2013 - 2014 / Moldavien (Moldova) - Projekt V.


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Projekt / project:

Moldavien - Agroforstwirtschaftliches Pilotprojekt mit Wasserretentionsgärten
Moldova - agroforestry pilot project with water retention gardens                           

Verantwortungen / responsibilities:

Planung mit Sepp Holzer
design with Sepp Holzer

Projektpartner / project partner:

Sepp Holzer 
Arch.Di. Birgit Hein-Krizek, Melina Fromm
Mag.Dr. K. Schrefler (ecology)
DI. Harald Goriupp (soil mechanics) 
Atelier Frühwirth - Graz (renderings)

Beschreibung / description:

Rekultivierung degenerierter Intensivagrarflächen
recultivation of overused and degenerated agricultural land

Kategorie / category:

nachhaltige Landwirtschaft / Agroforstwirtschaft / Kleinklimazonen / Wasserretention
sustainable agriculture / agroforestry / microclimate zones / water retention

Chronologie / chronology:

2013 - 2015


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Detailed project description

The project "V." is a "Model Farm Project" along "Agro-Ecological" and "Holzer Permacultural" principles within a site area of about 27,9ha (~ 70ac).

It  is a place for healing and recovery, not just for the people who will come in touch with it but also for the existing landscape. Endowed with a great number of various valuable resources, "V." presents the basis for manifold utilisations, e.g.: 

- production of good and healthy food in a nature-friendly manner 

- restoration and land recultivation through water retention and three-dimensional polycultures

- soft tourism / self harvesting (economic aspects)

- teaching and education with emphasis on ecological issues and organic production

- therapy and wellness in a beautiful surrounding

- tree nurseries and seed banks with emphasis on "old" and robust species 

... or just a place for all generations to visit, relax and feel comfortable.... 

The existing resources support the design of a nature-friendly and ecologically sound recultivation of the existing agricultural property. 

The apparent contradiction between nature (e.g., defined as areas on this planet which have not been altered by human intervention) and culture (e.g., agriculture, human settlements) will become a new and different meaning in this project.  

Regarding the cultural (human) impact on natural conditions from a historical and global perspective we notice many negative effects brought about by increasing mechanisation and industrialisation. The present ecologically degenerated condition of the site is a good example for this. 

The overruling question must be asked if it is inevitable that human beings always have to have a negative impact on their immediate natural environment when they manipulate their surroundings according to their needs. 

If we regard human beings as part of this planet, and therefore as part of nature, then we must admit that human actions can in this sense also be regarded as "natural". However, if and how far these "natural" human actions are filled with ethics, meaning, sense, intelligence, sustainability and content are completely different questions. 

In this chain of thought the apparent contradictions between "culture" and "nature" cease to oppose each other but are now becoming integrative parts of our lives on this planet. Starting from this assumption the following types of questions are becoming relevant, such as:

- (how) is it possible to ensure a meaningful cohabitation of all species on this planet?

- in which way are we as human beings able to use our knowledge and mind to understand "natural" processes and subsequently foster and promote them?

- is it possible to understand "natural" processes and deal with that knowledge in a sensible manner? 

- how can we treat our planet in a sustainable way?

- how can we live in harmony with our "natural" environment instead of against it?

- are there examples on this planet, both positive and negative ones, which might help us to find answers to these questions?.... 

We think it is possible to find some answers to these questions, even if they are not perfect or finite. Some fragments of these answers are discussed and elaborated upon in this subsequent project description. 

The issue of water is the first and foremost important aspect of this project. Water in its various manifestations, qualities, uses and forms is the physical basis of all terrestrial life. Water constitutes a vital basic element for all life as well as representing a physical habitat structure. This is the central theme of the whole project.  

Furthermore, a water landscape seems to be able to go beyond a mere physical reality of a banal food-production model farm project; facets of "beauty", "art" and "harmony" touch philosophical issues relating to terms such as "spirit and soul".  

A new "living" and "edible" project, a "natural work of art", will be derived from a formerly purely functional aesthetic of an agro-industrial landscape. High quality agricultural produce as well as ecological benefits of high diversity will manifest. 

