(by Marta Nieto Romero)
Hi readers! I am Marta, a new member of this group of research.
I arrived in Germany in November to start my Master thesis in the framework of the Master on “Integrated Planning for Rural Development and Environmental Management” of the Agronomic Mediterranean Institute of Zaragoza (Spain). After a few drawbacks, I am now happily doing a project titled “Controversial views and actions within local organizations: opportunities for collective action of Southern Transylvania”.
Before starting talking about this current project, I want first to introduce myself. In 2006, I started a bachelor called something like “medical biology” in France, being persuaded that I wanted to become a researcher on neurobiology. Fortunately, after two years of Bachelor I realized that even if I enjoyed the laboratory work I wanted to get professionally involved in sustainability issues. From then, I strongly tried to change my curricula. On my third year of Bachelor I made an Erasmus in Portugal where I started learning Ecology related courses, and of course, this beautiful and melodic language. I finally came back to my home town (Madrid) the following year, where I continued a Master on Ecology. There, I discovered the Social-Ecological System framework and I finally felt that something made sense for me. I started to be interested in the social side of sustainability which I am now convinced that is the main factor of the success or failure of projects aiming to preserve ecosystem’s values. Working with the Socio-ecosystems Laboratory of Madrid I started reading (a lot!) about the resilience thinking, the ecosystem service framework, the environmental and ecological economy and the main socio-cultural methods for assessing ecosystems values. That opened me a huge and exciting field(s) of knowledge that made me start a second Master (the one I am now doing now) about the management of human-shaped ecosystems in a holistic and inter-disciplinary way.
Now, I can say that my expertise is on territorial planning of rural areas and I am particularly interested in institutional schemes and social aspects for the design of successful and sustainable plans for rural areas.
My project within the Sustainable Landscapes group aims to explore which future do local actors engaged in organizations related to regional development prefer, which actions they think should be done in order to achieve this future and which trade-offs they are willing to accept if necessary. For that purpose, I have done 24 interviews to a diverse set of local organizations (mainly NGOs and associations) in Southern Transylvania in which I showed them the four scenarios for the year 2043 developed in previous research and ask them which one they preferred and other questions related to my objectives. In the following paragraphs I will explain the first insights that I had after my field-work, trying to answer the main questions that initially drove my research: (1) Have local actors in the region contradictory goals? (2) What are the barriers towards the creation of a shared vision between them? (3) What are the opportunities to create a shared vision?
All the interviewees preferred the scenario 3 – “Balance brings beauty”. That is quite normal, since on this scenario there is a wealthy and diverse economic development combined with a sustainable use of their natural and cultural heritage. But what I think was surprising was that 52% of them think that this same scenario is the most likely. I believe that in order manage something you have first to deeply believe on it, so for me it was really hopeful and inspiring that those people were so sure and convinced that it could happen. Moreover, when discussing further the type of development they would like to achieve, many common points aroused between all the respondents- e.g. they all want to maintain small-scale farming practices, and they are extremely aware of the danger of foreign investment on the area if it doesn’t involve local population. Nevertheless, when respondents had to deal with compromises – e.g. water is polluted but people have a higher monetary well-being- two main profiles of responses aroused. On the one hand, some people think that the conservation of natural resources must be a priority and should not be sacrifice in order to improve the local’s standard of living. This group of people is characterized by statements as the following “people can change their behavior if one day they change their mind, but if we destroy nature, it can’t never come back”. On the other hand, another group of respondents think is worthy to destroy the environment if people are better off: “if people are better off, the educational system can improve, and naturally, they will start to appreciate their natural environment and try to preserve it”. While these two profiles largely prefer a scenario where the improvement of local’s standard of living and the resource exploitation is balanced (scenario 3), the trade-offs they are willing to accept are completely different- i.e. the first profile could accept a nature lose – locals win paradigm while the second group would rather accept a nature win- locals lose one.
In conclusion, my first impression is that, first, the sample of local organizations interviewed is generally working for a common goal: achieving the scenario 3. Second, there are many common points on what do they like and don’t like which could help to mainstream future collaborations. And finally, differences exist on the trade-offs they are willing to accept – i.e. nature lose – locals win vs. nature win- locals lose– if compromises have to be made in the future.
Finally, my impression was that some “collaboration” between organizations exist but it is on its early stage. Some organizations have recently started partnerships or periodical meetings, but still, these frequently do not end up with activities in common or projects looking for synergistic effects. The non-collaborative attitude is not only (neither mainly) driven by differences in scopes and aims, and other financial, political, historical factors are involved. Nevertheless, if collaboration starts, a threat exist that those organizations with an environmental focus and those with a community focus will follow different paths of actions, diluting their power to make lobby and act in common against what they ALL don’t want: a nature lose – locals lose future (scenario 2). From here, I send them all my best to continue this difficult but passionately driven task, hoping that they will manage to conserve the main features of this beautiful part of the planet.