Rising from the ashes: A panoramic view of German history or futuristic outlook of mankind?

Looking in from the outside, it can be simple for one to so easily misinterpret or even blatantly disregard the history of another. This is because “history” is often viewed as an entirely independent factor of past – a past which is often unwanted for repetition in the future. Though history is taught as a lesson, it is extremely crucial to also realize that history plays a fundamental role when applied in trying to understand a person, country or pattern.

Over the past couple decades, Germany has become one of the role model developed countries of the world due to its thriving economy and relatively high standard of living for its residents. Present day Germany, in most parts, has developed rather quickly, boasting efficiency as well as maintaining priorities in sustainable transport, renewable energy and waste management. The easy access to resources via the internet is irrefutably impressive and effective in maintaining a booming economy. Need to catch a train but don’t have time to stop at the ticket station? Click! Done! Do you want food delivered to your door-step? Click! Done! Need to make an appointment with the doctor? Click! Done! For someone who doesn’t readily have these amenities available, this is seemingly remarkable.

Slow down for a minute though… The fact is, not all roads to such simplicities were so effortless. Germany had to forge its own path and its people made some hard choices, some which proved beneficial and others destructive in nature. On one excursion to the Dresden Panometer, the class of EM43, if they hadn’t already, would soon realize at the bare minimum what it took to become present day Germany. So let’s turn the clock back about 75 years ago to Dresden, Germany, 1945.

Dresden, February 15, 1945

Bright orange flames produce thick black smoke, giving off embers and ashes rising high into what is now a seemingly pitch black sky. The air, hardly breathable, is regrettably the only thing left to be taken away from the regular man and as far as the eyes can see, the once bustling city centre of Dresden, lay in rubbles after three long hellish days of bomb raids from the Allied Forces. Thousands of civilian lives were lost during the three-day airstrike, leaving thousands of others mourning the loss of their loved ones and quite some years of “cleaning” and rebuilding to restore the City of Dresden.

Dresden, was not a city for military defense at the time, but became targeted for bombing to allegedly disrupt communication among the Nazi Party, which was being ran by Adolf Hitler since 1933. Under Hitler’s Chancellorship, approximately 6 million Jews were killed and millions of other people, whom he deemed politically, religiously or racially “unfit” to live among the German population. These persons were often segregated and taken to extermination camps where they would face certain death at the hands of Hitler’s soldiers. This was a tremendously dark time for Germany, one in which being different was a crime and the mere thought of this invoked fear in the heart of millions of people who took refuge there. Hitler’s rule was ended at a great cost of the lives of German civilians in order to save the lives many more.

Moving forward

So, not everything can be taken for face value. Thereafter, Germany sought out progressiveness through economic growth, which not immediately but eventually welcomed diversity, literacy and now the concept of sustainability and environmental cohesiveness. The last factor, more than anything else, is probably what will make us or break us as a people! For years, mankind has struggled to accept diversity and individuality-history lesson #1. However, lesson #2 is ours for the taking, in deciding how our personal choices in the use of our natural resources will affect each other and our children! Each person, each ethnicity, each country has either chosen or needs to choose soon how to live so as to not lead to the demise of mankind through our destructive nature in the unwise and over exploitive use of our natural resources. Yadegar Asisi’s Panometer of Dresden 1945 is not just history. Under different circumstances it is provides a definite insight of mankind’s future should we not understand our weighty dependence on maintaining healthy environmental ecosystems!

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One of the old gas storages in Dresden saved as a historical monument

by Ms. Deidra Mahler, Belize

€70 Billion Trash Business: Lessons from Germany’s Waste Management system

Have you thought about the value of the waste you produce or the value of the things you so often throw away or discountenance? You probably have not! However, you see, in Germany, waste management is a multibillion-euro economy with an annual turnover of €70 billion. To put that in perspective, the annual turnover of Germany’s waste management sector is more than twice the €32 Billion 2020 federal budget of Africa’s biggest economy, Nigeria. More so, according to Germany’sFederal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU), in 2018, there were over 11,000 waste management companies, which operated over 15,500 waste management (collection, recovery and recycling) facilities, employing over 270,000 people.

