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An alternate urban landscape

Major climate resilience initiatives can reduce greenhouse gases, increase carbon sequestration, and ensure food security, explains Vishal Gulati

An alternate urban landscape

An urban industrial landscape mixed with natural and agricultural spaces is ideal for striking a balance between the quality of human life and economic prosperity. It also helps reduce impact of a changing climate trigger, a French expert says.

"There is a heavy demand for land due to industrialiation that is eating away the remaining land. But local legislations is needed to check this urban sprawl," Caroline Doucerain, Vice President of the Grand Parc metropolitan area in Versailles, told IANS in an interview conducted through an interpreter. The Grand Parc, which lies in the Saclay Plateau some 20 km south of Paris, is a perfect example of agricultural land protection where the per hectare wheat yield is between 90 and 100 quintals against the national average of just 74 quintals per hectare. And, its vibrant innovation ecosystem aims to become the Silicon Valley of France.

Doucerain said major climate resilience initiatives had been adopted by her country to reduce greenhouse gases, increase carbon sequestration and ensure food security. For her, strong land conservation laws are not enough. The success lies in supporting citizen's cooperatives. "This is why action plans through public dialogue were established in 2010 to implement the objectives of the Natural, Agricultural and Forest Protection Zone to ensure overall sustainable development in the Saclay Plateau," she pointed out. Doucerain was in this California city to study the work of the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority of the US at 'A Tale of Three Valleys', an affiliate event of the just-concluded Global Climate Action Summit. The Open Space Authority, which serves a population of about 1.4 million people, comprising San Jose, conserves the natural environment, supports agriculture and connects people to nature by protecting open spaces.

"My hometown, for instance, is home to Air Liquide's research center, completely rebuilt to accommodate 400 researchers," said Doucerain, who is also the Mayor of Loges-en-Josas, a small rural community of 1,600 people. Historically, the Versailles and Saclay areas were an agricultural region with particularly fertile, loamy soil. After 1945, research centres looking for a serene environment close to Paris began appearing in the region. These included the National Center for Scientific Research, the Atomic Energy Commission and a centre for energy research.

"Many French and international companies moved to our region, making Courtaboeuf the leading business park in Europe. Among many others, HP, GSK and Econocom have offices there." But economic development also poses challenges. "As economic development and research were gaining ground in our area, several farmers faced a major dilemma: Should they give in to real-estate pressures, sell their land and move to a more remote area as some in previous generations had done? Or should they trust their entrepreneurial instincts and deep ties to the area, which told them there surely must be innovative ways to approach production and take advantage of opportunities right there," she said.

There were more than 600,000 potential local consumers and 12 million in the larger region. To answer the questions about the future of their farms, she said, the farmers asked the Ile-de-France Regional Council to conduct an in-depth study. Nearly all 122 stakeholders surveyed believed that farming was an element that gives structure to the plans for this geographical area.

The farms are not just empty spaces to be filled. The Terre et Cité association was thus established. It includes four groups of participants: Farmers, municipalities, associations and civil society. In 2008, several municipalities tackled the issue of procuring locally-grown produce for their cafeterias. Terre et Cité was selected to facilitate the implementing of concrete projects with local supply networks.

"Today, more than one million meals a year are served that include at least one local ingredient," an elated Doucerain proclaimed. "Today it is obvious that farms and open spaces offer fertile ground for many future innovations in the region. The preservation of land is essential to the long-term vitality and attractiveness of the Saclay Plateau. As a result, we have over 10,000 acres of protected agricultural and open-space lands, including almost 6,000 acres of land devoted to farming. Even the so-called Paris region consists of almost 50 per cent farmland," she pointed out.

The Saclay Plateau has markedly developed organic farming. Organic now represents a surface area six times greater than seen across the larger Paris region. Moreover, 20 per cent of land in the area is devoted to producing products like bread, yogurt, chicken, fruits and vegetables for local consumption. "Farms, open spaces and particularly wooded areas within the plateau are important touch points of our identity. They characterise our landscapes and are integral to the quality of life that many people in the Paris region seek," Doucerain added.

(Vishal Gulati was in San Francisco at the invitation of the Climate Trends to cover the Global Climate Action Summit. The views expressed are strictly personal)

Vishal Gulati

Vishal Gulati

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