By Joern Fischer
About a year ago, I shared on this blog our booklet describing four alternative scenarios for the future of Southern Transylvania (Romania). This booklet was originally written in Romanian and Hungarian – the two languages most relevant to our local stakeholders. However, Transylvania also has strong relations to Germany, and most of the international research community communicates in English. For these reasons, we have now re-produced this booklet in English and German, too. It is available as an open-access PDF, and we have a large stack of hard copies to give away in the coming months.
In a nutshell, our scenarios describe four alternative, plausible futures for Southern Transylvania. The aim of this work was to stimulate debate about these scenarios – not to tell people what’s right or wrong, but rather to get local people to think about what they want, what they don’t want, and what they can do to shape the future of their region.
In the first scenario, “Prosperity through growth”, small-scale farming is replaced by intensified, larger-scale, conventional agriculture. Forests are exploited where profitable, and tourism is restricted to the entertainment sector. Economic development is driven by local people, and consequently, people are wealthier than they are at the moment. These developments cause losses in farmland and forest biodiversity, as well as the deterioration of regulating, supporting, and cultural ecosystem services.
In the second scenario, “Our land, their wealth”, land use is also intensified and also causes the loss of regulating, supporting, and cultural services. However, economic development is driven by foreign investors, and consequently, few locals benefit from it. The gap between rich and poor widens. Crime and conflicts are frequent, including between ethnic groups. People leave their villages for Romanian towns or Western Europe, and most farmland that is unprofitable for foreign companies is abandoned. Due to the difficult socioeconomic conditions and a highly disturbed landscape, tourism all but vanishes from Transylvania.
The third scenario, “Balance brings beauty”, describes a future in which locals are organized and able to capitalize on high national and international demand for organic agricultural products. Sustainable use of resources coexists with intensified land use via modern organic farming methods. Vibrant cultural tourism and eco-tourism stabilize people’s incomes from the agricultural sector. Although few people are financially wealthy, economic and social inequalities are reduced and community spirit is high. Cultural and natural capital is valued and actively maintained.
In the fourth scenario, “Missed opportunity”, locals are unable to capitalize on the opportunities provided by a pro-environment policy setting. Instead, foreign companies set up modern organic farms in the region, exploiting easy access to cheap land and labour. Semi-subsistence farming as it has been practiced for many decades is ongoing in the villages, while forests are exploited for firewood and sometimes logged illegally. Most locals are poor, and those who are able to, leave the area. Corruption, crime, and conflict are common. Farmland biodiversity experiences moderate decreases due to intensification in some areas and abandonment in others.