What is even more interesting is the fact that waste management in Germany is self-funded. At the moment, each German citizen pays about 18 cents pay day or (€ 50 annually) to have his/her wastes evacuated and appropriately managed. Perhaps more intriguing is the fact that waste management services are fully contracted to private companies. Private waste operators are paid by relevant regulating or municipal authorities from the fees paid by the users. From waste collection, transportation, sorting, recycling, treatment, dedicated men undertake disposal, and women employed and paid by contracted companies. Dresden, a city of about 500,000 inhabitants and the capital of Saxony Free State has a total of 3,580 bins and streets measuring approximately 1,773 km, which are cleaned regularly

To get a glimpse of the waste management system in the city, 21 fellows from ongoing 43rd UNEP/UNESCO/BMU International Postgraduate Course on Environmental Management at CIPSEM, Technical University (TU), Dresden, Germany set out on an excursion to three waste management-recycling facilities within Dresden City. The three sites were a residual waste treatment plant, a mineral recycling plan and an electronic recycling center. For each of the three sites, there were tons of things to learn, compare and admire. Admire, right, perhaps the enthusiasm, devotion and professionalism with which the workers approached their work, not just to put food on the table, but with clear understanding that the work they do is dignified and strategic to the health and success of their city.

Residual Treatment Plant

This facility located at Hammerweg, Dresden, is residual waste treatment plant that employs a method called “biological, mechanical treatment”. The process is so called because it employs biological methods to dry the wastes and then, sort them mechanically to remove inert- and metal fraction. The treatment facility is operated by Stadtreinigung Dresden GmbH, a private company.

The facility was commissioned in 2001 in response to changes proposed in the German Federal law which outlawed disposal of untreated residual wastes in landfills, especially if it has a high calorific value or a high methane production potential – methane is dangerous GHG. Before that law, Dresden, and indeed Germany, dumped residual wastes in open landfills. The open landfill in Dresden was closed in 2002 just like many other landfills across Germany had to shut down. To show how injurious to the environment landfilling is, eighteen years after closure, the landfill in Dresden still produces methane. However, the methane is efficiently collected through a network of installed systems and used for energy generation. Some landfills remain actively operational today in Germany but they are for the disposal of special wastes such as mineral wastes.

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Biologic-mechanical Waste Treatment Plant, Hammerweg, Dresden, Germany

Stadtreinigung Dresden GmbH collects residual wastes from the entire City from residual bins strategically placed in homes and public places. People also bring their gardening waste to waste-depots located at the entrance of the plant. However, these (gardening) wastes go to another treatment plant to produce compost. The process of treatment is heralded by delivery of residual wastes transported to the facility by specially designed trucks. (In Germany, trucks used in waste delivery carry the special “A” sign). The trucks deliver the waste to the bunker inside the treatment plant after which a thorough cleaning of the vehicle, especially the wheels and compartments, follows. This is to reduce re-contamination.

The wastes are then transported by automated crane systems to the pre-shredding phase where wastes are cut into small pieces to increase surface area for biological action. The next step sees the pre-shredded wastes placed into drying boxes where they are left for some days for rotting to take place. Pumping of air to the wastes follows to take up any organic matter remaining. The wastes are then transported through sieves to separate them into various types and sizes. Furthermore magnetic and eddy current separation for metals and windsifters to get rid of the inert fraction. Mindful of the health of the community, the air is burned to eliminate the remaining organic matter and foul smell before it is released to the environment. Unbelievably, within the neighborhood, you would hardly notice that a waste treatment plant of this magnitude exists.

The facility produces RDF (refuse-derived-fuels) for incineration. The facility also makes extra money by sorting out metals from the residual wastes it receives from the public. These metallic wastes are sold to the metal recyclers in Germany. Other waste fractions from the mix are sold to different processors such as cement factories, lignite factories, and glass manufacturers… So, you see where Euros are coming from?

Apart from this plant, another plant operates in another part of the city that produces biogas from biowastes. The residues from that anaerobic digestion process (which results in biogas production) are of qualities too low to sell to private gardeners. Thus, instead, these residues from the process are sold to landscapers.

Mineral recycling plant

Nordmineral Recycling facility had its own intrigue! Oh, some still think gold, copper etc. are the only minerals! Well, not at all! Sand, ballast, asphalt, stones to mention but a few, are also minerals. Perhaps because Africa is blessed with many precious minerals, we hardly conceptualize that construction wastes could also be a source of minerals!