All human senses will be stimulated on the site. It is going to be a place in which life can unfold in an affluent and varied manner. 

The project represents abundant paradise gardens for healing earth, body and soul!


Sustainable Agriculture, Agro-Ecology and Philosophy 

The main principles:

- Respecting Nature

- Observing Nature

- Interacting with Nature


The right design sequence to achieve a sustainable and ecologically sound project: 

1st: Stabilisation of existing WATER household 

2nd: Ensuring and fostering healthy and living SOIL

3rd: Planting mixed cultures / 3-Dimensional VEGETATION

4th: Harvesting, multiplying, sowing / Crops and SEEDS 

In order to ensure a comprehensive and sustainable design based on these principles, as many factors as possible will have to be considered in the whole subsequent design and planning process. 

This Model Farm Project "V." will only function in a sustainable manner if many diverse influence factors, be they "natural" or "artificial" (i.e. anthropogenic), are understood and dealt with appropriately. 

"Natural" factors would be aspects such as:

- Topography

- Historical development of the site

- Geological and soil conditions

- Water household (over- and underground) as well as air humidity

- Climate (wind, precipitation, temperature, solar radiation)

- "Natural" fauna and flora

"Artificial" (i.e. anthropogenic) factors can be topics such as:

- Emissions / immissions - air quality

- Historical development of the site

- Change of topography and soil structure through building work

- "Artificial" fauna and flora (invasive plants and animals)


Part of all these can also be so called "objectively measurable" and "scientific" elements, such as:

Location, Climate, Geology, Hydro geology, Ecology, Anthropology, Archaeology etc.;

as well as diverse elements of the non-quantifiable studies of arts and humanities like:

Ethics, Philosophy, Art, Culture, History, Religion, Politics, Architecture, etc.

These lists are long and the relationships between all factors are complex.

Formative and characteristic of the site is an undulating landscape of soft, hilly, dry grass steppe areas mixed with large forest areas as well as meandering rivers, wetlands and lake systems in the lower parts of the land. The territory of the site has been made suitable for intensive agricultural production in the past and is now characterised by this large scale human intervention. An ecological degradation of the whole site, respectively soil, fauna and flora, is apparent.

Both of the following statements are true and result in a negative and down turning feedback spiral: 

A degraded water household can be a dominant cause for a degenerated landscape. 

A degenerated landscape can be a dominant cause for a degraded water household.

Nonetheless, the factors and conditions leading to such scarcity are manifold and complex: many are of natural, others of anthropogenic origin, some of both. This project will try to analyse all the factors that might play a role leading to the conditions presently confronted with indicating their, sometimes extremely complex, interactions.  

The aim is to design sustainable solutions based on the understanding of nature and ecological principles.

Nonetheless, we should try to understand natural processes as much as possible in order to minimise mistakes. These can unfortunately never be ruled out completely. Nature has the great ability to compensate small (human) mistakes. However, if the mistakes become too big and too numerous, nature might lose its inherent regenerative powers.  

This is the reason for promoting small "experiments" as well as "numerous tests" coupled with intense periodical observation and documentation when designing in accordance with natural conditions. 

First asking and observing nature how she would deal with a certain problem before realising a huge man-made intervention is one of the most important strategies when implementing ecologically sound projects.  

Theoretical knowledge should only have a supporting character in regards to this project but will never be able to replace an active communication with nature itself.  

In other words, the project should be conceived and realised with a respectful attitude towards the whole site; its soil, water and air as well as its existing inhabitants. These inhabitants include all living organisms; may they be animals, plants, fungi - visible or not ! 

The main design strategies are as follows:  

1st Observation and Analysis

special places with favourable natural conditions are defined on the site in terms of topography, geology and hydro geology It is a precondition to ensure a balanced water-household in order to tap nature's potential to develop biodiversity.

2nd Ensuring a Sustainable Water Management

the difficult and disrupted water household will be restored to form a basis for life (we say that 70% percent of the work is done when the water household is revived). 

3rd Working with nature, not against her

favourable natural conditions are intensified and thereby improved in a catalytic manner, while the existing situation for vegetation will be kept as such, which means a non-invasive approach to existing ecological “hot spots”.

