Prague is launching a pilot project for organic urban agriculture, which will hopefully become an example for other Czech municipalities. Prague is offering 398 hectares of its agricultural land for rent under organic farming conditions.
The city will soon announce the full rules for the land, and entities can apply for a lease until June 29, 2020. The list of available land is on the city’s official notice board.
According to Prague City Hall, organic farming not produces quality food, it is also based on sustainability, and is environmentally friendly. At the same time, it also maintains and develops the natural diversity of the landscape and emphasizes the preservation of natural cycles. It is also one of the ways to combat drought and climate change and, because of the absence of synthetic chemical pesticides in the soil, also to protect water resources.
“The new conditions are based on the principle of a responsible approach to the landscape. In today’s time of climate change and a fundamental deterioration of the quality of agricultural land, it is important to take such measures that will help us in the long run in the fight against drought and climate change,” Prague Deputy Mayor Petr Hlubuček (United Force for Prague), responsible for the environment, said.
Although organic food is becoming increasingly popular, organic farming is still only a small part of agricultural production. The reason is stricter management rules and lower yields. Organic produce is more expensive because more energy is needed to grow it. An organic farmer also does not have access to industrial fertilizers or growth regulators, City Hall states.
Prague is preparing support measures for future lease holders. For example, there is no minimum lease fee in the currently announced competition. The city also plans to offer potential lease applicants assistance with the sale of organically grown crops, especially in Prague schools.
“Prague’s profit from the lease of land will be minimal, however, the ecological benefit of the project has a special value for us,” Hlubuček said.
The new rules for farming on agricultural land are significantly stricter than the tenants have been accustomed to so far. Among the most important is the division of large fields into smaller fields with a maximum size of five hectares. The city also proposes how to divide these lands using hedges, grass borders, and planting fruit or deciduous trees.
Other conditions include the preference for crops whose cultivation does not increase soil erosion and increases crop diversity, or the obligation to carry out deep plowing once a year to reduce weeds. The inability to use pesticides and herbicides is also a significant benefit, with the exception of natural insecticides and fungicides. The economic stability of the applicant is also considered.
Furthermore, inorganic mineral fertilizers cannot be used and disinfection to reduce weeds is prohibited. This ban on the use of chemicals saves up to 1,700 liters of pesticides per year.
The land should not be used for monoculture crops, but instead has to have a variety or rotated plants.
Frequent inclusion of perennial clover contributes to the improvement of soil fertility and structure. In order to reduce erosion and reduce weeds, it is important to have a widest use of intermediate crops that retain water in the soil and also deflect sunlight, reducing soil dehydration. It is important to follow the principles of crop rotation and observe the minimum time intervals within the sowing procedures.
This new way of access to urban agricultural land is also expected to gradually develop the ecological and recreational potential of the landscape around Prague. The fields are connected to the built-up areas in the city and thanks to its new boundaries and tree lines, it can offer inhabitants an easy escape to places that did not attract anyone until recently.