To be honest, Nordimineral Recycling facility did look like an active quarry. Huge heaps of sand, ballast, building blocks, bricks and others dotted the site. Minimal dust was produced inside of the plant from the giant blocks fed into the huge crusher by one of the caterpillars on site. The facility produces brick dusts of different sizes which are used in construction, landfilling and poultry houses. Large construction blocks are also made from the waste sands and ballast together with cement. These are used as security barriers and to shield riverbeds against floods. The sight of trucks that kept coming and leaving the facility emphasized the importance of the facility. In fact, Germany produces a significant amount of construction wastes. For instance, in 2015, it produced 209 million tons of wastes against 51 million tons of household wastes. This makes a good case therefore to have such a facility that recycles construction and demolition wastes.

Nordimineral Recycling facility was constructed in 1995 at a total cost of $7.5 million. It is operated by Nordimineral Recycling GmbH & Co. KG. The design capacity of the facility is one million tons of mineral wastes annually but currently operates at one-third of its installed capacity. To keep up with the set standards; the plant conducts a monthly testing of the chemical composition for the products coming out of the facility. The dust particles sizes are also closely monitored. The markets for its products are construction companies and Government agencies.

From the look of things, this is a very profitable and strategic sector. So, it begs the question, how does Africa manage her construction waste. Could it be a question of a billion euro loss?

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Mineral Waste sorting and recycling Plant. Nordmineral Recycling GmbH

Electrical and electronics recovery centre 

Lebenshilfe Recycling Facility recycles electrical and electronics waste (e-wastes). In the past few years, e-wastes have grown into a serious environmental concern. What stands out of the facility is the fact that it employs disabled and mentally challenged workers. Thus, this social enterprise innovatively combines job creation/gainful employment, sustainable waste management and social integration. What a business model!

The workers are first trained on dismantling processes and personal protection before undertaking the task. You could not help but notice the very clean and well-organized surrounding of this facility. Its workers were fully kitted and the facility is fitted with special equipment that suck off mercury and other toxic gases produced during the dismantling process. Examples of e-waste processed by the facility include desktop computers, television sets (CRT, LCD, LED etc.), mobile phones, radios, CDs, fans, wires etc.

Dresden produces approximately 2,500 tonnes of electronics wastes out of which 2400 tonnes find their way to the facility. Collection of e-waste is at no cost to the members of the public – members of the public are free to bring their e-waste to the facility. There are also dedicated collection outlets at strategic locations across the city. Wastes collected from different locations within the city are then transported to the facility.

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Electrical and electronic scrap dismantling and sorting

In conclusion, here are some of the other lessons during the trips:

  • Citizenry awareness and attitude to wastes is crucial in developing efficient waste management
  • That waste management sector is a long value chain that creates thousands of opportunities in terms of job, and income both for residents and Government
  • Waste separation is core to achieving efficient municipal waste management
  • Developing countries have huge (and largely untapped) potential to create new value-adding, employment and income opportunities in the waste management sector
  • Unregulated landfilling is a very expensive waste disposal method which leads to loss of economically valuable materials, loss of aesthetic value of land and release of GHGs
  • Construction wastes can be recycled and reused

The experience at these facilities begs the question, how does Africa/Asia or even the Caribbean manage their waste? Should waste be continuously wasted?

by Mr. Idowu Kunlere (Nigeria) and Mr. Peter Wakahora (Kenya)

Saxon Switzerland: A journey through space and time

The SC77 group was on the move again!

This time to the Sächsische Schweiz (Saxon Switzerland) National Park located in the Elbe Mountains, about an hour away from  Dresden. While it wasn’t our first visit to a nature reserve, Saxon Switzerland was going to be our first National Park, one of Germany’s 16, and the only one in Saxony. We were all naturally very excited. This deal was sweetened with news that there was going to be hiking and breathtaking views involved.

So on Friday the 13th, the group (and their packed lunches) boarded the bus and made our way up the meandering Elbe River. We could see the landscape change as we approached the park – urban jungles and sparse agriculture pastures slowly transitioning into more forested areas punctuated by hills. And as we neared the park gates, we were greeted by several towering sandstone structures; a landscape unfamiliar to the most of us.

