Resilience Assessments: the Homokhátság case
In the last few decades, a seemingly unstoppable process of aridification has started in Homokhátság, and the current context leaves no reserve for dryer periods.
Homokhátság is an elevated region in Hungary, located between the Duna and Tisza rivers. Its name is sometimes translated as “Sandy ridge.” The area is characterized by low soil quality and a peculiar hydrological condition: all water is running into one of the large rivers — thus, this landscape has a dry character. This dry condition was always a feature in this region, but rainfall, diverse vegetation, and conscious management could keep the system in a stable regime for centuries.
In the last few decades, a seemingly unstoppable process of aridification has started. This process is a consequence of a network of canals that were built to drain excess rainwater and stagnating water in wet periods — leaving no reserve for dryer periods.
The resilience assessment had a clear motivation in this region: soil humidity is decreasing and about 10 % of the landscape is already in a desert-like sandy condition with minimal vegetation and no fertility. To avoid such desertification in the whole area, systematic changes need to be implemented but, according to the participants of the process, rigid, top-down rules, and the conflict between short-term and long-term interests, make the necessary changes almost impossible. The assessment was done to model and plan the support for a strategic transformation of the region.
Some of the farmers who have been hit hard by the drying of the region started to act. They blocked the drainage of the area in some places keeping some of the stagnating water intentionally on grasslands. They are monitoring the impacts of these experimental local water management decisions and the water table, in general, using custom-made measurement wells. They study the landscape with drones to monitor the longer-term impacts of the new water management strategy.
What we see here is a textbook example of adaptive management. The only problem is its limitation in space and that current higher-level regulations do not support such initiatives and incentivise a more intensive, cropland-focused landscape management that is exacerbating the aridification process. Differences in problem-understanding and revenue streams among farmers have led to conflicts and stagnation in adaptation on a larger scale. The ultimate solution would be to change the agricultural subsidy system to allow for adaptive solutions instead of the current planning and control solutions.