphere organisation, managers of biosphere reserves from Europe and North America, scientists, municipality representatives, representatives from the regional authorities, primary school principals, local citizens, local business people, animals, plants, bugs, a mountain, a lake and what not...

When asking the local citizens and business people what it means to live in a biosphere reserve, they have answered that they do not know, or that a new bicycle path has been made possible by the biosphere reserve. I tried to find that bicyle path as the bike was my transportation around mount Kinnekulle, but all I found was one sign on one of the car roads that was already there. So that was not too impressive. 

That a biosphere reserve can highlight an area with unique natural/ecosystem values, conserve it and work with tourism to that area was clear quite early. But what with the sustainable development ambitions, that has been a part of the MAB (Man and the Biosphere) program since 1995?

I have been quite hesitant that this is a relevant approach for the MAB program. Isn't this a little too big an issue for small biosphere reserve administrations? Aren't other local and regional initiatives and organiations better suited to work with sustainable development? Is it not enough for a biosphere reserve to spread the word about the important values of ecosystem services, and to conserve "pockets of resilience"?

But what I have learned during the last days of the conference, is that a biosphere reserve really can become a catalyst, or at least a contribution to the local sustainability work. The 580 biosphere reserves around the world is a diverse bunch. And it is very much up to the locals what the reserve becomes. It can be "just" a place where precious ecosystem functions are conserved. But it really can become that catalyst that speeds up the green transition work.

At least this is my impression after having talked to municipality representatives and the management of the Vänern Archipelago and mount Kinnekulle biosphere reserve. They will, within a year, gather many of the local and regional stakeholders to design a sustainability plan for the area. From what I hear, this plan will include more than more or less symbolic projects that I have heard some examples of during the week.

On my way home from the conference (on my bike, still within the biosphere reserve), I passed an ostrich farm. I had to have a look at these funny animals, no? And I stayed there for an hour, talking to the farmer about the trouble he had encountered during 14 years of ostrich farming. The ostrich spend their days in the free, and the major part of their fodder is locally produced. As opposed to the meat farm just nextdoor, where cows are kept inside year around and most likely given high protein, imported fodder. According to the farmer, he had not had much other than trouble with laws and local authorities. For example, having a local butchery is a very complicated matter, so the ostrich need to be transported a long distance for this. And the rules regarding municipal procurement do not allow to buy from small businesses.

I will really look forward to take part of the sustainability plan that will be developed in the Vänern archipelago and mount Kinnekulle biosphere reserve. Will it include powerful measures to deal with food, transport and energy, the three consumption areas representing a major part of environmental impact? Will future local sustainable businesses be encouraged and supported?

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