At Bad Schandau, the foothill town, we were welcomed by a one-storey mural of the Lynx (Lynx lynx) – no doubt the most charismatic species of the national park. Images of this felid species also adorned the walls of the national park center (that we later visited) and many park promotional brochures. It made me reflect on the many identities of large cats.

Not unlike the Malayan tiger (Panthera tigris jacksoni), an endemic of my home country, the Lynx represents wilderness in the eyes of the public – a flagship species that people could rally around. More importantly though, the Lynx has a role to play in the nature. Occupying the highest echelon of the food chain, they regulate prey population numbers – a keystone species in ensuring activities like grazing is under control.

Upon arrival at the national park centre, we were taken on a journey back in time. The interactive exhibits explained that the mountains we see today was actually the sea floor and that the sandstone was a result of 100 million years of compaction. It is the crumbling of such structures that have made the landscape so iconic. We are indeed lucky to be living in the space and time where its beauty can be fully appreciated. The center also featured various plant and animal species that could be found in the park.

As interesting as the national park center was, it was not what we were there for. Our restless souls were uplifted when we were allowed to enter the park, chaperoned by our very able guide Johanna. With over 400km of trails in the entire park, we were spoiled for choice. In this regard, I felt Johanna did an amazing job choosing a trail that we could all summit but at the same time keeping track of time (an admirable trait of the Germans).

In the short time we had with her, she explained that the porous nature of sandstone provided for diverse ecosystems. Dry, desert like conditions at the peak and wet, humid conditions at the base. And in this ecosystem diversity sprouted ample biodiversity. Though we did not manage to spot any large vertebrates, there were many macro-life living on the sides of the sandstone, which included various beetle, moss, liverwort and fungi species.

The ascent to the peak was undeniably easy on the eyes. However as we reached the midpoint, most of us noticed dying Spruce trees in the vicinity. Johanna stopped to explain to us that these were trees infested by European spruce bark beetles (Ips typographus). In the past, park management would chop down such trees to stop the infestation. However, Saxon Switzerland today has decided to adopt a laissez-faire management approach to core zones within the park. This is because studies have shown that native Beech trees will eventually replace the planted Spruce trees, reverting the park into its past state.

I found this counter-intuitive to existing conservation practices (i.e. encourage a pest within core zones). But it just goes to show that for positive conservation outcomes to be achieved, one must have an open mind for creative solutions and most importantly trust of the science behind them.

We finally reached the peak at about 3.00pm. A good 20 minutes later, rainclouds signaled that it was time for us to return to Dresden. We duly obliged.

As we journeyed through the prehistory of Germany in Nationalpark Sächsische Schweiz, I’m heartened to know that the park is on its own voyage to a more natural state; thanks to the conservation and minimal management models of the park managers. May the force be with them.

by Mr. Yew Aun Quek, Malaysia

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at the summit

Inside CIPSEM – a look behind the scenes …

… of the ongoing 77th UNEP/UNESCO/BMU International Short Course on Ecosystem Management – Biodiversity Conservation and Ecosystem Services

Well, the course already started August 29th and a lot happened inside and outside the classroom. Here are some insights …

by Ms. Moselantja Rahlao, Lesotho:

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Hello I am Moselantja Rahlao and I work for the Department of Range Resources Management, Ministry of Forestry and Soil Conservation, Lesotho. Welcome to the Kingdom in the Sky in Germany. Lesotho is a tiny country enclaved by another in Southern Africa.

It takes courage and passion to write application essays for the 77th UNEP/UNESCO/BMU International short course on Ecosystem management- Biodiversity Conservation and Ecosystem Services. Biophysical assessments are energy demanding. I do that on horseback, yes I am a rider. During data collection, I find myself staying uncomfortably in poky shelters of Lesotho. However, streams of passion to learn and be exposed never run dry. Usually after a completion of a hectic day, one wants only a good bath, food and sleep or entertainment at least. When everyone else prioritized the aforementioned and took a well-deserved break, I chose to sacrifice and compromise to achieve. However, my inquisitive nature coupled with thirst for knowledge sets me apart and makes me competent. I thrived because I dreamed, planned and acted “If you want to live your dreams, deny yourself any type of excuse”. I always apply effort and energy in things that I believe in for my growth. Then I work to proof myself to myself not anyone.