4th Economical operation methods

all interventions should be undertaken with the minimum of effort and maximum effect.

5th Focus on local conditions

regionally adapted, indigenous and thus suitable species (plants and animals) should predominantly be chosen and (re-)introduced adhering to natural cycles.

6th Starting small, giving and taking time

all work should be carried out in relatively small areas, well observed, studied and documented.

7th Respecting, supporting and trusting nature's regenerative powers

no use of artificial chemicals, such as herbicides, pesticides, insecticides, fungicides and artificial fertilizers! Using "natural" and local building materials as much as possible.

8th Long-term instead of short-term thinking and action

constant building up of humus and living soil.

9th Interacting with and learning from nature

mistakes can and will be made but should not be repeated; successful strategies should be recognised and constantly improved; in due time from smaller onto larger areas, documentation should continue all the time.

10th Relaxing and harvesting

recognising and enjoying the generous gifts that nature will provide freely when we respect her and treat her well.


Ecology & Natural Farming – AgroEcological Strategic Concept

The following procedure must be adhered and kept to at all times in order to produce a successful project:

1. Inquiry - the more research, thought and time is taken, the better.

2. Planning - (partially parallel to 1.; the current phase!). 

3. Building - (the phase coming up very soon).

4. Planting - (the phase immediately after building).

Neither is it possible nor advisable to turn around the order of these phases. Each of them takes its own time and all works should not be rushed but should be executed with due care and diligence, constantly observing natural conditions and reacting to them accordingly.  

Common sense is the best advisor most of the time! 

Communication and learning from nature is the key: one will have to look at the effects of the proposed interventions and react accordingly. All one can do is to implement basic strategies that are known to work (many projects and experience have proved this) and take it from there. The strategies will work but a constant contention with natural changing parameters and conditions is unavoidable. 

Inquiry and preconditions

Whilst in areas with a nourishing and stable soil renaturation may be easier, ecological conditions have to be considered very accurate when moving on degraded ground. The situation is never randomly, it comes as a consequence of misunderstanding and thus exploiting nature, so that natural rhythms and living circles cannot keep balance any longer. Those processes may be executed by humans over ages, nevertheless sometimes it only takes a couple of years to destroy well-balanced networks.

Note: The key to correct these wrongdoings is understanding natural rhythms and strategies by not making the same mistakes again and again. Nature has got an incredible potential of regeneration and self correction.  Nevertheless, large scale projects and impacts can be comparable of destroying our own roots. The earth will deal with it; humans may not be able to face the changes.  

“Recultivation” is a multi-step process, which has got to follow natural strategies for the reconquest of irritated habitats. First of all the habitats have to have potential, that is meant in terms of climate, soil, geology, water conditions, solar radiation, wind and some more important factors, which are still not completely understood by today’s research. All factors influence each other and ideally build up a network finally which is well buffered, redundant and stable. 

It is of high importance to carefully select where to interfere. Never should any “ecological hot spots” be destroyed, which are usually recognizable by higher biodiversity, both on flora and fauna, not to forget fungi and micro-organism. They build up the pool where all future life is based. These hot spots are of much higher significance than introduced plants and seeds, as they already exist as a working balance within a more or less hostile situation. 

The existence of water on formerly fairly dry land will be a first success. In water-near areas plants will settle, while in more distant locations ground has to be stabilised, which is usually done by the roots of plants. Later on pioneers help in the process of consolidation whilst water consumption rises. 

The period of time for such a succession mainly depends on climatic factors, fertility of soils, and human impact of any kind. 

It is of utmost importance to get information of the availability of local seeds of all sorts (wild and cultured plants), produced in biological and/or natural way (i.e. preferred are "wild collections" of really suited and adapted species, as varied as possible). 

All experiments should take place on a relatively small scale in order to minimise work, risks and thereby time and costs.

Everything must be documented professionally. 

Experience within this very specific site must be gained as well as presenting a working master plan that takes the results of the experiments into account.  

Systems with positive ecological feedback mechanisms will have to be created. These systems become more productive every year if set up and managed correctly.


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