It was a heap of applications received (off course I knew this on arrival at CIPSEM) with very slim chances of being selected. This is a challenge of survival of the fittest measured by how logical one is, relevant content matters and what CIPSEM decides. Once this phase is passed, one can celebrate yippee. It was a moment of excitement and boosted confidence.

Logistically ready and hip-hip hooray! I landed in Dresden. The first day was tiresome after about 20hours flight (including layovers). A brief orientation done blah-blah-blah… and my heart began to palpitate faster. Next day, as the sun rose, I smiled and patted myself as I whispered “well done you are finally here”. Now ready to meet my fellow participants and the CIPSEM team. I take pride in my achievement to represent the Mountain Kingdom in Germany and interact with international fellows on the short course. It is exactly twenty (20) countries represented, namely: Indonesia, Cameroon, Guatemala, Mexico, Vietnam, Georgia, Turkmenistan, Ghana, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Rwanda, Haiti, Argentina, Brazil, Bhutan, El Salvador, Malaysia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Armenia and of course Lesotho. Wow! What a diversity of culture, experience and knowledge.

Now anxiety and enthusiasm knocks daily to learn, network, exchange knowledge through participation throughout the course. We are here, stood out to be counted. Thinking individually but together towards conservation of biological diversity for enhancement of human wellbeing. The program runs from lecture hall with various experts to field excursion to get in depth knowledge. It is impossible to walk in nature and be in a bad mood. My best highlight was the stay on Isle of Vilm. The simulation on CBD-COP negotiation was eye opening to all participants. It went from just a practice to real emotional involvement, very defensive and argumentative. It takes the trophy. It was also a pleasure to celebrate my birthday at Baltic Sea Island. Surely, the course objectives will be accomplished by end of September, 2019. Yes, the course will end but never the memories with a good company. Never! We will go back to our countries and apply the knowledge, skills and experience gained. Lastly, “in a changing environment one either adapts, moves or die”. What an honor to be swimming in this pool of knowledge. A well-organized course and great gratitude to the sponsors. It would not be possible without them. Salute!

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Nature Talks – Experiencing the International “Nature” of Negotiations

by Ms. Fitria Rinawati, Indonesia et.al.:

“You cannot negotiate with people who say what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is negotiable” – John F. Kennedy

One among many highlights of the CIPSEM 77th UNEP/UNESCO/BMU International Short Course on Ecosystem Management – Biodiversity Conservation and Ecosystem Services is how we can experience such negotiations related to biodiversity conservation in international events. This time we had the opportunity to do a negotiation simulation “CBD-COP decision on biofuels”. What a topic! It is so current that most countries are paying attention to it. Including small – fragile – island countries which are not necessarily able to produce it but might be impacted from it.
The simulation was set to get an agreement of the drafted decision text. Participants were grouped as delegations into 6 countries that have the right to vote: Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, European Union, Ethiopia and Tuvalu, and 2 observers consisting in the United States and Greenpeace. One can imagine the dynamic of such a simulation when biofuels talk is involving the main producer countries like Indonesia and Brazil, the opposer of biofuels production – Saudi Arabia (main fossil fuels producer) and free riders such as the United States and Tuvalu – a very-very small island country that might face sinking due to climate change as a result of biofuels production practices.
Negotiation skills, wording the talks, emotional statements, creative compromises, building up pressure…were among the things we practiced and learned. Another main thing we learned was that every country has its interests and the delegations try to defend them – as it is well said in JFK above quote.
Further, we watched the movie “Guardians of the Earth”, a movie on UNFCCC – COP21 (Paris Agreement) which pictured clearly the above described negotiation processes. An interesting point, raised from a Bahrain young woman negotiator in the movie, was that all the international nature talks and negotiations were not about nature but but on economic interests of each country. Above all, we understand the great responsibility of the delegates to defend their country’s interests as well as the chairman – the president – the secretariat to come to such consensus and agreements. Last but not least, the importance of NGOs and other parties that influence these talks is also something that we can’t diminish.
I believe that among us the participants of CIPSEM 77th International Short Course, – there are possible future leaders of our countries. Thus, with the skills we learned, the knowledge we gained and the senses we built up through this course, we would be empowered to negotiate more reasonable in an international event and manage the ecosystem and the earth in a better way.
“Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate” – John F. Kennedy

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The “CBD-COP decisions on biofuels” negotiations – simulation chaired by Dr. Axel Paulsch (photo by Mr. Yew Aun Quek)

Isle of Vilm: An iconic conservation hub to visit

by Mr. Ngawang Dorji, Forestry Officer, Jigme Khesar Strict Nature Reserve, Bhutan

participant of the 77th UNEP/UNESCO/BMU International Short Course on Ecosystem Management – Biodiversity Conservation and Ecosystem Services

I have visited numerous conserved and protected areas in different parts of the world. The best place I have ever visited till date, to say, is the Isle of Vilm where the International Academy for Nature Conservation is housed. It is located about 250 km from Berlin, Germany in the Southern belts of Baltic Sea.

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Encompassing an area of about 94 hectares is truly a conservation jewel in Northern Germany consisting all types of coasts and coastal vegetation that is purely untouched to human interference. Vilm island is positioned in such a majestic location which is accessible by train till the coasts of the Island of Rügen and then with ferries giving an amazing point to enjoy the beauty of nature, especially during the hours of sunset and sunrise.

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It isn’t just the sights that makes the visit enthralling, but also the lush of winds combined with the songs of birds bidding farewell and welcome to the setting and the rising sun, though hidden in the buds of giant Oak and Beech trees.
Vilm Island is not just for nature lovers. The peace and tranquil night with cool winds blowing from the sea around makes it so special to the times spend there. It is the place where the water meets the land and forms a beautiful shore that will interests any artists to draw on the paper and cherish forever. Photographers will never regret visiting this Island and the best landscape photo of nature can be captured in this area. Oh! The meals served are diverse and purely German origin. The staffs working there are so friendly with good manners and personalities. One can easily become friends. So, anyone wishing to try German cuisines and make friends can plan a visit there.
However, our four days of visit only felt like a fraction of seconds and we had to retrace our path back to CIPSEM. But it was certainly an experience that I would never forget. If you are in Germany, you should definitely visit the Vilm Island and make a memory in your life. It’s a unique experience with full of fun, enjoyment and satisfaction.

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The SC77-course with Ms. Kathrin Bockmühl (BfN, front, 2nd from left) and Prof. Dr. Dudel (TUD, front, center)

A little bit about the Research Centers in Germany…

Energy from biomass?

Yes, it is possible!

On the morning Monday of May 20th, EM42 fellows headed to the central station of Dresden, bound for the beautiful city of Leipzig. After a short trip and a small break, at 1 pm they arrived at the “German Centre for Biomass Research (DBFZ)”.

During the visit to DBFZ, they learned about the different processes to produce energy from biomass; and after a short explanation about the organization with international colleagues from China, Spain, Canada, Brazil, and Italy and the vision of sustainable resource basis, smart bioenergy – innovations for a sustainable future, they proceeded to visit its installations and laboratories that are divided into five departments: biogas, refinery, hydrothermal carbonization, heating technologies, and wood combustion.

Additionally, they had the opportunity to meet some of the researchers of the institution, as they explained to them; DBFZ with approximately 250 employees researches how to generate energy from biomass resources. In this regard, DBFZ works in joint collaboration with public and private institutions around the world.

Something that 30 years ago seemed impossible, now is a reality thanks to institutions like DBFZ that bet on studies based on the applied researches that develop practical solutions to current problems related to the integrated bioenergy provision.

The second day in Leipzig at 09:30am, EM42 fellows arrived at the “Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ)”, they were welcomed by Mr. Andreas Staak who introduced the visitors the UFZ installations, along the day some researchers explained in more detail the projects that UFZ is developing; as is the case of the “Center for Advanced Water Research (CAWR)” presented by Prof. Olaf Kolditz and Mr. Lars Bilke from the Visualization Laboratory; whom explained some projects developed for Asia (China and Jordan) related to water sustainability, at that time, the 3D animation developed by UFZ for the spatial planning was one of the most incredible experience that the fellows tried that day.

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After the lunch at UFZ canteen, Prof. Martin Volk presented the topic “Assessing and governing synergies between food production, biodiversity, and ecosystem services”; Additionally the Department of Urban and Environmental Sociology and the Department of Ecological Modelling presented some of the projects that UFZ is developing related to food-waste-energy sustainable environment; and impacts of the new policy instruments, technologies and change processes on pastoral land use as a social-ecological modeling approach.

Finally, the fellows had the opportunity to enjoy the game “NomaSed” developed by the Department of Ecological Modelling in order to create awareness to the stakeholders about the land use in agriculture activities. Of course, there were winners in this game!

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Time was relative short those days, however, the fellows tried to spend time together with a big Vietnamese dinner in the beautiful city of Leipzig during their free time.

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See you soon beautiful Leipzig!

by Ms. Magaly Beltran (Bolivia) and Ms. Tam Thanh (Vietnam)

Human and Nature in Harmony

The term “Biosphere Reserve” (BR) has always fascinated us. Particularly because to an optimist of conservation and sustainable development, it is a realizable model striking a balance between fulfilling the requirements for nature conservation while meeting the needs of human. BR are the model region of sustainable development where the conservation and human development goes hand in hand, benefiting both. This excursion to the Upper Lusatian Biosphere Reserve (BR) epitomizes this idea. The Upper Lusatian heath and pond region between the Upper Lusatian plains in the south and the Upper Lusatian mining region in the north is a part of the Saxon lowland region with an altitude 80–180 m above sea level. The region has evolved over many centuries as a result of human use, with the first documented evidence of the building of fish ponds dating as far back as 1248.The region, with an area of about 30,102 ha was recognized as a BR in 1996. Every BR represents a mosaic of landscapes – in this case, it was primarily forests (50%), agriculture (40%) and ponds (8%)

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The forests of the Upper Lusatian heath used to be mainly mixed forests of oak, pine, birch and hornbeam. In the Biosphere Reserve, we also still find them as pine and oak forests, which were once characteristic of the Upper Lusatian Heath, as berry bush and pine forests. The major pine forests are gradually being transformed into mixed forests suitable for the area. Management is now aiming at the development of wild forests. Along with the forests, the meadows and the ponds form important components of the mosaic. Meadows containing streams and rivers, fast-flowing and slow running water, fordable places and deep scour pools and steep and flat banks form ideal living conditions for many animals and plants in the BR. The flat ponds with their wild banks, silted areas and strips of reeds with their gradual transition to meadows and forests, provide a home for plants and animals which have long disappeared in other areas.

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The governance and administration of the BR is guided by three objectives- a) use of natural resources in alignment with environmental protection, (b) target oriented research and development and (c) environmental education for tourists, visitors and the youth. Environmental education is at the heart of the BR philosophy and management. More than 700 events are organized each year for the public. Concepts of ecological, economic, social and cultural integration into planning sustainable development is the foundation of the message delivered. Each of these programs are customized to cater to different target groups.  We could see some kids attend a workshop near the pond landscape and being thrilled to be in this landscape. Seeing them rejoice being in the lap of nature is always a good reminder of how much man has to transform its practices to leave behind healthy ecosystems to secure their futures.

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It was also interesting to note how the BR administration works closely with local farmers in promoting sustainable agriculture as well as promoting education on agriculture and farming. The local farmers in the region grow local varieties of crops which is supported by BR office (provision of seeds) and farmers in turn extend support on conserving birds and their habitat. Significant weightage is given to the re-introduction of crops that are local and representative to this area, for instance winter Rye, which is used both for the feed and food, has also the benefit of requiring less fertilizer and crop protection measures.

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Around 80% of the local farmers are participating in the Saxony government are being supported with projects to eliminate non-environmental friendly agricultural practices. Farmers are incentivized with financial compensation to discourage the use of chemicals and pesticides. Similarly, partnerships of local tourism providers and farmhouse owners with the BR authorities was working successfully to reap benefits for the reserve. Witnessing these practices form important impressions that our group members hope to translate into action back home (with support of partners and authorities).

One of the most unforgettable moments of the excursion was undeniably the stop at the Eco-farm for lunch. The farm produced vegetables, meat, oils and seeds along with a range of other products were up for sale. Being in that farm and eating that locally grown food cooked with tones of love and compassion for nature, we felt a deeper sense of gratitude for just how much the earth has borne to cater to needs of humankind. It surely is time to give back.

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by Urvana Menon (India) and Kamal Thapa (Nepal)